The Billions of Gallons of Water Wasted by Accident Every Year

California could meet half its mandate to save water just by fixing leaky pipes.

(Photo: Daniel Jensen/Getty Images)

May 5, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Kill your lawn? Yeah, you need to do that as drought grips not just California but much of the Western United States. Half of California’s residential water use—nearly 3 trillion gallons a year—goes to keep the grass green in places like Palm Springs. But there’s something else you can do to save billions of gallons: Plug your pipes.

About 8 percent of water consumed in California homes, for instance, is wasted owing to the drip-drip-drip of leaky pipes and faucets, according to the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organization.

How much water is that? Try 237 billion gallons a year. Put another way, that’s about half the water California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered cities to save through mandatory restrictions for the rest of the year.

Californians consume about 77 gallons of water a day per person in their homes. The charts below show where the water goes.

The state’s toilets alone use about 295 billion gallons of water a year. For California to meet the governor’s goal of saving 424 billion gallons this year, that means many fewer flushes. Despite the drought crisis, the state only cut its water use by 3.6 percent in March compared with the previous month, according to a report released Tuesday.

That 77-gallon-per-person figure, though, masks a huge disparity in water use across California: Some cities are slashing consumption while others are keeping the taps flowing. The working-class community of Martinez in the San Francisco Bay Area used 39 gallons of water per person daily in March, while Beverly Hills consumed 168 gallons, according to the State Water Resources Control board.

But residents of the 90210 appear miserly compared with the über-wealthy community of Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County. To keep that enclave’s vast estates in bloom, each person used 367 gallons a day in March.

If Southern Californians haven’t been vigilant about saving water, some have stepped up to the plate to snitch on their water-wasting neighbors. In March, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power received 1,215 complaints about alleged water hogs, according to state records.

The L.A. water agency sent out 1,364 warnings to customers (out of the nearly 4 million people it serves) but only issued penalties in 13 cases.

That could change. Brown last week proposed raising the maximum fine for water outlaws from $500 to $10,000.

Time to fix those leaking pipes.