In June, California’s water rationing mandate to combat the drought went into effect, ordering a 25% reduction in water consumption. As the residents of California adjust to the new rule, the commercial real estate industry should prepare for the next round of conservation efforts.
Water Submetering Rules Affecting CRE
California Title 24 requires water submetering in non-residential (read: commercial) buildings greater than 50,000 square feet as of 2013. This rule calls for submetering spaces when possible, and submetering equipment if submetering tenant spaces is not possible.
New codes, adopted this year, pushed water efficiency and conservation as a top priority. Emergency building codes require efficient water use in new and major renovations with efficiency-conscious toilets, faucets, and other water-consuming features. New water efficient landscaping ordinance requires water-efficient sprinklers in all new landscaping projects. There are also turf-use restrictions for all lots greater than 500 square feet (for reference, the average California home lot is 2,500 square feet).
Results From Water Rationing
May produced promising results: amid growing concerns over the drought, California residents reduced their water consumption by 28% compared to May 2013. “May’s results were an encouraging sign,” said George Kostyrko, California State Water Resources Control Board’s Director of Office of Public Affairs. Kostyrko credits the drop in use with greater public understanding, more reports on water misuse, and increased reactiveness on these reports. That being said, May 2015 was also cooler than May 2013.
Water use continues to decline across the state, and the June report will be published at the end of July. However, if the cut back is not great enough, more extreme measures will be taken.
Can Real Estate Technology Slow the Drought?
Current technology to properly measure water consumption is lacking, according to Benjamin Freas, Senior Research Analyst at Navigant. He said there are few water management solutions, and the existing technology needs to be advanced and have better commercialization. The water management solution with the most potential would both diminish water use and identify leaks or areas of waste. With a proper metering and real-time data management system, a building manager would be able to easily assess areas of consumption and cut back on inefficiencies.
California Title 24: Building Codes Spread and Could Affect All States
California is not the only state suffering; the Pacific Northwest and other western states are shouldering the drought as well. To curb the effects, other states can adopt and modify California’s building codes, which would also reflect water efficiency and conservation measures. Recently, California administrations began collaborating with surrounding states to share ideas and best practices.
Beyond reactive measures, California sets the standard for efficient buildings. According to Freas, Class A commercial space is already very efficient. Thus, sophisticated energy and water use reductions could be marketed as sustainability measures. Potential greenwashing aside, this could be the next step to releasing efficient water use and technology to the broader market.