PRB Articles


Water Conservation

On August 5, 2008, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared a water emergency. The board unanimously approved a resolution to increase water conservation efforts within the county to significantly reduce overall water use. The resolution applied to residents and business owners as well as parks and recreation facilities.

This action was the result of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proclamation of a statewide drought, which directed county leaders to immediately reduce water usage in hundreds of county-owned facilities. It also directed the Department of Public Works--in conjunction with the Departments of Internal Services, Parks and Recreation, and Regional Planning--to immediately submit recommendations to reduce water usage.

According to Los Angeles County Water Supervisor Don Knabe, “The water problem is not going away, and if we ignore it, it is just going to get worse.”

Many of the commission’s initial recommendations applied most specifically to residential and business water customers, although some also applied to parks and recreation facilities. For instance, the suggestions included the following:

· Shortening watering cycles. As much as 70 percent of residential water use goes to yard maintenance. Taking one minute off a 10-minute cycle decreases water usage by 10 percent.

· Properly maintaining sprinkler systems. This includes promptly replacing broken or clogged sprinkler heads. Users also must be sure to water the yard rather than the driveway or the sidewalk.

· Installing low-flow or no-flow restroom fixtures.

· Fixing leaks. Even if it’s only a drip, leaks can waste more than 10,000 gallons of water per month. Leaking toilet flappers also increase flow at water treatment plants.

· Planting native species or drought-tolerant plants. Many of the lawns and plants are not intended for the Southern California climate, meaning they require frequent watering.

· Using a broom instead of a hose for outdoor cleaning. Sweeping up leaves or grass clippings rather than using a hose not only saves water, but also reduces runoff.

· Using an adjustable hose nozzle. A hose running at full blast for five minutes uses the same amount of water as a 20-minute shower. Fine-tuning water flow to meet the needs of the task at hand can reduce the amount of water used without negative consequences.

· Eliminating runoff. This can indicate that a lawn is in need of aeration. When watering lawns, water needs to have somewhere to go besides the storm drain.

· Installing low-flow water fixtures.

Of these suggestions, the two that most apply to parks and recreation facilities are planting native species or drought-resistant plants, and using low-flow--or preferably no-flow--restroom fixtures.

Native Plants To The Rescue

Southern California is not the only location where water shortages are impacting parks and recreational facilities. Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and many other states also are taking steps to use water more responsibly, and some are even demanding serious cutbacks. One method being used to accomplish this goal is the use of native plants and vegetation. Xeriscaping proponents have shown that native plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers--that is, those species that have evolved in a specific region over time--can help conserve water resources more efficiently than non-native plants that are adapted to other climates.

One location where such water conservation measures have become necessary is Denver, where the xeriscaping movement actually began in 1981. The city’s Greenprint program has made sustainability--including more efficient use of water--a core issue. Every one of the city’s many government agencies--including parks and recreation--is required to work with the Greenprint program to ensure compliance with the city’s conservation and sustainability goals. The result has been that parks and recreation locations are now planting drought-tolerant mesquite trees, buffalo grass and colorful Texas red sage, which provide attractive landscaping without the need for frequent watering.

Using native plant species provides other benefits as well. If planned and planted correctly, native plants are more effective at reducing storm-water runoff, which helps reduce flooding. This also protects the natural quality of streams, rivers and lakes in a park area.

“Water is the 21st-century commodity that will most impact hunger, health and human life on the planet, and [these steps are] all part of the solution,” says Lynn Hinkle, a Water Project Manager in Kansas City, Mo., where a Greenprint program similar to Denver’s also is in effect.

Restroom Water Conservation

“Park and recreation facilities can also make major inroads into water conservation by retrofitting their restrooms with low-flow, or even no-flow, fixtures,” says Klaus Reichardt, founder and managing partner of Waterless Co. LLC, a leading manufacturer of waterless urinals and other restroom products. “For instance, in those facilities that provide shower rooms, the installation of low-flow showerheads can reduce water consumption by as much as four gallons per minute, while low-flow faucets can save 2 to 3 gallons of water per minute.”

According to Reichardt, this is a reduction of as much as 7 gallons of water per minute over older faucets without flow restrictors. Recent studies have shown that infrared and sensor-controlled faucets, which turn off the flow of water as soon as a user’s hands are removed from the faucet, are also water savers, reducing usage by as much as 1 gallon of water per use.

Water-use reduction also can be achieved through waterless urinal systems. These fixtures are cost-saving because they require less plumbing than conventional urinals. For example, the Presidio of Monterey--an army base located on California’s chronically drought-stricken MontereyPeninsula with a workforce of approximately 4,300 individuals, of whom 66 percent are men--retrofitted the men’s restrooms with 173 waterless urinals in 2002. A year later, the results showed the following savings:

· 11,490 gallons of water per day

· Approximately 3,000,000 gallons of water per year

· More than nine acre-feet* of water per year.

“The army estimates that these savings translate into a water/sewer charge cost savings of approximately $63,000 a year,” adds Reichardt.*

Additional savings can be achieved by installing a new, pressure-assisted toilet system. Many of these toilets have been installed in a number of hotels in Las Vegas, Nev., where water conservation has become paramount. While traditional toilets force waste down using gravity, pressure-assisted toilets use pressure created by compressed air, using considerably less water than a conventional toilet. Although this system has been reduced in price, it still tends to be more expensive than gravity system. However, the pressure-assisted system uses only about 1 gallon of water per flush, instead of the 1.6 or more gallons necessary for a traditional toilet or the 3 or more gallons used in some older models.

Water Conservation Is Key For Parks Going Green

As with facilities everywhere, parks and recreation centers are becoming greener, more sustainable and more environmentally responsible. However, issues such as energy use, which are of major concern to most building managers, are much less important in parks and recreation settings, where water conservation is the key. Fortunately, new systems and technologies are evolving that help make conserving water easier with little or no impact on park users.

*Based on $4.50 per 1,000 gallons of water used, as well as water and sewer charges.

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