Water savings come drop by precious drop
With an extended drought in the Western United States and concentrated population growth in Eastern cities and regions, local governments everywhere are finding that a drop of water conservation is worth gallons of cure. Many are offering incentives and rebates to encourage residents to reduce water use.
The current Western drought is the worst in more than 500 years, exceeding even the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and U.S. Geological Survey scientists say that it could hang around for five years or longer. In response, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is calling on her state’s municipalities to foster a “culture of conservation” and recently ordered that state agencies reduce their water consumption by 5 percent.
In Denver, the water board implemented a drought program that gave rebates to residents who bought dual-flush, pressure-assisted toilets and top-loading washing machines. In 2002 and 2003, the board offered a $100 rebate per toilet and $150 per washing machine. “We did have lots of people purchasing water-efficient clothes washers,” says Cris Call, a Denver Water Board conservation specialist. “Stores such as Sears, Home Depot and Lowe’s promoted the rebate and gave away rebate application forms to customers who bought new washers and/or toilets. It was a very successful and popular program.”
The water board later started a rebate program for purchasing low-water trees and shrubs, refunding $50 for a tree and $10 for a shrub, up to $200. It also offered rebates to residents who installed specific types of irrigation controllers, such as rainfall sensors and hose-end timers.
Salt Lake City’s conservation efforts have focused on billing rates. Stephanie Duer, Salt Lake City’s Water Conservation program coordinator, says over the past decade individual water use has dropped dramatically because of higher rates. Today, each person in the city uses an average of 240 gallons of water daily compared to a statewide average of 314 gallons and a national average of 341 gallons.
To save water, Volusia County, Fla., passed an ordinance requiring new homes to have less grass. Under the ordinance, 50 percent of a new landscape can be irrigated by up to one inch of water per week. The ordinance also has built-in options. “One option is to allow landscapes to have 50 percent high-, 25 percent medium- and 25 percent low-volume irrigation,” says Tom Carey, the county’s pollution manager. Alternately, homeowners can have more grass — up to 75 percent of the yard — if the rest of the landscape retains the original, natural vegetation without irrigation.
In New York City, where the water quality and conservation have made progress over the past century, the water board instituted a new rate program this year offering discounts to buildings installed with water recycling systems. “The Comprehensive Water Reuse Program provides a 25 percent reduction in metered water and sewer charges,” says Warren Liebold, a director for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
The Western drought has been the catalyst for change in many cities and counties, but reducing usage has become a a goal everywhere. Duer says, “During the drought we have had to be adamant about conservation, but this is what we have to do forever.”
— James Romeo is a Chesapeake, Va.-based freelance writer.