By Ron Burke, President and CEO, Alliance for Water Efficiency

January 25, 2023

With climate change fueling more frequent and severe droughts nationwide and water services becoming increasingly costly and unaffordable for many, there is an urgent need to advance water efficiency and conservation, which are typically the fastest and least expensive ways to save water. These measures also help to lower water bills, reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and protect waterways. Additionally, water efficiency helps build resilience to extreme weather events that are increasing because of climate change.
Last week, the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) released the 2022 State Policy Scorecard for Water Efficiency and Sustainability, which ranked US states nationally and regionally based on the adoption of laws and policies that strengthen water efficiency, conservation, sustainability, and affordability. While some states improved since the 2017 Scorecard was released, there was little progress overall. The average state score was only 23 out of 89 possible points.
Image courtesy of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, 2022 State Policy Scorecard for Water Efficiency and Sustainability.
While water services are primarily funded and delivered at the local level, providing sustainable water services is increasingly costly and complicated for cities and local utilities. States can support local water providers and others that affect water use—including land use authorities, energy companies, developers and builders, businesses, and the general public—with financial assistance, policies that drive best practices, and planning that facilitates cooperation across watersheds.
State-level policies are even more important now that Congress has authorized billions of dollars in loans and grants for water services. Most of these funds will be administered by states and can only be maximized with good state policies in place.
The need for water efficiency and conservation is especially urgent in the Colorado River Basin (CRB), where the US Bureau of Reclamation has called for the seven CRB states—which averaged 37 out of 89 possible points on the AWE Scorecard—to significantly reduce water demand commensurate with dwindling supplies. Negotiations have not resulted in an agreement, but AWE found numerous opportunities for improvement, including adopting plumbing efficiency standards, limiting water loss from utility distribution systems, and funding water reuse and recycling. AWE is calling on CRB governors to support the Scorecard’s recommendations.
A common misperception is that saving water is only important in the American Southwest. However, drought is increasingly common across the nation, with nearly every state experiencing drought in 2022. In addition, just as energy efficiency is about more than preventing brownouts, water efficiency is about more than preventing water shortages. The multiple financial, environmental, and energy benefits of water efficiency undoubtedly contributed to a number of states with relatively ample water supplies cracking the Scorecard’s Top Ten, which includes California, followed by Texas, Arizona, Washington, Georgia, New York, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Minnesota.
Key Scorecard findings include:  
  • Connecticut was the only state that reported using its funds to support customer water bill assistance.
  • State laws, and the lack of legal clarity, are undermining the use of rate revenues for water bill assistance.
  • California is the only state requiring water utilities to plan for climate change.
  • 18 states use their revenues to fund water efficiency and conservation.
  • 13 states require rate structures that encourage water conservation.
  • 19 states require some level of coordination between local land use and water planning agencies.
Despite the low scores, there were some bright spots, including 10 states adopting point-of-sale plumbing efficiency requirements since 2017 that go beyond federal standards, for a current total of 15 states plus Washington, DC. Additionally, two more states adopted water loss control measures, and three additional states have begun requiring water conservation planning.
Overall, there is much work to be done at the state level as climate change continues to exacerbate water supply challenges. To view the 50 individual State Scorecards and learn more about the priority policy recommendations crafted for each state, click here. AWE will continue working with our members, partners, and state officials to advocate for improved state policies across the country.