Unintended consequences of water conservation in California

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Californians have been so successful at saving water through conservation and low-flush toilets that the average flow into waste water systems is 50 gallons a day. However, the systems were designed for 120 gallons a day. Reduced amounts of water flowing through sewers means waste solids can sit in the pipes, corroding them, as well as creating smells.

You have solids that you flush and there’s not enough water to carry the material,” he said. That material often sits and releases the telltale, rotten-egg odor of hydrogen sulfide. Besides smelling bad, it corrodes pipes. “When the city says buy low-flush toilets because we all want to save water and save the world, no one can resist,” he said. “But no one thinks about the consequences. It really is a double-edged sword.”

Conservation has also meant a drop in revenue for water utilities, who now may raise rates.

“There’s nothing that peeves customers more than to be told to conserve, and then turn around and say, ‘Good job, now we’re raising rates,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager for the water resources control board.

Millions of trees are dying in California cities because people stopped watering them. Trees are exempt from the watering ban, but most didn’t know that. Now it may be too late to save many urban trees. Possible hazards are branches falling off dying trees, plus loss of habitat to birds and critters, as well as shade.

And in a final indignity that no one realized, rebates homeowners received for ripping out lawns is deemed taxable income by the IRS.

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