By Laura Fishman

With a new bill requiring construction projects to use water-efficient toilets by 2010, Californians are expected to save 200 million gallons of water in the first year alone.

On May 4, the California state assembly passed the bill A.B. 715 with a vote of 42-25. Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) proposed the bill last year, anticipating the consequences of climate change and the possibility of a statewide drought.

“Climate change is going to present some challenges to California in developing water,” Laird said to City on a Hill Press (CHP). “We have to figure out how to have an adequate water supply.”

California legislators passed a similar bill in 2006 setting new toilet flush volume standards, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the legislation. Laird believes that Schwarzenegger will likely approve the bill this time around due to the climate change concern.

“(The veto) was very disappointing because we had overwhelming support and we did so much work on it,” Laird said. “Given the passage of the Greenhouse Gases Bill and the possible beginnings of drought, it makes the bill even more possible and more urgent.”

The bill now heads to the State Senate for discussion. The new toilet requirements are expected to save eight billion gallons of water after 10 years, yet some question if the requirements will solve the state’s water shortages.

Executive Director of Monterey Bay Conservancy Doug Deitch does not feel new toilet flush standards will have a significant impact when it comes to water conservation. According to Monterey Bay Conservancy, 90 percent of water usage in Watsonville is from agriculture.

“That bill is a joke,” Deitch said. “If we have a water problem, we should be cutting back on growing strawberries in Watsonville, not low-flush toilets. Low-flush toilets are inconsequential.”

On the UC Santa Cruz campus, Dean Fitch, the acting director of community planning and land, said most water usage does come from utilities rather than irrigation or agriculture. Fitch believes new water requirements are a vital step toward effective water conservation.

“I think the idea of using higher efficiency fixtures would be a good thing,” Fitch said. “The campus is now trying to install waterless urinals. We see water as a precious resource, and we have to figure out our own way to conserve it.”

Laird remarked that UCSC has become a leader in water conservation.

“UCSC has figured out ways to grow and how to keep their water usage relatively low by managing water in a better manner,” he said.

A group of 10 UCSC students started a project at the beginning of spring quarter, measuring the water flow of individual fixtures on campus. The students will have the completed report of water usage on campus by the end of the quarter.

“With the project, we’re trying to see where we’re at now and what could be done,” said Campus Spokesperson Guy Lasnier. “It’s to get a baseline of what kinds of plumbing fixtures the campus has in order to evaluate what more should be done.”

Fitch concluded that the university will continue taking steps toward water conservation and sustainability, whether the bill passes or not.

“We’re already doing an awful lot,” he said. “Clearly there’s the opportunity for us to do better, and we’re striving towards that.”