Manny Teodoro, a Texas A&M researcher who’s been doing important work on municipal utility governance and rate structures, has an update today on the 2018 California water conservation data.
Point one, which is important given some breathless and totally premature journalism last year about California’s water conservation post-Big Drought, is that municipal water use remains lower than the 2013 benchmarks when the state began its aggressive statewide mandatory water conservation efforts. Even as drought pressure has abated, conservation behavior has stuck.
Point two is that private utilities continue to perform better than public utilities in terms of conservation:
Overall urban water use remained significantly lower in 2018, with average monthly conservation of about 14% compared with 2013. The public-private disparity in overall conservation also persisted.
This seemed counterintuitive to me when I first came across Teodoro’s findings. But his explanation makes sense, and is consistent with other research suggesting a connection between governance structure and water conservation performance. His essential argument is that municipal management, more directly accountable to voters, faces, in his words, “political headwinds” in implementing things like rate hikes and mandatory watering restrictions. Private utilities, accountable to state regulators rather than local voters, have a relatively easier time of implementing such measures, he argues.