Despite a wet March, during which some big storms hit the Sierra, the United States Drought Monitor is reflecting what we Californians know—that water, again, is in short supply. What’s more, parched landscapes in summer and fall are more fire-prone, causing the risks to compound and making it more urgent to act.
Conserving, protecting and restoring our precious California water resources was again at the heart of the Water Conservation Showcase, co-hosted by USGBC Northern California and other partners in downtown San Francisco on March 20, 2018. During a full day of programming and another impressive expo, more than 600 people came together to learn and collaborate on solutions for a smart water future. The conversation continues at USGBC Los Angeles’s 17th annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo on April 19 in Downey, California.
Green buildings can improve water conservation and water resource management in California in many ways. A report released at the 2015 showcase revealed the contributions that California’s LEED-certified buildings have made, as well as the opportunities in LEED v4 to drive further action. As LEED v4.1 rolls out, green building is poised to play an even more important role in the suite of water solutions, especially given the new option for all buildings to leverage CALGreen compliance in achieving LEED certification.
Policies to move us forward
At the local level, California cities and counties have a number of tools at their disposal to help manage urban water, such as the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. Cities are also implementing building benchmarking laws to help drive measurement and transparency in energy and water consumption. The City of Los Angeles’s Existing Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Ordinance requires that all privately owned buildings larger than 50,000 square feet report their annual consumption by June 1.
A few bills in the Assembly and Senate seek to provide further guidance for local government action. One of these is SB 966, which makes an effort to expand water recycling by developing statewide on-site water reuse regulations. USGBC is supporting these and other strategies to add to the toolbox.
Public buildings are also an important piece of the equation. Research shows that leadership by example in greener building practice produces spillover benefits that spur activity in private markets. Already, the California Department of General Services has been leading the charge to implement Gov. Jerry Brown’s aggressive 2012 executive order that called for slashing water use, which was further enhanced during the extreme drought from 2014 to 2015.
With an uncertain water future and a compounding set of needs to lead in environmental stewardship, USGBC is working with Assemblymember Phil Ting to commit the state to exploring sustainability standards for public landscapes that can save water, enhance resilience and restore ecosystem health.
State leadership on sustainable landscapes
California landowners both big and small have a role to play in promoting sustainable water and lands. Although the Department of General Services (DGS) is not nearly the largest landowner, it has demonstrated an important capacity for outstanding management of best sustainability practices from which other agencies, other states and the private sector are learning.
Accordingly, Assemblymember Ting’s AB 2475 bill is an effort to expand the state’s commitment to green public buildings to also include leadership practices for sustainable landscapes. If adopted, the bill would require that DGS review the SITES rating system “to determine appropriate sustainability recommendations for use when installing or renovating a landscape of more than 5,000 square feet on state-owned real property.” Furthermore, the bill would require that DGS “adopt regulations consistent with those sustainability recommendations in order to promote sustainable practices for landscapes on state-owned real property.”
In 2017, Rhode Island became the first state to adopt the SITES framework into public law. Rhode Island’s commitment is effectively a pilot program for four public projects. With AB 2475, we have the opportunity to dramatically increase the uptake of state leadership practices for more resilient landscapes, with the help of an agency that is adept in interpreting and implementing sustainability standards.
Please join us in supporting Assemblymember Ting on this next step for water and land management in California. Spend one minute to set up your account with the California Legislative Information system, and add your supportive comments to the bill.