When the average person looks at the L.A. skyline, they might pick out landmarks. Me? I see water – the million gallons that could be saved by every high-rise if it simply changed the way it used water for cooling. That is just one of dozens of ways buildings in Los Angeles such as the Sheraton Grand, Convention Center, and Children’s Hospital are reducing their water use and utility bills. 

After five years of severe drought, you might think Los Angeles had maxed out our potential for water efficiency. But the truth is that we have only begun to tap the vast opportunities for saving water at scale. And I fear this winter’s storms might slow our progress toward wiser use of this precious resource.

As the owner of a craft brewery, I am looking back to old England for clues on how to make the best beer simply and economically. Among other steps, we use old wine barrels instead of new steel tanks, further reducing our water footprint by eliminating manufacture and transport of equipment.

For me, these practices are an expression of my values, and the key to my bottom line in a business with low margins. Water is expensive in Los Angeles, and rates are only going to rise in the future as our growing population and economy require new infrastructure investments. It feels good to know I’m doing my small part in a water-intensive industry to model sustainability. But I can’t go it alone – which brings me back to that skyline. 

In my other life, I am executive director of Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge, a program funded by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to help building owners reduce water and energy use 20 percent by 2020. We have worked with hotels, museums, apartment buildings, hospitals, government facilities, and universities on smart upgrades. At UCLA, water from sterilization of medical equipment has found a new life in “cooling towers” that trap excess heat and lower air-conditioning bills. At Cal State Northridge, irrigation is now timed with the weather, and a polymer injected under lawns helps roots retain moisture.

Way of life

In May of last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order designed to make water conservation and efficiency a way of life in California. Just as we’re leading the clean energy revolution, he saw a chance for the state to transform our relationship to water. We made important progress during the drought and should maintain that momentum even as we welcome the return of rains.

The idea is to give each utility a water budget, based on local weather, population, and land use. Utilities can choose how to meet their targets however they want. That might include improvements in indoor or outdoor efficiency or leak repair.

As a small-business owner, the idea of working within a budget is a no-brainer. I am acutely aware of every check I write, because my job is to monitor the bottom line. The building owners I work with through the Better Buildings Council are the same, always looking to maximize the value of their investments.

It’s time we bring this same discipline to the management of our water resources across the state, living within our means and making every drop count.

David Hodgins is founder of Dry River Brewing and executive director of Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge.

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