Tempe Grease Coop: City & Businesses Clean Up Problem

Tempe's Jeff Vebber checks a grease trap outside a downtown restaurant.

Tempe’s Jeff Vebber checks a grease trap outside a downtown restaurant.

By Kathleen Ferris
Executive Director

So you stand there for a minute with the frying pan in your hand and think about sending bacon grease down your kitchen sink’s drain. What could it do to the plumbing? Imagine if you served hundreds, even thousands, of meals a day. Grease is a big water problem.

Tempe inspectors are discovering many grease traps are not being cleaned to the city’s standards. In response, the city has organized the Tempe Grease Cooperative, the first in the state and the only voluntary city-managed grease-trap-cleaning program in the country.

First, the good news about grease: Vats of oil left over from French fries and fried chicken are a valuable commodity. Restaurants sell the oil to companies that turn it into biodiesel fuel. The problem is the fats, oils and grease cleaned off dirty dishes and mopped off restaurant floors. It has to go somewhere. Small restaurants attach tanks to their sinks to trap the grease and large restaurants bury large tanks, most often under their parking lots, to intercept larger amounts of fats, oils and grease.

Restaurants are required to hire companies to regularly clean and dispose of the grease caught in those traps. If they are not cleaned well, grease can cause sewage fumes and sewage backup inside restaurants. Grease also can build up and clog sewer lines and the city must invest time and manpower to scrape it out. Sewage with a lot of grease mixed into it also is difficult to clean at a wastewater treatment plant.

The Tempe Grease Coop is the city’s response. This past fall the city selected three companies to clean the grease traps for all the restaurants that join the coop. The restaurants get a 15 percent discount off what they normally pay for the service and can hand over the responsibility of monitoring the quality of work to the city. Tempe is developing plans with Arizona State University researchers to study ways the grease caught in traps could be turned into a renewable biogas.

While that would be a happy ending, the question remains: What should you do with a frying pan full of bacon grease? Pour it into an empty milk carton and use a paper towel to clean the remainder of the grease in the pan. Then throw the carton and the towel into the trash. Find more information about water at amwua.org.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

When Are You Willing To Pay A Little More?

By Kathleen Ferris, Executive Director

water falling into handsWhen are you willing to pay a little more? Perhaps you’ll pay more for steak that is a little better grade, a contractor who is licensed or a car that saves gas. What about a reliable water supply? The water you drink, that flushes your toilet, provides a warm shower and keeps the trees alive in your yard.

Arizona residents understand that drought threatens the state’s future water supply. A recent survey by the Environmental Defense Fund shows 74 percent of the 500 residents surveyed called dwindling groundwater supplies a serious problem. Half of those surveyed ranked a reliable water supply as either a serious or an extremely serious problem.

Phoenix area residents do a good job saving water and have actually increased the amount of groundwater available in the Phoenix metro area since the state passed the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. Despite a growth in population, water use has remained steady. State leaders decided 20 years ago that developers could no longer use drinking water to create manmade lakes. Public landscapes that were once overrun by grass are now dominated by low-water-use plants and trees. Water use also is down because homes built with new plumbing codes and water-efficient appliances have replaced irrigated agricultural fields.

Continuing to protect the water supply will take hard work, innovation and money. For example, cities will need to replace leaky pipes and aging pumps and invest in new technology to treat wastewater so it can help to stretch drinking water supplies. The state will need to set up new infrastructure to import water, create new underground basins to store water for the future, and explore desalinization projects and cloud seeding. It may have to pay farmers to find new ways to irrigate crops more efficiently. To make it work, developers, residents, businesses and industries will have to pay more.

Among the top 20 largest cities in the country, Phoenix has the 7th lowest average household water bill. Which brings us back to the results of that Environmental Defense Fund survey. The report also shows only 17 percent of those surveyed support increased taxes to manage and regulate water supplies and only 15 percent are willing to pay more in property taxes to fund new water supplies and conservation measures. So here’s the question again: When are you willing to pay a little more?  Find more about water at amwua.org.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

A Running Toilet: Is This The Best We Can Do?

By Kathleen Ferris,  Executive Director

Loo leads the chase!On March 22, some good sport in the water community will once again struggle into a 6-foot-tall toilet costume and lead the One for Water 4-Miler Race around Rio Vista Community Park in Peoria. The photo of the running toilet is re-tweeted more than any water conservation event in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area. It must cross people’s minds: Is a silly pun the best a desert metropolis can do to save its precious water supply?

The answer is no, but it is one way to let people know about how cities can help homeowners and businesses conserve water.

Saving water is so important to the Phoenix Metro’s desert cities that many are willing to pay homeowners to replace old plumbing with more efficient fixtures or change grassy yards into desert gardens that need much less water. These cities also will guide you in the step-by-step process of planting and caring for a lovely water-saving garden through free classes, videos and brochures. Goodyear has a new competition that will give a year’s worth of free water to the household that plants the best new desert garden. Many cities, including Scottsdale, Avondale, Peoria, Gilbert, and Glendale, offer free water-leak detection kits for homes and businesses. Chandler will send a water expert to audit your home for potential leaks. Cities offer water-saving educational videos and school curriculum for teachers.  All the AMWUA member conservation offices can provide copies of the Smart Home Water Guide, a step-by-step resource to finding leaks inside and outside your home.

The running toilet, Leaky Loo McFlapper, is an effort to make people stop, laugh, and learn to make their own water-saving contributions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average home loses 10,000 gallons of water a year through leaks. That’s enough water to do about 10 months worth of laundry.

Toilets are a home’s most likely water loser, then faucets, including shower heads, grass sprinklers, underground drip irrigation systems, and undetected leaks in backyard pools. The running toilet is a reminder during Fix A Leak Week, March 17-24, to investigate the water that seems to always puddle around one irrigation head (Yes, the race also includes a giant running sprinkler head) or to fix the faucet drip that irritates everyone in the family but you. They are usually small and simple fixes. There will be plenty of people at the March 22 Family Fun Festival during and after the run to show you how. The festival also includes food booths and music.

So is a silly pun the best way to save water in the desert? Maybe not, but its message could make a serious contribution. Find more information at amwua.org. It’s hard to miss the smiling toilet on the homepage.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Tres Rios Wetlands: Not Just For The Birds

By Kathleen Ferris, Executive Director

Tres RiosOn the industrial southwestern edge of Phoenix where the city bumps up against farmland, Great Blue Herons, beavers and bobcats roam the Tres Rios Wetlands, a man-made 500-acre wildlife haven.

It would be nice to imagine that Tres Rios Wetlands Project with the Estrella Mountains as a backdrop was built by Phoenix as a refuge for the native trees, wetland vegetation and animals. While that’s an important feature, it’s a byproduct. Tres Rios was built as an efficient method to remove nitrogen from the wastewater flowing from the sewage treatment plant next door.

Natural wetlands, sometimes called marshes or riparian areas, are found all over the world and help to control floods and provide habitat to a wide variety of animals and water-rooted plants and trees. Farms fields and developments have been built over many natural wetlands. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports there are about 1,000 manmade wetlands operating nationwide, most in the southwest where reclaiming wastewater is a top priority.

In 2009, Tres Rios was created out of vacant farmland along the Salt River bed. Everyday an average of 78 million gallons of treated wastewater flows through Tres Rios Wetlands from the neighboring 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant and into the Salt River. Farmers downstream of the flow use the reclaimed water for irrigating non-edible crops, such as cotton.

Tres Rios Wetlands is a vibrant wildlife site where native trees and water-rooted grasses attract birds and mammals. The site also attracts photographers, researchers and school kids. Creating the wetlands had its challenges, such as learning to regulate the flow of water to support wildlife, to eradicate invasive species such as Tamarisk trees, and to control mosquitoes. Special mosquito-eating fish, a balance of birds and bats, environmentally friendly chemical agents and diligent monitoring now control the pests.

The next step is making the wetlands friendlier to visitors. This part of the project will include more parking, benches, trails and outlooks for better viewing. Find more information about the Tres Rios Wetlands at http://phoenix.gov/waterservices/tresrios/index.html

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.