In the next couple of weeks, the Sacramento region’s elected officials will be making some crucial decisions—ones that will have a huge impact on the future of Sacramento. They will determine how to spend the roughly $20 million in national economic-stimulus money that is trickling down the pipe to us.
The money is supposed to be allocated to shovel-ready projects that improve the environment and the economy, with a portion allocated toward education and outreach.
The vast majority of the funds can—and should—be spent retrofitting buildings, improving vehicle fleets, restoring equipment and overhauling infrastructure. But while physical improvements are critical, huge environmental gains could be made if we used some of the funds to attempt to change the behavior patterns of the 2 million citizens living in our region.
Individuals and businesses that reduce their waste, weatherize their dwellings, tune up their cars, and conserve more water and energy can collectively have far more impact than any building retrofit or fleet overhaul. For instance, if citizens reduce their waste by a mere 5 percent through recycling, that saves the municipality millions of dollars.
Another good example is Sacramento’s use of nearly 300 cubic gallons of water per day per person when the rest of California survives on 192 gallons per person per day. We could turn that around if we used some of the funds to get residents to adopt conservation practices that are used successfully throughout the rest of the state.
I believe that the vast majority of our region’s residents are willing to do more. But they need to know what to do.
Fortunately, the utility companies and municipalities have excellent, hardworking, extremely informed staff members who have been hauling trash, maintaining our water systems, keeping our lights turned on and running the various systems that keep our worlds going ’round. In many cases, they have already done the necessary work to develop an action plan for the citizens.
For instance, the city and county collaborative plan for river-friendly landscaping dramatically reduces water and pesticide use, and the amount of yard waste that goes to landfills. Yet this excellent plan basically still sits unused on a shelf, since there has been no public outreach about it.
Meanwhile, SMUD and PG&E have assembled people who know how to significantly improve building plans, help improve lighting and give practical, cost-effective ways to decrease energy use in virtually every energy category. But these plans need to be brought out and shared with the public.
And now we have a golden opportunity. If municipalities work together to answer the fundamental question of what Sacramento area residents should do, and then share that information with the public, the people will respond.