Although some states like Arizona and Georgia have been forced to implement water conservation policies to deal with drought conditions, the reality is that most of the United States is not taking proactive measures to promote water efficiency. This is a disturbing fact considering that a 2003 U.S. General Accounting Office survey estimated that 36 states may experience water shortages by 2013.

In an effort to move state conservation efforts forward, the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) and the Environmental Law Institute have released a draft of the report entitled “The Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws and Policies.” According to the organizations, the purpose of the research effort was to compile concise and useful information about state water laws and policies and, more important, bring attention to exemplary policies that may be used as models for other states to emulate.

Funded in part by a grant from the Turner Foundation, the report identifies water-efficiency and conservation policies and laws throughout the 50 states via a 20-question survey. The survey covers a wide range of topics, including plumbing fixture standards, water conservation requirements related to water rights, water loss control rules, conservation planning and program implementation, volumetric billing for water, and funding sources for water-efficiency and conservation programs. Not surprisingly, the report found that many states have virtually no relevant policies and regulations, and only a handful have a compendium of well-planned and strongly implemented practices.

One of the most interesting aspects of the report is that the project team graded each state based on its findings. Overall, the 50 states as a group averaged a “C” grade. In fact, only two states—California and Texas—earned an “A-,” while the rest of the country received 10 “Bs,” 19 “Cs” and 19 “Ds.” Seven states received a mere 2 out of 40 possible points.

The scorecard certainly uncovers areas of deficiencies (i.e., only two states have building and plumbing codes that require the installation of water-efficient products), but the real value of the report can be found in the exemplary examples that can serve as models for future policy. The report even includes a chapter that highlights robust laws and policies in place that can be used by other states to support new efforts or strengthen existing ones. Details such as how the policy is worded and where it exists in state statute are included.

AWE hopes that the report findings will not only be a catalyst for dialogue about current and future water-efficiency and conservation policies, but perhaps even generate friendly and healthy competition among states.

“We undertook this project to stoke the fire,” notes Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of AWE and Vision 2020 chair. “A similar state scorecard report exists on energy efficiency, and it has resulted over the years in intense competition among the states for the highest scores. We were hoping for the same to happen with water-efficiency policies.”

The draft of the report, which you can download here, is open for public comment until June 15. Results may change after the comment period is closed.