As stories of drought and water scarcity increasingly dominate the news this summer, conversations around water efficiency and smart outdoor water use are becoming more and more important. To meet this water scarcity challenge, cities and utilities have undertaken programs that encourage smarter and more efficient irrigation practices and many homeowners have adopted new technologies to help better understand their outdoor water use.
July is Smart Irrigation Month across the US, with the goal of promoting the social, ecological and economic benefits of efficient irrigation. According to the EPA, 50% of household water use is used outdoors. Summer months only increase outdoor water use, and often water waste, leading to higher water bills for consumers and heightened drought concerns for cities, water districts and agencies.
As cities and water utilities plan for the impact of climate change and population growth on their communities, conservation and smart water use becomes increasingly essential. Below you will find a number of options that cities can adopt to create opportunities to consistently and effectively reduce outdoor water demand.
Public Information Campaigns
For some cities, simply reminding people of the source, value, and cost of their water and the need to be smart about water use has a significant impact. As we’ve discussed in our Communicating with Ratepayers webcast, many consumers are unaware of where their water comes from and the importance of conservation. Ensuring consistent and diverse messaging around the services that you provide and the importance of long-term conservation to maintain resources can be incredibly effective. For more resources on how to communicate effectively with ratepayers, be sure to check out our Member Portal.
In the summer of 2013, The City of Denver undertook a city-wide marketing campaign to remind their customers of the scarcity of their water resources, and to ask customers to only use what they need.
You can check out more examples on the Denver Water website.
Additionally, asking for voluntary water use restrictions can have a measurable impact. The City of Newport Beach worked with Metropolitan Water District (MWD) to implement a region-wide advertising campaign on the radio and in-print banners placed around the city. These information campaigns had easy-to-follow examples of how customers can save water outdoors, for example cutting outdoor watering by at least one day a week or only watering at night or in the morning.
Educational resources can have a huge impact. Many public entities have added water calculators to their online websites to inform the public how and when to water their plants. Breakdowns of ideal run time, the right watering days, start times, and checking watering schedules against weather patterns can influence behavior and better manage use. Check out Be Water Wise’s Water Calculator for an example.
Qualified Water Efficient Landscaping Trainings
QWEL is an EPA WaterSense labeled professional certification program for irrigation system audits. It presents an affordable, proactive, local approach to reducing landscape water demand. Since approximately 50% of all residential water use is allocated to outdoor landscaping, adopting water efficient landscaping has significant water conservation potential.
WaterNow has been a roving QWEL Professional Certifying Organization since 2015. We recently conducted a QWEL training in Aspen Colorado, which you learn more about on our blog here.
Smart Irrigation Technologies
The emergence of smart irrigation technology takes away the human error aspect of watering. it’s common for residents to forget to turn off our alter their irrigation controllers throughout the year or to accidentally forget to turn off their sprinklers after the allotted amount of time.
Systems like Rachio and Hydropoint help to address this. Smart phone apps can monitor weather, soil conditions, evaporation and plant water use to automatically adjust the watering schedule to actual conditions of the site. Many cities have implemented rebate programs for these new technologies, making it easier for homeowners to purchase and install them.
The Rachio website states you can save over 50% of your household water use just by installing a Racho system, with average users seeing 30% water savings. In Orange County, Florida, water use was cut by up to 40 percent across the county thanks to smart irrigation controllers.
Many beautiful plants and shrubs thrive with far less watering than lawns. Xeriscaping, a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation or other maintenance, is growing in popularity across the West. It saves time, money and water. Replacing full landscapes can be expensive though, and some cities have actively encouraged drought tolerant landscapes through turf-buy-back programs.
The City of Tempe, AZ offers a rebate of .25 cents per square foot of grass that is removed and replaced with low-water-use plants. They also provide online classes with recommended native and low water use plants and landscape professionals and a Xeriscape demonstration garden to showcase desert landscaping practices.
The importance of increased public awareness around outdoor water use is essential. But operating budgets for many cities and utilities limit the impact they’re able to have beyond public information campaigns and website updates. Programs like rebates for smart irrigation controllers and xeriscape are expensive and therefore are sometimes too small to create the impact that is needed to see significant community change.
That’s where new opportunities to flexibly finance this green infrastructure become all the more essential. In May, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) in a unanimous vote, approved new language that allows public utilities to have the option of capitalizing certain costs, such as reimbursing customers for turf-buy-back programs or smart irrigation controllers, instead of paying for these programs exclusively out of operating cash. You can read more about this exciting new ruling in our three-part blog, starting here.
Ultimately, regardless of the ways in which you achieve it, increased conservation and efficiency is an essential step for cities and utilities to increase their resiliency and better plan for the future. Smart Irrigation Month reminds us of the impact we can have in our communities by taking seemingly small steps towards changing the way we use water outdoors.