Saving Water at the Car Wash Now the Law

Starting January 1, 2014, new commercial car washes must either reuse at least 60 percent of their wash and rinse water or to use at least 60 percent recycled water to wash and rinse vehicles under legislation signed September 25 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California law already requires urban per capita water use be reduced 20 percent by the end of 2020.

“By setting a minimum level of water reuse for car washes, (the state) can help save water in a water-intensive industry, help the state meet its 20 percent urban per capita water use reduction goals … and reduce harmful runoff which pollutes our shores,” writes Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Burbank Democrat in defense of his bill, AB 2230.

Recycling water also prevents runoff of chemicals used in soaps and polishes, Gatto says. The bill creates a statewide minimum level for recycled or reused water use at car washes. Cities or counties can increase the percentage. Self service car washes are exempt. 

The analysis of the bill by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water notes that, with the exception of previous bills requiring more efficient plumbing fixtures, the Legislature has set goals for local water agencies to reach — like the 20 percent reduction by 2020 — rather than specifying specific ways if using water. 

“Should this bill become  law, it is likely to trigger introduction of a number of bills next session proscribing or prohibiting specific methods of  using water for a variety of water users,” the analysis says.

The analysis also says that the water usage estimates by the California Urban Water Conservation Council on which the bill is based might be overstated.

Using 1997 to 2002 California business census figures, the council estimated in a 2006 report that by 2020 car washes would be using  approximately 60,000 acre-feet annually. An acre foot is roughly 326,000 gallons — roughly the amount of water a family of four uses in a year.

“Given the estimates were based on 1997-2002 data and changes in the economy and water  using practices since the estimates were made, it is not clear  if the estimates of future savings are still valid,” the analysis concludes.



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