Rio Salado Habitat: Wildlife Sanctuary Created From Wasteland

By Kathleen Ferris

In 2000 the City of Phoenix began digging piles of trash, tires, appliances, and hulks of old cars out of a 5-mile section of the Salt Riverbed that had served as a dump for decades. Today, the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area is a 600-acre park with 39 acres of marshlands, 200 bird species, including 50 burrowing owls, and miles of hiking and biking trails.

Central Gateway to Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Central Gateway to Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

The Salt River once flowed through Phoenix before dams were built over 100 years ago to store water for farmers, and later, for homes and businesses in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area. The Valley received the water it needed to grow but the empty riverbed scarred the heart of the city. In the late 1980s, Phoenix began to re-imagine the riverbed as a park stretching from 24th Street to 19th Avenue.

Back then the estimated $80 million restoration of the riverbed was for dreamers. After all, the riverbed was 80 percent landfill. The dreamers included a development company that tried for years to find a safe way to build and irrigate a golf course along the south side of the riverbed between 7th and 16th streets.

The golf course was never built, but the dreamers won without it. In 1991, Maricopa County Supervisor Ed Pastor was elected to Congress and made the restoration of the Salt River his mission. Federal money made the project possible.

The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area was a partnership among the City of Phoenix, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maricopa County Flood Control District and the Arizona Water Protection Fund. At the time, it was the largest restoration project ever attempted by the Corps.

To create the park, the city removed 1,185 tons of tires and 138,572 cubic yards of trash. Five groundwater pumps were added to the site. The pumps create a riparian pond at the park’s Central Gateway at South Central Avenue just south of East Watkins Street. The pumps also maintain marshlands and irrigate some trees and bushes. Water from 33 storm-drain outfalls flows directly into the habitat.

Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman

Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center
Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman

Here’s what has replaced the trash:

  • 76,000 trees, plants and shrubs, including a Monarch butterfly sanctuary with willows, sages and milkweed. Most of the native trees were grown from seeds and cuttings gathered from within a half mile of the river bottom.
  • More than 200 species of birds, including 50 burrowing owls, roadrunners, ducks, herons and egrets. There also are beavers, fish, turtles, snakes and toads.
  • 39 acres of marshland, 16 miles of hard surface and dirt trails, 12 shade structures and dozens of benches.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center serves as the park’s nature center. Admission is free. Among other programs, the center offers interactive exhibits, birding classes, and an interpretive loop trail with connections to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area’s trails. The center also helps to connect students and volunteers to the park.

The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area is especially popular with migrating birds in the fall and spring. Perhaps it’s time to put it on your list of places to visit and take winter guests. Don’t forget the binoculars.

You can learn more about the restoration of the Salt River on Phoenix’s website.

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.

Time For Low-Flow Toilets To Take A Bow

By Kathleen Ferris

Back when George H. W. Bush was president, the U.S. Congress passed a law that has helped the country conserve its water supply as we face drought and climate change. There was nothing glamorous about the law, but its impact was dramatic.

The law, written and championed by Massachusetts engineer Amy Vickers, changed the amount of water that could be used by toilets, faucets, urinals and showers that were manufactured after 1994.

The Standards

Here are the changes the law brought into American kitchens and bathrooms.

  • New toilets are limited to a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, instead of the typical 3.5 to 5 gallons.
  • New urinals are limited to a maximum of 1 gallon per flush, instead of the typical 1.5 to 5 gallons.
  • New faucets and showerheads are limited to a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute, instead of the typical 2.75 to 5 gallons per minute.

Japan and several Scandinavian countries had the standards in place for over 10 years before they became law in this country. About 15 states also made the standards mandatory before the federal law was passed, helping to create a groundswell of support for similar national standards. The standards were not popular with U.S. plumbing manufacturers and it took time for some to design and distribute high-performing fixtures that used less water.

The Results

Since the efficiency standards became law, research shows the United States saves 7 billion gallons of water a day. To put that in perspective, New York City uses about 1.1 billion gallons of water a day. So every day the new standards save enough water to equal the daily water consumption of six or seven cities the size of New York.

The law made a big difference in water conservation for growing cities such as Phoenix. About 128,000 homes in the City of Phoenix were built after the law went into effect. From 2010 through 2013, homes built in 2009 used an average of about 260 gallons per day while homes built between 1990 and 1994 used closer to 400 gallons.

Source: City of Phoenix

Source: City of Phoenix

Water fixture technology is advancing. Now, manufacturers, homebuilders, and trade associations are joining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary WaterSense labeling program that promotes even greater efficiency while ensuring that fixtures meet high-performance standards. For example, toilets can now flush using 1.28 gallons of water and showers work with a flow rate of 2 gallons per minute. While these are still voluntary guidelines, some states already have made more stringent standards mandatory. Since the program’s inception in 2006, WaterSense has helped consumers save 757 billion gallons of water and over $14.2 billion in water and energy bills.

As technology reaches its limits on efficient indoor fixtures, attention is turning to more efficiency in outdoor water uses. In the Phoenix area, as much as 70 percent of a household’s water use is outside. That makes water efficiency standards for irrigation and sprinkler systems the next logical step.

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.

 

Mini Hydro-Turbines In Water System Would Create Clean Power

By Kathleen Ferris

It takes a lot of power to get water to every Scottsdale home and business because much of the water must be delivered in underground pipes going uphill. Fortunately, what goes up must come down. Scottsdale hopes to use the water’s downhill energy to create electricity.

This small hydro-turbine can produce clean electricity within a water delivery system.

This small hydro-turbine can produce clean electricity within a water delivery system.

The city would start by installing two hydro-turbines within its water system. These hydro-turbine units, one about the size of a car and another about the size of a desk, are miniatures of the turbines that generate electricity at Hoover Dam.

Scottsdale covers 185 square miles and elevations vary by up to 2,500 ft. These small hydro-turbines would use the momentum of cascading water to spin a shaft and generate electricity. The turbines could be installed without much modification to Scottsdale’s water infrastructure.

The two units would not produce a great amount of electricity, but the clean, renewable energy would be used within the city’s water system to operate pumps and light facilities. The city would install one hydro-turbine where water flows downhill from one zone to a lower zone. The electricity generated would be used to operate equipment at a nearby wastewater station. The city would install another hydro-turbine at a point where water flows into a storage reservoir and the energy would be used to help provide electricity to the reservoir site.

The engineering plans are completed for the project. City consultants expect the hydro-turbines would pay for themselves within 11 years, but continue to function for another 25 years. Next step: The Scottsdale City Council will review the project and vote on whether or not to install the hydro-turbines.

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.

The Ins And Outs Of Business Water Bills

By Kathleen Ferris

A Phoenix baker, carwash owner or pastor can expect far higher water and sewer bills than a Phoenix homeowner.

The difference is not just the higher volume of drinking water going into their businesses. The city also charges more because of contaminants the city must clean from wastewater flowing out of businesses.

Water

Here are some of the reasons Phoenix businesses pay more than homeowners for drinking water.

  • A business owner pays a fixed monthly charge based on the size of the business’s water pipe. Pipes carrying drinking water into commercial properties are bigger than the typical ¾-inch residential pipes. For example, a church needs a 1-inch-diameter line with a fixed monthly cost of $4.49. A small café needs a 1.5-inch line costing $5.57 each month and a carwash a 2-inch line costing $5.97 each month.
  • Phoenix businesses, like homeowners, pay for water by the unit. Each unit equals 748 gallons (or 100 cubic feet of water). The city charges only 38 cents per unit. Here’s the catch: That cheap rate only applies to the first six to ten units used each month, depending on the season. Few businesses can keep their water use under that cap. After that cap is reached, the cost of water delivery rises sharply, ranging from $3.44 per unit in the winter to $4.15 in the heat of summer.
  • The average monthly water bill is $101 for a church with a cafeteria, $334 for a café, and $1,170 for a carwash. The average monthly water bill for a homeowner is $38.

But that’s only the half of it. The city also charges a sewer service fee on wastewater flowing out of a business.

Wastewater

Phoenix doesn’t measure wastewater leaving a business. The city calculates a charge based on 90 percent of the amount of water entering a business (allowing 10 percent for consumption and evaporation). How much a business pays per unit (748 gallons) of wastewater depends on the amount of work it takes at the sewage treatment plant to clean up the contaminants in the wastewater.

Here are a few examples of why sewer service charges vary among businesses.

  • A church with a cafeteria would pay a sewer charge 30 percent higher than a church without a cafeteria. Once there’s food being prepared there also is grease from dishes and mops flowing down the drains that grease catchers miss. That makes wastewater more expensive to clean at the treatment plant and costs the church $2.41 per unit (748 gallons). The average monthly sewer charge for a Phoenix church with a cafeteria is $108. If a church doesn’t have a cafeteria the average charge drops to $75.
  • When food is prepared for customers who eat inside a restaurant or pastry shop, the cost of each unit (748 gallons) of wastewater discharged is $4.48 or twice the amount paid by the church with a cafeteria. That’s because the volume of grease that slips into the city’s sewer system is far higher. The average monthly sewer charge for Phoenix’s restaurants and bakeries is $497.
  • Everyone would expect a carwash owner to pay an enormous bill, but each unit of wastewater discharged costs only $1.95, about 40 percent of what a restaurant owner pays. Wastewater discharged from a carwash is easier to clean at the treatment plant. Despite the amount of water used by a carwash, the average monthly sewer charge for a Phoenix carwash is $428.
  • The average monthly sewer charge for a homeowner is $21.

Like other AMWUA member cities, Phoenix tiers its water and sewer rates to cover what it costs to provide reliable services, maintain its treatments plants and pipeline systems, and meet regulatory requirements. There is more information about water rates at the city of Phoenix website.

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.