ST. GEORGE – As the worst drought since 2002 shines a spotlight on the water challenges facing the Colorado River Basin, a group of leading advocacy organizations has launched a new campaign to urge the region’s urban communities to do their part to put the Basin on a sustainable path. The campaign is asking communities from Utah to Arizona to take the “90 by 20” pledge and commit to using water in smarter, more efficient ways.
Specifically, the 90 by 20 campaign is calling on communities in the region to commit to achieving residential water usage rates of 90 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) by 2020. The campaign has been up and running in Las Vegas, and will now turn its attention to St. George, where residents currently use 152 gallons per capita per day. 90 by 20 is calling on St. George to take the “90 by 20” pledge as well.
According to a new report issued by the campaign, 90 GPCD is a level within reach for nearly every major water utility in the region. More importantly, if utilities in the Basin met this benchmark, the region would save over 1 million acre feet of water. That is enough water to supply Las Vegas for two years, or Denver for three.
“When it comes to water, lots of people like to point fingers or assign blame,” said 90 by 20 supporter Drew Beckwith, of Western Resource Advocates. “Others like to argue about who is going to get less, or who is going to pay for expensive solutions. The 90 by 20 campaign believes it is time to focus on affordable solutions that everyone can achieve today. If we’re going to restore balance to the region’s water resources, everyone needs to work together and reach for a common goal. That is where 90 by 20 comes into play.”
As the campaign notes, the Colorado River is the most important source of water and economic activity for seven basin states and Mexico. The River provides drinking water for 36 million people, supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, and is the backbone of the region’s tourism and recreation industries. But the region is on an unsustainable path. More water is being taken out of the River than Mother Nature supplies.
“While agriculture rightfully gets a lot of focus as a large consumer of water in the region, demand from urban communities continues to rise,” Beckwith said. “90 by 20 is designed to spark a conversation in urban communities about what can be done today to start tackling the problem without spending billions or imposing burdensome new regulations. We hope to highlight those communities where water usage trends are headed in the right direction and serve as a catalyst for action in those places where the conversation has yet to start. ”
Gallons Per Capita Per Day is a common water usage metric used by utilities. The 90 by 20 campaign is specifically focused on residential (indoor plus outdoor) GPCD. It is asking utilities to work with their residential customers over the next eight years to achieve average usage rates of 90 gallons per person, per day. Residential GPCD takes into account all the water used inside and outside the home. It includes, for example, the water used to wash, cook and clean, as well as to irrigate landscapes.
The campaign will be meeting directly with utilities and policy leaders throughout the region. The campaign will be asking communities to take the “90 by 20 pledge” and commit to achieving a residential rate of 90 GPCD by 2020. The effort will also be engaging Basin residents through Social Media and other efforts in order to push consumers to think about how they use water and how they can help put the region on a better path.
“The challenge of increasing demand and decreasing supply is a Basin‐wide problem that demands Basin‐wide solutions,” Beckwith said. “It is not enough for individual communities to tackle this problem on their own. From Utah to Arizona, we need everyone to work in concert toward the same objective. It is true that many utilities are moving in the right direction, but it is not enough – and not everyone is on board. 90 by 20 is goal around which the region can rally.”
As the campaign’s report shows, 90 GPCD is a realistic and achievable goal. Many communities in the Basin have had success in reaching this number – and 90 by 20 is urging St. George to actively focus on reaching 90 GPCD as well. By setting a new region- wide benchmark, communities can all focus on the same benchmark – and know that others communities across the Basin area are all pulling their weight.
One key component stressed by the campaign is flexibility. While the effort is designed to get communities reaching for the same commitment, it is not prescribing a single set of solutions for how to get there. Recognizing that communities have different water needs and preferences, the campaign sets a goal but offers communities the chance to follow their own roadmap to 90 GPCD.