Alliance for Water Efficiency to States on Water Use Policies: “Do Better.”

Alliance for Water Efficiency to States on Water Use Policies: “Do Better.”

Alliance for Water Efficiency evaluated state water use policies for the third time in 10 years. The latest was released in January 2023, and showed, overall, there was little-to-no meaningful progress since the last evaluation in 2017.

AWE Evaluates How US Water Conservation and Efficiency Policies Can Help or Hinder Water Use Efforts

The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) wants states to do more to help ensure a sustainable water future. They know that water conservation and efficiency have rightly been on the minds of many people across the country as we all increasingly deal with the reality of drought. There was a point in November 2022 when almost every state in the US had some level of drought. 

Deeper droughts are part of our new climate reality, and along with it, comes an unwelcome companion – water scarcity. A finite amount of drinkable freshwater is available to us on Earth, even in a relatively water-rich place like the US, and in many places we’re using it at an unsustainable rate. In order to find out how much states are doing to encourage us all to be more sustainable, the AWE created a means to evaluate state policies and laws.

We’ve written about the AWE Scorecards before. Three times over the last 10 years (previous versions: 2012; 2017) AWE has evaluated and ranked each state’s policies and laws “that advance water efficiency, conservation, sustainability and affordability, with a focus on measures that relate to the residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors.” 

The goal was to identify which states are getting it right and which states need to do better. In the latest Scorecard, each state was evaluated against 18 metrics related to water use, efficiency and conservation. The evaluation included residential and agricultural use, pricing, regulatory and policy frameworks and (our favorite) public education and outreach.

It turns out, across the country, we’re not treating our water resources very well. 

There are quite a few states lacking policies and laws that would encourage wise use of our most precious resource, effectively creating a sustainable path for an uncertain water future. 

How’s your state doing? Find out in the 2022 State Policy Scorecard for Water Efficiency and Sustainability.

What Does the AWE Scorecard Measure?

When people think about water conservation and efficiency, what comes to mind might be turning off the tap while they brush their teeth or, maybe, installing low-flow toilets. When states create policies for water conservation and efficiency, they generally think about such actions too, as well as all the appliances and fixtures that use water. Some of them think about the many other ways we use water in our homes and businesses. If they’re really forward-thinking, they create policies accompanied by actual plans to address residential water use, as well as agricultural and industrial water use, water pricing and affordability, and the implications of drought and water scarcity. 

Many states have laws and policies that help make those plans effective or, conversely, that render them toothless. Have you ever wondered what your state government does to ensure that water is used wisely in your state? Maybe you wondered how your state’s efforts compare to those of others. 

Per AWE, each state completed a 23-question survey, then AWE created a Scorecard that “ranked each US state based on its adoption and implementation of state-level laws and policies that advance water efficiency, conservation, sustainability, and affordability, with a focus on measures that relate to the residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors. The Scorecard is intended to encourage state action by identifying exemplary laws and policies as well as opportunities for improvement.” While previous Scorecards assigned letter grades, the current version assigns numerical values. In addition, new scoring categories were added, for a total possible score of 89 points (an extra credit of 10 points were possible).

AWE emphasizes that the Scorecard is not a quantification of water availability or how water is used within a state, in part because this is so variable in any given location and there are tens of thousands of water providers throughout the country.

AWE Scorecard Results

  • While some states improved, the average score across all states was 23 (out of a possible 89!) points; 
  • Only six states received half or more of the possible points;
  • The scores ranged from 72.5 to 2 (the bottom two states each received 2 points);
  • In most states, the burden to pay for and implement “water efficiency and sustainable water services” falls on local water agencies, businesses and the public;
  • California, Texas and Arizona maintained their leading spots from 2017 at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd;
  • Washington and Georgia rounded out the top five states;
  • New York State got the distinction of “Most Improved State”, landing in 6th place. They did this by “…adopting high efficiency plumbing standards, adopting requirements for water suppliers to develop drought preparedness plans and providing funding specifically for water conservation.”; and
  • The five lowest scoring states include (from higher to lower points): Missouri; North Dakota; South Dakota; Alaska; and Mississippi.

The report explains each ranking metric and why certain states scored the way they did. It’s a great way to understand what your state is doing to ensure or inhibit your secure, sustainable water future. 

This is important because we often overuse our water in the US. Water use rates vary from location to location, but, while some communities are doing a good job at balancing their resources with their needs, many are facing water scarcity, which is being exacerbated by climate change. The Colorado River Basin is a shining example of overuse creating an insecure future, but examples abound across the US.

Water conservation and efficiency have become increasingly important as the form, amount and intensity of precipitation changes from the effects of climate change. In addition, because no state is immune from drought, ensuring that the public understands their own water use is a critical component of our infrastructure. This is true not just for the many ways we use water directly from the tap, but also for the water we use virtually through the goods and services we consume. 

When people understand why water conservation and efficiency are important and how it impacts their own water use, they will be more prepared when drought hits and the real cuts have to be made.


My state — New York — received 46 out of 89 possible points (not great), yet it still ranked 6th out of 50 and received the distinction of being the most improved state. 

By Robin Madel on 02.27.2023.

Image: Utah State Capitol Building, Salt Lake City. Credit: Photo by Chris An on Unsplash