All Water is Local: Western U.S. Cities Proactively Approaching Climate Mitigation While Tackling Drought

15 Aug 2022  |  Amber Walsh

You would have to be under a rock not to know that the Western United States is undergoing a period of historic drought. In fact, approximately 55% of the West is currently experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. Because of their unique water challenges, the Western U.S. has been a leader in water policies—whether it be reuse or conservation initiatives. At the same time, climate action planning is top of mind across the U.S. with major cities laying out carbon mitigation plans. 

Of the 35 climate action plans Bluefield analyzed, over one-third (12) were developed by western cities. California alone has six cities with climate mitigation plans, whereas other states have none. Establishing water conservation programs is a common strategy outlined in these plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. 

Water conservation programs range from rebate programs to improvements to residential or commercial water-efficiencies, fixing leaks, and installing smart water meters. By using water more efficiently, less water needs to be pumped, treated, and distributed. This reduces energy requirements and water-related emissions, helping with water security and carbon emission reductions. 

Notable western cities with water conservation actions:

Los Angeles, California aims to reduce potable wastewater use per capita 25% by 2035. By conserving water, Los Angeles aims to lower 15,235 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year by 2035. The city plans on decreasing water use by: 

  • Adopting a water efficiency ordinance for existing buildings, requiring all buildings over 20,000 square feet to benchmark and report water use and plan for water efficiency improvements
  • Incentivizing residents to switch to ‘water-conserving’ landscaping

Phoenix, Arizona aims to reduce water use to 155 gallons per capita per day by 2030. The city plans to achieve this by implementing infrastructure projects and improving conservation of water resources. Example water conservation actions include:

  • Improving stormwater management 
  • Conducting water audits
  • Utilizing wastewater 

San Jose, California aims to reduce per capita water use to 42 gallons per day by 2030 and 20 gallons per day by 2040. Water conservation strategies include:

  • Improving energy and water use in commercial buildings
  • Increasing residential accessibility to water-efficiency technology 

The federal government is providing funding opportunities and resources, but it’s still up to the cities to take advantage of those resources. National initiatives, such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART program and the recent senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act, have been deployed to help cities mitigate drought impacts in the Western United States. Although resources are available, cities must apply their projects to receive financial support. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation recently approved funding for six cities in five western states—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon—to improve their long-term drought resiliency by developing drought contingency plans. 

Even with the federal government providing some financial support to the West, there’s no national framework for water-related carbon mitigation or water conservation. At the end of the day, it comes down to how proactive the cities and utilities are in developing and meeting reduction targets. Just last week, California unveiled its new proactive water strategy. Since the West is experiencing the harsh, first-hand impact of climate change and water shortages, many large cities have taken the lead on climate planning.