If you’re looking to lower municipal water consumption, check out how a city in drought-stricken California is investing a lawsuit settlement.

In the late 1990s, Santa Monica was forced to buy 85% of its drinking water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California after methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) leaking from gas stations made its way into city supplies.

In 2006, when the city reached an agreement with two oil companies found responsible for the contamination, officials decided to use the funds to make the city more efficient. Instead of building a new sports stadium, they invested in long-term water solutions.

Purging contaminated groundwater wells enabled the city to meet roughly 70% of its needs. To achieve its ultimate goal – complete self-sufficiency by 2020– the city is investing $50 million on facilities to recycle excess irrigation water and other urban runoff, a rain harvesting program, and groundwater treatment plants.

Meeting the goal could save the city $3 million per year.

The next step is building a 50,000-square-foot city hall expansion that would be certified Net Zero Water (NZW) and Net Zero Energy (NZE).

At the recent GreenBuild Expo in Washington, D.C., Santa Monica Sustainable Building Advisor Joel Cesare, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Environmental and Sustainability Mark Gold, and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Climate Change Coordinator Elizabeth Rhoades explained their plan of attack.

The city was inspired by the world’s greenest commercial building: Seattle’s award-winning Bullitt Center.

To gain NZE certification, a building must be “designed to create the same amount of energy that it consumes.” To gain NZW certification, it must aim “to relieve dependence on city water with a ‘closed loop’ supply, which will decrease strain on water treatment facilities.”

As cities across the country seek ways to operate more sustainably, Santa Monica can be a model for the future.