The construction and ongoing maintenance of utilities, roads and other infrastructure is essential to meeting the growing housing need in the 21st Century.
First among these needs is ensuring the availability of usable water, especially in drought-stricken parts of the Southwest and West already dealing with supply issues.
In May, California became the first state in the nation to pass laws permanently limiting indoor water use: 55 gallons per person per day by 2022, gradually dropping to 50 gallons by 2030. The Department of Water Resources says it will recommend standards for outdoor use by October 2021.
Water districts who fail the to meet the goals face fines of up to $10,000. Officials say they put the onus on providers to motivate cleaning up overall system problems. Estimates say up to 30 percent of urban water loss comes from supplier leaks.
But educating residents on better water conservation habits is certainly a secondary goal.
Despite intermittent drought restrictions, the average Californian used about 90 gallons of water a day in 2017, down from 109 gallons in 2013. If that sounds like a lot, consider that an 8-minute shower uses about 17 gallons of water, a load of laundry up to 40. A standard bathtub holds 80 to 100 gallons.
Critics of the new limits conjure a world of Draconian low-flow devices becoming a permanent part of the residential landscape: Imagine automatic shut-off water valves common in “green” office buildings installed in every new home!
Others say water districts will simply pass the fines along to customers in the form of higher rates.
But many government officials, and even residents, say placing limits has been a revelation. By taking simple steps like adding high-efficiency appliances and only washing full loads of clothes and dishes, savings have been significant.
Many water districts have also begun programs teaching residents about the benefits of “smartscaping,” – landscape planning that reduces the need for watering with drip irrigation, drought-resistant planting and runoff prevention.
While experts say no U.S. metropolitan area is in any imminent danger of running out of water, the residents of Cape Town, South Africa, spent months in 2018 united in a struggle to fend off “Day Zero,” when the city’s water supply- serving more than 4 million – was expected to run out.
They skimped on basic needs, lining up for drinking water rations, washing hands with sanitizer, flushing with reused water; taking mini-showers and more. Day Zero was averted, but city officials say the system is still in crisis mode.
The search for effective water policy can be fraught with conflict, often pitting the competing interests of agriculture, big cities, small communities, conservationists and environmentalists against one another.