Dripping With Good News

Often, when the topics of water conservation and general water issues arise, people usually focus on why and how we can conserve and protect this valuable resource. However, instead of discussing the reasoning and warning signs, let’s learn from some communities that are dramatically reducing their water use, and making water conservation part of everyday life.

For example, Los Angeles, Calif., is currently dealing with a variety of problems, such as a struggling economy and a downturn in the local real-estate market. Negativity has dominated the headlines in the area in recent years, but strides are quietly being made in regards to water conservation.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times (April 13, 2010), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power states the city had the lowest recorded water use in 31 years. Although the metropolitan area has approximately one million more people today, water use has declined to 1979 levels.

How was this accomplished? Los Angeles, which has had chronic water shortages in the past, implemented tight water restrictions dating to 2007. These usage restrictions, which have helped realize savings, include:

• Residents can only water yards on Mondays and Thursdays, and watering is prohibited from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• There are restrictions on water use in park and recreational facilities.

• Watering sidewalks and driveways is prohibited.

• Whenever new fixtures are to be installed in residential settings, “high-efficiency” water fixtures, which use significantly less water than conventional ones, are to be used. Examples include faucets, sinks and showerheads.

• A commercial water-conservation rebate program was instituted. The city pays building owners $150-$250 and possibly more for every high-efficiency toilet and urinal installed.

Some may think these changes have been met with criticism and resistance, but Los Angeles residents, at least over time, have actually embraced many of these initiatives and, according to the report, residential, commercial and industrial users have had to sacrifice very little. In fact, people in this area are proactively taking advantage of new water-reducing technologies and rebate programs, and doing their part to protect the community’s water supplies.

Hydrating Phoenix

Los Angeles is not the only major U.S. city experiencing a significant reduction in water use. Phoenix, Ariz., is using “less water today than it was a decade ago and less per capita than two decades ago,” says Mayor Phil Gordon. And, the mayor adds, this occurred even though “our population has grown by more than a million people in the past decade.”

According to the city’s Water Resource Plan, individual and business conservation efforts in Phoenix have resulted in a 20-percent reduction in water use since 1980.

These efforts include

• Leveling agricultural fields with lasers in order to collect water runoff

• Landscaping with native plants that need minimal water to survive

• Promoting high-efficiency restroom fixtures in commercial facilities, with an emphasis on low-water or waterless urinal systems

• Developing rating systems to help consumers--both commercial and residential--select the most water-conserving appliances and fixtures.

Gordon is quite impressed with his city’s accomplishments. “Other cities are just now piloting such programs,” he says. “But Phoenix has been utilizing ‘Green and sustainable’ [water-reducing] practices for decades.”

Drop By Drop--Ways To Conserve Water

With growing populations and more need for water, Los Angeles and Phoenix are successful examples for the rest of the country to follow. Water conservation is a group effort, and goals should be outlined clearly. According to Gordon, a “heads-up” approach is needed to effectively conserve water.

So what can cities and states, as well as park and recreation facilities, do to conserve water? Here are some suggestions:

1. Get water-focused. Park and recreation facilities--whether government operated or independent--must be aware of and get involved with local water issues to ensure this finite resource is protected. Some communities have developed pricing structures that reward water efficiency, and raise rates for customers who use water inefficiently. These strategies have proven to be effective in many cases.

2. Have a water czar. Water conservation needs leadership. Many facilities find that the best way to conserve water is to appoint an individual to head water-conserving efforts. Usually, this individual forms a small committee to help investigate how water is being used and where water conservation is possible.

3. Set water-saving goals. Park and recreation managers need to know how much water they are currently using. With this benchmark, managers must set goals of reducing water by a certain percentage in one year, five years, 10 years and so on.

4. Begin replacing toilets. Toilets are not only durable, but they are also relatively easy to repair. However, this can be a setback in water conservation. On an annual basis, older toilets can use as much as 12,000 gallons of water, while high-efficiency toilets use approximately one third of this number or less.

5. Begin replacing urinals. Because water-using urinals have flush handles that need repair occasionally, these fixtures are not as indestructible as toilets. However, older urinals can use as much as three gallons of water per flush, averaging 40,000 gallons of water per year, per unit. The state of Arizona encourages the use of low water-using or waterless urinal systems.

6. Reduce outdoor watering. In many facilities, the greatest volume of water is used for landscaping. A 2010 study by the Texas Water Development Board estimated that as much as half the water used to irrigate landscaping was wasted due to over-watering or run-off. In addition to making sure outdoor irrigation is used wisely, consider landscaping with vegetation that requires less water.

Talk About It

A final, but very important, way park and recreation facilities can reduce their water use is making sure staff as well as park users know water-conservation measures have been implemented. Conservation is contagious, and when establishments make it known that water usage is a top priority, users and staff will want to do their part. Further, this awareness opens the door for new ideas to save water and use it more efficiently.

Water conservation is a serious issue, but the cities and steps outlined in this article give us reasonable hope. Although there may be some challenges in the near future, we must all realize we play an important part in a larger group effort. Water is vital in all facets of society, especially where we live, work, and play. Follow the path that others are building, and let’s all fill a role in preserving a precious water supply.

A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt is founder and managing partner of Waterless Co. LLC, Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing-fixture industry with water conservation in mind.