Leaks Drain Water Supply And Household Budgets

By Kathleen Ferris

Imagine this: A website where you could watch your home’s water usage in real time. It could become a frugal homeowner’s obsession. It could settle family arguments about who spends more time in the shower.

Most importantly, it could make it easier for a homeowner to find and fix a leak quickly. Then, a homeowner could instantly see how much water the repair saved.

FaLW logo - chasing leaksLeaks are a serious drain on water supplies and family finances. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program reports that an average household loses 10,000 gallons of water every year due to leaks. The leaks are both obvious, such as a dripping faucet everyone ignores, and not so obvious, such as a leak in an irrigation supply line or ice-maker.

The technology already exists to monitor your water usage from home and it’s only a matter of time before it will become available. Cities already are phasing in more savvy meter-reading systems and improving their water-usage data collection to help homeowners find leaks.

Some Valley cities still send employees to read water meters manually, to open the meter lid, read the meter with a handheld device, and move onto the next yard. Meters in many cities, however, are mainly read electronically from inside vehicles. Peoria’s water department employees have the technology to simply drive by 49,000 homes and read the water meters, never leaving their vehicles. In Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the country, 86 percent of 425,189 residential water meters are read from a vehicle.

Drive-by meter reading has always been efficient, but advances in water-meter technology can now provide a city with valuable data as well. Chandler uses this advanced  technology to read 82 percent of its residential meters from electronic devices inside vehicles. When a spike in water usage is detected, an employee can visit the home and the water meter will download 96 days of water usage information – hour by hour. This information is a valuable clue to what is causing the spike.

The data may show a homeowner is using 2,000 gallons of water every other morning at 2:30 a.m. That indicates something on a timer, like an automated irrigation system set to water the yard. Perhaps a broken drip line is gushing instead of dripping. The data makes it easier for the homeowner and city employee to work together to find the leak.

And that’s the point. No matter how the data is collected, electronically or manually, most cities offer customers help to find leaks.

If you have a spike in water usage call your city, but don’t be surprised if your city contacts you. In some cities, employees review individual water usage and billing data for all customers before sending out monthly bills. When city employees discover a sudden spike, they contact homeowners, send a postcard, or post a message to their water bill and offer help to find the source of the problem.

Perhaps it is time to start scrutinizing your water usage, find and fix leaks, and save money you didn’t even know you were losing. Your city can help.

In September, the AMWUA cities published a new do-it-yourself, step-by-step online guide to finding and fixing leaks called the Smart Home Water Guide. Developed by water conservation experts from AMWUA member cities, the website (also available as a 24-page booklet) translates these experts’ methods into simple instructions anyone can understand. The booklet also is available in Spanish. Just call or visit your city’s water conservation office to get copies in either Spanish or English.

Need a little hands-on help to find and fix a leak or read your water bill? National Fix a Leak Week is March 16 through March 22. Make plans to visit the AMWUA cities’ annual Fix A Leak One For Water 4-Mile Race and Family Fun Festival on March 21 in Peoria. The rather-famous Leaky “Loo” McFlapper, a 6-foot running toilet, will kick-off the race. There will be prizes, food, music and lots of help to fix a leak.

It’s a fun way to learn how you can play a role in the serious business of saving water. Water scarcity is a global problem, but your cities are on the front lines of the local campaign to conserve. They can help you be part of the solution.

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.

Recycling: Paper, Plastic, And Now Water

By Kathleen Ferris

A phrase “toilet to tap” has appeared in a recent spate of stories about cleaning and recycling wastewater. While the catchy phrase is irresistible to headline writers, it is not popular with city water managers.

They are the people who are charged with making water stretch for decades so we can continue to have water for our morning coffee and daily showers, for washing our dishes and laundry, and for flushing our toilets. Demand for water supplies continues to grow, and recycling wastewater so it can be reused in many ways, including for drinking water, is part of the solution.

image-3.cidThat’s why words matter to water pros. They know that the science is well established, but they are trying to assure lawmakers and consumers that the water is safe for their families.

Water professionals across the country are still wrestling with a vocabulary they can agree on when talking about the complexities of providing recycled water for any use.

Tim Thomure, a recognized water reuse expert with HDR Engineering, notes there is a bit of a disconnect between what people are saying and what they mean, whether they are professionals talking with their peers or with the public.

So, for now, with the help of reuse specialists Brian Biesemeyer of the City of Scottsdale and Robin Bain of the City of Peoria, here’s a guide to help readers understand generally accepted words used when talking about recycled water.

Effluent: Let’s start with the basics. Arizona law defines effluent to mean wastewater collected from homes and businesses in a sewer system for later treatment in a facility regulated by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. These facilities are known as wastewater treatment plants.

Treatment: This refers to cleaning the wastewater. Wastewater treatment facilities use several methods and technologies to clean the water to primary, secondary or tertiary levels. Water that reaches tertiary levels is so clean Arizona ranks it as A+, A, and B+ grades. None of these grades means the wastewater is approved for drinking, but it is clean enough for a wide variety of uses.

Advanced Treatment: Previously used to describe tertiary treatment, this term is now more frequently used to describe additional treatment, beyond tertiary, for the purpose of further removing contaminants of concern to public health. This may include membrane filtration, reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation, and disinfection with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide.

This 6-acre lake in Peoria's Pioneer Lake is created with A+ reclaimed or recycled water.

This 6-acre lake in Peoria’s Pioneer Lake is created with A+ reclaimed or recycled water.

Recycled or Reclaimed: These two overarching terms are used interchangeably to describe wastewater that is treated to a level that allows for its reuse for a beneficial purpose. AMWUA’s ten member cities recycle nearly 100 percent of the wastewater they treat. This A+ tertiary level treated wastewater is used to irrigate sports fields, golf courses, and commercial landscapes, and to restore riparian habitats and recharge groundwater aquifers.

Indirect potable reuse: The blending of advanced treated recycled water into a natural water source—such as a groundwater basin or surface water reservoir (referred to as an “environmental buffer”)—that could be used for drinking (potable) water after further treatment. Indirect potable reuse is allowed in Arizona and is already used by many cities. In fact, indirect potable reuse is common in the United States. Many cities treat their recycled water and release it into a natural waterway, where it becomes blended, to then be reused by downstream cities as their potable supply. For example, Las Vegas releases much of its recycled water to Lake Mead, and some of that water, blended with Colorado River water, is eventually treated to drinking water standards and reused by AMWUA cities downstream.

Direct potable reuse: This is recycled water that is treated with advanced technologies to be safe for drinking then delivered directly to customers without an environmental buffer. Direct potable reuse is exceptionally rare in the United States and usually involves blending the recycled water with surface water or groundwater at the water treatment plant. Arizona does not currently allow direct potable reuse, but that could change in the future as the public gains confidence in the established, advanced technologies that are in place to protect their health and safety.

Remediated: This word most often refers to contaminated or polluted water that is found in a natural source, such as groundwater, a lake or river, has been cleaned, and is available for other uses. For example, there are several sites in Arizona where groundwater has been polluted by uses on the land surface. These sites are under state and federal actions to ensure that the groundwater is pumped and cleaned. The “remediated” groundwater can then be injected back into the ground or used for another purpose, such as irrigation.

So there, you are beginning to break the code of water recycling. No, it’s not good enough to impress an environmental engineer or a water manager, but it’s everything you need for your kid’s next science project.

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.

Hotels Get Help To Save More Water And Energy

By Kathleen Ferris

There is almost always a decision to be made in a hotel bathroom. You can save water and hang up your towel for a second day’s use or throw it on the floor, signaling the housekeeper to provide you with a fresh one.

Can a towel make a difference? Or are these little signs in the bathroom just something a hotel does to help promote its “green” image?

Signs asking guests to make the water-saving decision began showing up in the 1970s in regions suffering from drought and shortages. The signs proliferated in the mid-1990s when they became common in most major hotel chains. Northern Arizona University research indicates that 78 percent of the more than 1,000 hotels in Arizona were using the cards by 2011.

Next came the little card sitting on the pillow or the nightstand. These cards ask guests to place the card on the bed the next morning if they are willing to sleep in the same bed linens for a couple days.

Both of these signs proliferated, not because the cards were good public relations, but because they proved to be cost effective.

Hotel and lodging businesses account for about 15 percent of the water used in the country’s commercial and institutional facilities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program. About 30 percent of the water consumed by hotels is for laundry. The American Hotel and Lodging Association reports that reusing linens and towels reduces a hotel’s laundry loads by an average of 17 percent.

Hotels save on their water and sewage bills. They also save on labor and energy costs and their sheets and towels last longer. Just how much a hotel can save depends on location and the cost of labor and water. It also depends on the age of the hotel and the water-efficiency of bathroom fixtures and laundry facilities.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association has calculated the annual savings for a typical 300-room hotel with an occupancy rate of 72 percent and 22 percent of guests participating in the linen/town reuse program. The average savings for one year:

  • Money: $15,957
  • Water: 51,840 gallons
  • Detergent: 346 gallons

That’s a little more water than the average person uses at home annually. More can be done.

Incorporating water-efficient products and practices into restrooms, kitchens, mechanical systems, such as those that provide a building’s heating and cooling, and landscaping save more water.h2otel-challenge These products and practices save energy and money, too. After implementing water efficiency practices in its mechanical systems, an Atlanta, Georgia hotel reduced its overall water use by 35 percent over three years. Now that’s real savings. The hotel also saved $1 million in water and sewer costs annually.

Working with water providers and other partners, EPA launched the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge in 2014, a campaign to assist hotels reduce water use. Hotels that sign up for the challenge will find resources to help understand their water use, evaluate savings opportunities, and make changes indoors and out to reduce water use and enhance their properties. WaterSense labeled products, for example, are independently certified to use less water and perform well, so they help hotels ensure a superior guest experience.

“Hotels that reduce their water use will not only help their community save precious resources, but can gain a competitive edge in today’s green marketplace,” said Veronica Blette, EPA’s WaterSense branch chief. “Since 2006, WaterSense has helped Americans save hundreds of billions of gallons of water, and now we’re building on that success to help hotels take their sustainability efforts to the next level.”

If you are a hotel interested in learning more about the H2Otel Challenge, contact your AMWUA member water conservation office (they are all WaterSense Partners) or visit www.epa.gov/watersense/commercial.

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.

Saving Water: A Global Goal With A Very Local Application

By Kathleen Ferris

Cities in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area are willing to give you money and free experts to make water-saving changes in your home or business. But each city creates a different package of water-saving offers. Why? Because it’s smart conservation planning.

A city creates a water conservation program based on its customers’ demands and its infrastructure. A city must consider its demographics, budget, age and size, and the age and size of its houses and businesses. What works for a city with manufacturing and old neighborhoods, isn’t necessarily going to work for a city with resorts and newer planned communities.

The 10 AMWUA member cities implement more than 300 conservation measures among them.

Gilbert helps HOAs save on water bills.

Gilbert helps HOAs save on water bills.

Many are similar with slight variations. Others are distinct to a city’s particular needs. Here are a few examples:

  • Tempe is an older city, and during the 1970s growing grass between the sidewalk and the street was a popular design for many commercial buildings. It’s difficult to irrigate these narrow strips of turf without water pooling on the sidewalk and street. Aside from the waste, the constant spillover degrades street curbs and increases the city’s street maintenance costs. So among its many conservation measures, starting in July Tempe plans to offer a commercial development $1 for every linear foot of sidewalk grass it removes and replaces with water-thrifty plants.
  • Scottsdale wants to decrease the amount of salt in the city’s wastewater. Less salt decreases the cost of treating the wastewater for reuse. Treated wastewater (also known as reclaimed water) is often used to irrigate turf. If the salt content is too high, it also takes more fertilizer and more water to keep the grass green. Traditional water softeners dump excess salt into the wastewater. Data shows nearly half the city’s homes have water softeners and account for about 30 percent of salt in the city’s wastewater. So it makes sense for Scottsdale to experiment with three different rebates for homeowners who replace or remove water softeners. The program began last year.
  • Last year Gilbert’s budget allowed it to revive a successful program that helped Homeowners Associations reduce their water use. The city has the staff and technology to analyze the composition of each HOA’s landscaping and determine the volume of water it needs to flourish. So for Gilbert it makes sense to offer expert assistance to HOAs that use more water than needed. That usually means creating a more efficient irrigation system, such as adding pressure sensitive drip line emitters or moving to more efficient sprinkler heads.
  • Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the country, was the first Valley city to adopt a water conservation program in the 1980s, but it offers no rebates. It doesn’t need them. Phoenix has seen a 25 percent decline in per capita gallons used daily since 1994, despite a 30 percent increase in population. The city credits its education programs, a shift toward desert-adapted landscaping, and federal mandates that began in 1994 requiring more efficient household fixtures. Efficient appliances and fixtures can save so much water that it makes sense for Phoenix to help about 300 low-income families each year to replace old toilets, faucets, and shower heads with more water-efficient fixtures.
Glendale is one of many Valley cities that has a desert-adapted demonstration  garden.

Glendale is one of many Valley cities that has a desert-adapted demonstration garden.

The cities’ commitment to conservation and efficient water use is not new and their conservation programs are not stagnant. Since 1982, while working through AMWUA, the cities have participated in a regional conservation program to reduce water use. The conservation professionals of AMWUA’s ten member cities meet regularly to share data and ideas, learn from one another’s programs, and to build resources and materials for homeowners and businesses.

Most cities offer or support water science and conservation education programs used in schools throughout the Valley, helping to foster a generation sensitive to water use. Cities offer free adult classes on topics such as irrigation efficiency, how to maintain landscapes that will thrive in the desert, and how to find and fix leaks. Many cities have informative videos on their websites and handouts you can get just by calling their offices. To better understand how you can implement water saving measures that work best for your area, click on the following links to your city’s conservation program:

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.