Water conservation is cheap compared to the alternative

Tim Lee / MCT

I often hear public agencies say that water conservation is top priority and that the cheapest drop of water is the one saved. And they are right.

But if you look at the money invested in water conservation in the South Florida Water Management District, it looks like anything but a top priority. The district’s water-conservation budget has been sucked dry in the past few years. In fact, the South Florida Water Management District’s five-year capital improvements plan showed zero funding for alternative water supply and water conservation for 2015- 2018.

Why should you care about this? I like knowing that when I turn on the faucet, water will flow. You want to know that the toilet will flush. If you’re like me, you want know that the shower will pour and the dishwasher will run without having to think about it too much.

South Florida’s water supply is closely connected to our ecosystem. One in three Floridians depends on the Everglades for freshwater. Rainwater seeps from the wetlands in the Everglades into the Biscayne Aquifer to replenish our water supply. To conserve water in your Miami Beach apartment means conserving water for the Everglades and for all the rare and beautiful wildlife that depend on a healthy habitat. Likewise, to protect water in the Everglades means protecting water for your apartment.

South Florida is growing. The cranes have returned downtown, and that is a good thing. As we grow, we need to maximize our efficiency to sustain our water resources.

Some large-scale alternative water-supply projects will likely be needed in the future. But they are much more expensive than saving the water resources we have through conservation. In Miami-Dade, a gallon of water created through a large water-infrastructure project can be 10 times as expensive as a gallon saved through water conservation. And that extra cost filters down to your wallet.

Beyond turning the water off while we brush our teeth and only washing our dishes when the dishwasher is full, what needs to be done?

Public agencies need to help people modernize their water-use practices through incentive programs and measurable targets. Miami-Dade County has done well with its “Use Less” water-conservation campaign to provide incentives to homeowners and businesses to reduce their water use. They need to take it even further: Replace thirsty nonnative lawns with beautiful native landscaping to suit our subtropical climate. And who doesn’t like a shiny new sink or a modernized showerhead? Now that new buildings are set, let’s retrofit the older ones with water-saving devices. No one will cry for the water wasted in an old-fashioned, leaking, high-flow toilet. As important, we must hold utilities accountable to achieve measurable and mandatory reductions.

How do we make these changes? It is going to take time, a full commitment from the public to modify behaviors and a heightened appreciation of our limited precious blue commodity. But as an easy starting point, the South Florida Water Management District must restore water-conservation funding to levels before the deep cuts in 2011 to push these programs forward.

It is not enough to just say water conservation is a priority. The agency must put its money where its mouth is.

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