This Smart Pig Can Help You Find Leaks And Save Money

By Kathleen Ferris

AMWUA would like to introduce you to your plumbing and simple ways to keep it working soundly. AMWUA’s new Smart Home Water Guide website is designed to help both bumbling and handy homeowners find and fix leaks in kitchens and bathrooms, in irrigation systems and pools.

If you understand the basics of your plumbing, you know what to do when it suddenly stops working or springs a leak. Leaks aren’t always obvious. A slow undetected leak can drain your budget. A bigger leak can go unnoticed until you receive a surprisingly high water bill.

AMWUA’s 10 member cities have a secondary motive for encouraging homeowners to stop plumbing and irrigation leaks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average household loses 10,000 gallons of water a year through unchecked leaks. That’s enough water to meet the needs of an average family for a month, and too much drinking water for a city to lose.

The new website helps you find leaks using short and clearly illustrated lessons. It is built for mobile devices so you can carry the guide around your home and yard on a phone or tablet. The guide also allows you to check off steps as you complete them over the course of a day, a week or a month.

Tell us how SmartHomeWaterGuide.org helped you @AMWUA #smartpig.

Tell us how SmartHomeWaterGuide.org helped you @AMWUA #smartpig.

When you visit this new website, you will be greeted by the charming AMWUA Smart Pig. Unlike Miss Piggy, who is famous for her conspicuous consumption, the AMWUA Smart Pig is a conspicuous saver and serves as your guide on this tour of your plumbing.

Developed by seven water conservation experts from AMWUA member cities, the website and its 24-page companion booklet translates these experts’ experience, knowledge and methods into simple instructions anyone can understand. The booklet also will be available in Spanish by the end of the year.

Both the website and booklet offer a glossary called Water Speak 101. It contains the vocabulary most often used by professionals in the industry, so homeowners are knowledgeable about the basics when explaining problems to plumbers and landscapers.

You can receive a booklet by calling any AMWUA member city’s water conservations department. Contact information is at the bottom of the Smart Home Water Guide website’s homepage.

The website and booklet offer lessons under the following topics:

  • How to read your water meter
  • Outdoor visual leak inspection
  • Indoor visual leak inspection
  • Isolation method to find continuous (and less obvious) leaks
  • Water efficiency around the home.

The AMWUA cities of Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe want to hear about your experiences using the guide to learn about your plumbing or to find a leak. Give us a Tweet @AMWUA #smartpig.

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.

Groundwater Management: Why Arizona Must Continue To Lead

By Kathleen Ferris

Last week, California finally took baby steps to manage its decades old problem of landowners drilling wells to pump groundwater whenever and wherever they pleased. The new laws could take up to seven years to implement.

Arizona learned long ago that unlimited groundwater pumping was unsustainable and we still need to continue to protect this precious resource.

In 1980, water users in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties were pumping groundwater at an alarming rate. That year, wells in those counties pumped out 2.5 million acre-feet more groundwater than could be replenished naturally. That’s enough water to serve over 6 million households for a year, yet the state’s population at the time was only 2.7 million.

A drill rig finds groundwater in the desert.

A drill rig finds groundwater in the desert.

This unwise practice of pumping more groundwater than Mother Nature replenishes, known as groundwater overdrafting or mining, severely threatened this non-renewable water supply.

In 1980, Arizona finally came to grips with this problem when it passed the Groundwater Management Act. Because of the Act, by 2010 the groundwater overdraft in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties had been reduced to about 178,000 acre-feet. Remarkable. We were well on our way to achieving a long-term balance in the Phoenix and Tucson areas between the amount of groundwater pumped and the amount replenished.

Unfortunately, it does not look like we will achieve this balance by 2025 as mandated by the Groundwater Management Act. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has projected that by that date the overdraft in Maricopa County alone could realistically be 200,000 acre-feet per year — enough water to meet the yearly needs of 500,000 households.

The major cities don’t cause this overdraft since they aren’t allowed to mine groundwater. The overdraft is caused primarily by historical rights to pump groundwater for agricultural and industrial uses, and pumping for subdivisions that pre-date the Groundwater Management Act.

Well, you might be tempted to say, the projected overdraft isn’t so bad. Look how far we’ve come. Some might even argue that more groundwater pumping is needed to sustain our economic prosperity.   That is reckless nonsense.

Anyone who believes that increased groundwater mining will enhance our economy had better think again. Researchers now estimate that groundwater in the Colorado River Basin is declining far more rapidly than the water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Scientists at University of California, Irvine estimate that the groundwater overdraft in the Colorado River Basin was 40.5 million acre-feet over the past nine years.

Meanwhile, central Arizona is under a microscope because of the 14-year drought. The success and stability of the Groundwater Management Act allow us to argue persuasively that we are managing our supplies responsibly for the future. Take a look at what’s still happening in California, where landowners are racing to dig deeper wells in competition for dwindling groundwater supplies, and you see the nightmare we would be in without the Groundwater Management Act.

The lesson of California makes it clear that instead of allowing more groundwater to be pumped in this time of drought, we need to find additional ways to help protect our limited groundwater supplies.

The drafters of the Groundwater Management Act knew 34 years ago that water conservation alone would not be sufficient to reduce the overdraft. That’s why they authorized the state Department of Water Resources to purchase and retire historical rights to pump groundwater. But the Department has never had the money to buy any rights.

There’s a lot of general talk out there about our water situation, but the time has come to take action. AMWUA has developed a plan that would, among other things, encourage the underground storage of excess surface water and treated wastewater in areas where groundwater levels are falling.

Watch for future blog posts that will provide details about this plan and other ideas to protect Arizona’s water supplies.

Related Post Groundwater Management: Why It Still Matters

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.

Keep That Lovely Yard And Save Water

By Kathleen Ferris

Valley homeowners use as much as 70 percent of their water outside, particularly during the summer months. Here’s the frustrating part: many homeowners can grow the same lovely outdoor spaces with the same gardens, grass and trees and use far less drinking water to do it. The trick is an efficient irrigation system.

The key to an efficient irrigation system is a homeowner or landscaper who is paying attention. Here are a few basic guidelines to increase the efficiency of your irrigation system and save water and money.

Hidden drip line breaks waste water and money.

Hidden drip line breaks waste water and money.

The Drip System

  • It feels very green to take those bubbler heads off your irrigation system and replace them with drip lines, but drip systems are always a work in progress. The materials are fragile. Underground pipes can crack and leak, tubes leading to plants can be cut by trimming tools or can split from wear. Emitters fall off or get clogged with dirt. Homeowners or their landscapers need to check the system regularly and replace or fix broken parts.
  • Many emitters commonly used on drip systems don’t control for pressure. Plants closer to the irrigation valve or at the bottom of a slope get overwatered from heavy flow. Other plants start looking sad because they are getting too little water or the water is running off too quickly to be absorbed. Homeowners typically respond by overwatering the entire yard. Using inexpensive “pressure compensating emitters” found in home improvement and irrigation supply stores help each plant get the same gallon or half-gallon per hour. These emitters also slow the water’s flow rate so it sinks deep into roots.

The Sprinkler System

  • If sprinkler heads have a 15-foot spray capacity but are placed 18 feet apart, then a homeowner will have to overwater to avoid yellow patches. To maximize the efficiency of your sprinkler system make sure the heads are spaced correctly and don’t forget to put sprinkler heads in the corners of your yard to keep grass evenly green.
  • The most efficient sprinkler nozzle is called a “stream rotor nozzle”. Instead of a single stream of water, these sprinkler nozzles use multiple fingers of water. They cover more evenly and their reach is more flexible. If you inherited a poorly spaced sprinkler system, installing these nozzles could extend a sprinkler’s reach and restore the health of yellow patches without over watering the rest of the turf or rearranging the heads.

The Control Box

  • The efficiency of an automated control box depends on the operator. It saves water if the person who sets the timer understands the amount of water plants and trees need in each zone during any given week or month. For example, it’s not unusual for homeowners or landscapers to set the control box to soak winter grass seedlings and leave it there all winter. You’d get the same great lawn, without the mushrooms and with less mowing, by reducing the watering time to accommodate a mature winter lawn.
  • In an effort to take the iffy human element out of irrigation, the industry has manufactured control boxes that operate based on weather conditions or soil moisture probes. While these often do a more efficient job than other controllers, they still need a human to program them. For example, some weather-responsive control boxes ask the homeowner a series of questions about types of plants, soil conditions, sun exposure and slope. If the answers are wrong, even a fancy control box can waste water.

You can find a free class about watering your garden in a location near you. Water – Use It Wisely has an online watering guide. Most nurseries can give you a free hard copy of the guide. AMWUA conservation pages are filled with good information about how to irrigate grass and plants.

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.

Mystery Of Lost Water Wastes Precious Resource And Money

By Kathleen Ferris

Solving the mystery of Lost and Unaccounted for Water can save a city money and conserve water on a grand scale.

Lost and Unaccounted for Water, also known as non-revenue water, is the difference between the volume of drinking water treated by a city minus the volume of drinking water the city delivers to its customers. In a perfect world the amounts would match. They rarely do.

Well maintained infrastructure helps to prevent water loss.

Lost water is more than a conservation concern. No one is paying for the missing gallons of expensive, highly treated drinking water. That means water departments and companies are losing money.

So, how does this highly treated drinking water get lost?

EPA and Arizona officials say much of it is lost through infrastructure that allows water to overflow or leak while the water is being treated and delivered. Some water loss is blamed on theft. Some water actually reaches its destination, but never gets counted because meters are old or faulty or billing calculations are wrong.

EPA estimates that 16 percent of U.S. drinking water is lost and 75 percent of that lost water could be recovered.

Since the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980, the state has required its largest cities and towns, as well as its largest private water companies, to keep the rate of Lost and Unaccounted for Water to 10 percent or less. Since 1992, the regulation limits lost water to 10 percent on either an annual basis or three-year average basis. This requirement is one of the toughest of its kind in the United States.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources reports that only about 7 or 8 of the 86 large suppliers struggle to stay within the 10 percent loss requirement. Those cities and companies not in compliance can be fined up to a maximum of $10,000 each day they are in violation, depending on circumstances such as the severity and duration of losses. The state, however, prefers to impose corrective measures on violators, such as requiring them to develop and improve conservation and efficiency within their systems.

From 2009 through 2013, AMWUA’s 10 member cities had a cumulative water loss rate of 6.91 percent, nearly 60 percent below the national average. In 2013, three AMWUA cities, Tempe, Peoria, and Mesa, had a 3-year average loss of less than 4 percent.

When considering the drama of water loss, the size of a city is important.

For example, in Phoenix a loss of 1 percent means 3,029 acre-feet of missing water. In Goodyear a 1 percent loss means 108 acre-feet of missing water. (One acre-foot covers an acre of ground to a depth of one foot and provides enough water to serve about 2.5 Phoenix-area households for a year.)

Lost and Unaccounted for Water is becoming a bigger issue as cities around the world look for ways to save during times of drought and climate change. Here is an interesting New York Times opinion piece about water loss and recovery. There is more information at the U.S. EPA.

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.

More scientists showing up in bathrooms this school year

By Kathleen Ferris

If your kids are spending even more time in the bathroom this school year, they may be doing homework. Really.

The homework is part of the Water Investigations Program, a yearlong learning adventure that brings science into students’ homes and takes students out to rivers and wetlands. It is the program’s fourth year in Maricopa County schools. Last year, 2,600 junior and high school students in 26 schools participated. This year, the number of participants is expected to grow to 3,700.

Students learn to attach low-flow aerators.

Students learn to attach low-flow aerators.

Here is the core of the Water Investigations Program and, perhaps, why the program is so popular with students, teachers and administrators in our desert valley schools.

  1. Water Resources: Students learn how watersheds, rivers, reservoirs, canals, aquifers, and groundwater help to supply the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area with water to drink, cook, shower, fill swimming pools and keep yards green.
  2. Human Water Use: Students conduct a water audit of their school’s bathrooms. They measure faucet flow rates, monitor use, and convert their findings to gallons used daily. Then the students determine how much water and money their schools could save each day, each week, and each year after they attach a low-flow aerator. For homework, students are assigned to conduct a similar water audit at home. The upside: Students bring home free low-flow aerators for the bathroom faucets.
  3. Water in the Environment: Students group into scientific teams of four or five. Each team decides to discover something about water in the Valley’s rivers and wetlands. The chemists may want to determine the quality of water specimens and the biologists may want to determine the health of the riverbed by digging for bugs. (Dragonfly larvae are a good sign and midges not so good.)

    Students take what they've learned into the field.

    Students take what they’ve learned into the field.

Then off the students and teachers go by the busloads to the Hassayampa River Preserve near Wickenburg or the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area just south of downtown Phoenix. Volunteers and science mentors help the student teams conduct their experiments. Finally, students present their findings at four science symposiums, where the best projects receive trophies.

University of Arizona’s Project WET organizes this massive undertaking with financial and volunteer support from many groups in the community, including The Nature Conservancy and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Project WET conducts six hours of teacher training, organizes the field trips, finds volunteers, pays for buses, prints and distributes materials, and – most important to teachers – provides classroom support.

Teachers call the program powerful because the lessons make science relevant to the students’ lives. The program promotes creativity, critical thinking and data collection. It also has local impact, helping families understand why it is important to save water and how to save every day at home.

So, plan ahead this school year to allow your child a little more time in the bathroom. There is probably a scientist at work. You can find more information at Arizona Project WET.

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.