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So how exactly does the San Diego County Water Authority measure how much water its rebate programs have helped conserve annually?

Simple. They count widgets — the number of efficient toilets, showerheads and clothes washers that have been distributed.

Those programs have basically had one goal: Saving water without impacting anyone’s lifestyle. If you’ve replaced a showerhead, you take the same 30-minute shower you always did — just using less water.

Same with toilets. In the 1980s, a standard toilet used between five and seven gallons per flush. Today, toilets typically use 1.6 gallons per flush.

The problem now, though, is that saving water is getting tougher. To net more conservation gains will require people to change their behavior. Like realizing that it’s unspeakably wasteful to use energy to pump water hundreds of miles from Northern California or the Colorado River only to use it to irrigate in the rain.

Ken Weinberg, the water authority’s water resources director, said the agency has nearly exhausted all the gains it can net indoors, which will increasingly put pressure on homeowners and businesses to reduce their outdoor water use.

Conserving water outdoors “means a substantial change in the way we use our landscape,” Weinberg said. “It doesn’t mean we’re looking like Tucson or Phoenix. But it means we maybe can’t put our whole backyard in turf. People will have to change how we use water.”

ROB DAVIS

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