Students Learn Conservation, Math And A Little Plumbing

By Warren Tenney

Twenty-five sixth graders did a little plumbing for the Town of Gilbert last month. Drew Goodman and his classmates installed 42 aerators on faucets in 11 bathrooms inside the town’s Court and Fire Administration buildings. Drew was surprised at how much water could be saved by simply changing a traditional faucet aerator to one that slows the flow. “We could save millions of gallons,” Drew said after doing the math. 

The Finley Farms Elementary School students were participating in a program from the University of Arizona’s Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). The program uses math and science to encourage students to think about the water they use, where it comes from and how to conserve it. The program, called Water Scene Investigations, includes lessons on how to use a pair of pliers, install a water-efficient aerator, and measure and calculate the amount of water an aerator saves each day, week and month.

Support from Gilbert and the City of Chandler means 45 classrooms of sixth graders will participate in Arizona Project WET’s Water Scene Investigation program this year. That’s nearly double the number of classrooms that participated last year. During the last two years, the Town of Gilbert has invested money, faucet aerators, people and time to bring the program into its schools. Here is a brief description of the Water Scene Investigation program.

WET maybe

Finley Farm Elementary students do a little math with guidance from one of  Gilbert’s Conservation Specialists.

  • In the classroom, a Project WET instructor teaches students about the water they drink, water-saving technologies and how to install a faucet aerator.
  • Each student receives at least one water-efficient aerator to install at home. For homework, students estimate the amount of water used daily in their home’s bathroom sink. The student is assigned to measure the volume of water that flows from the bathroom faucet in five-second intervals with a traditional aerator and without an aerator. Then the student installs a water-efficient aerator and measures again.
  • The math happens, followed by the ah-ha moment. Students determine the amount of water saved in a week, a month and a year by installing an aerator on one faucet. They see that one simple change adds up to a lot of savings. (Project WET hopes this is a teaching moment for everyone in the family.)

APW-MainIn this case, the Finley Farms students enjoyed a bonus field trip to install the aerators in two municipal buildings and calculate the savings. This gave the students an opportunity to provide community service (and do a bit more math) and gave the town an additional return on its investment. The aerators the students installed reduced each faucet’s flow from 2.2 gallons per minute to 0.5 gallon per minute and will save the town about 45,000 gallons of water a year. Last year, students from Gilbert’s Settler’s Point Elementary also installed water-efficient aerators in the bathrooms of two additional Gilbert municipal buildings saving the town more than 100,000 gallons a year.

Finley Farms student plumber Paige Dahman said she was surprised to learn from Project WET that Earth is made up of more water than land, but cautioned that we still have to worry about water to drink.

“We have to keep it clean and make sure we have enough for everybody,” Paige said.

Arizona Project WET’s other programs include teacher training, water festivals, and field trips to local wetlands. Arizona Project WET helped to pilot the national Project WET program in 1989. Since then, more than 785,000 Arizona students and 14,000 teachers have participated in its programs, made possible with help from 2,239 volunteers. Educating elementary school students about water gives them a foundation to appreciate and understand how important water is throughout their lives. 

For 46 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

Unlikely Partnership: Superfund Site Waters Goodyear Ballpark

By Warren Tenney

Baseball players and fans want to see spring training fields covered in bright green grass ready to play ball. That means a host city must dedicate water to keep the grass green and irrigate the fields as efficiently as possible.

Last year, the City of Goodyear began receiving irrigation water for its spring training complex from an unlikely source: a Superfund site at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport. A Superfund site is a polluted area requiring long-term clean up of contaminants and is overseen by State and Federal agencies. Water & Waste Digest magazine recognized Goodyear’s unlikely and successful partnership with the Superfund site manager as one of its 2015 Top 10 Projects from across the United States.  Here’s how the partnership works.City of Goodyear Main Ball Park Stadium

In 2004, the City of Goodyear built the 105-acre sports complex to host the Cleveland and Cincinnati baseball teams. Goodyear needs 250 acre-feet of water a year to keep grass lush for an exhibition ballpark and 16 practice fields. (One acre-foot is enough to serve three average Arizona households for a year.)

Since the early 1990s, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. has been containing and cleaning an underground plume of contaminated water at the airport. The company has another 20 years of cleanup at the Superfund site ahead of it. About half of the cleaned or “remediated” water is pumped back underground to help contain and shrink the plume, leaving more than 800 acre-feet of remediated water available each year. Goodyear had a 105-acre sports complex to irrigate. So, the city and the company put together a deal.

The City of Goodyear gave the manager of the Superfund site access to city property and an easier permitting process for such things as pumps, wells and storage space that it needed for the clean up.

Ball Park Reservoir and Remediated water Line Discharge system

In exchange, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. spent $1.3 million to build a 1.5-mile underground pipe to the east side of the Goodyear Ball Park. The City of Goodyear spent $350,000 to build the infrastructure to convey the remediated water to a reservoir for the ballpark complex. The new system was ready for last year’s spring baseball season.

The free water saves Goodyear $250,000 each year on its water bill (yes, cities are billed, too), money that now can remain part of the general fund and be distributed to other projects. The free water saves another $65,000 to $75,000 because the City doesn’t have to pump groundwater to meet the needs of the ballpark and then pay to replenish that groundwater, as required by law. The City’s part of the infrastructure had just about paid for itself by the end of 2015.

Cleveland Indians Ball FieldThat should be the end of a great story, but there are a few more things you should know. The remediated water is less salty than the treated wastewater or  “reclaimed” water the City used to irrigate the park before 2015, which means healthier grass for baseball players and fans. The reclaimed water Goodyear once used to irrigate the ballpark can be stored underground to shore up the City’s water resources. The remainder of the 800 acre-feet of remediated water created by the Superfund site is channeled to the Buckeye Irrigation System where farmers use it for free.

It’s a good story and maybe one to share on a spring afternoon watching a baseball game.

For 46 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

Follow Your City’s Lead: Find And Fix Leaks

By Warren Tenney

Every day millions of gallons of treated drinking water course through miles of pipes buried deep under our feet. The water circulates through tanks and pumps we never notice and through service lines that run to our water meters and finally into our homes.

Drinking water is such a precious commodity that cities invest enormous amounts of money and time preventing, detecting and fixing leaks in water infrastructure.

By law, large water providers in Arizona must limit the water lost in their delivery systems to 10 percent. “Lost and unaccounted for” water includes billing and metering inaccuracies, theft, and evaporation from storage tanks and ponds, as well as leaks or breaks in the distribution system. From 2009 through 2013, AMWUA member cities averaged a loss of 6.91 percent. Many maintain loss ratios that are significantly lower.

The City of Peoria has one large drinking water treatment plant, 924 miles of drinking water distribution lines, 44 wells and 46 storage tanks or reservoirs. Peoria also receives treated water from the City of Glendale’s Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant. That adds up to a lot of possibilities for leaks and breaks, but Peoria keeps its lost and unaccounted for water to under 5 percent a year. Here are some of the tools Peoria and other cities use to prevent and detect leaks.

PEORIA Service Water Leak_8

Call your city when you see a water leak.


SCADA: Peoria uses a computer program called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA to track water throughout its system. The program allows City employees to keep their eyes on each part of the water distribution system remotely and in real time. The City’s water department calls it “a living, breathing animal” that is customized and fine-tuned to communicate second-by-second changes in the system.

Operators use the program to review water distribution pumps every hour looking for subtle signs of a problem. The system also sends out automated alerts when it detects an obvious change in a distribution pump, such as a large drop or spike in pressure or when an out-of-service pump unexpectedly turns on. For example, a sudden change in pressure could mean firefighters need high volume and pressure to put out a fire, a construction site is filling a large water tank, a reservoir is overflowing or there is a break in the system and the City is losing water.

Field Inspections: The City doesn’t depend solely on the computer program to monitor its drinking water system.  Employees also make regular onsite field inspections of the water distribution system. If the computer program is interrupted, these employees can be on a site within minutes to monitor the system for leaks or other problems and make any needed adjustments as the water continues to flow.

Pressure Valves: Valves turn water on and off to particular pumps as customer demand requires. The City uses valves that slowly release the water so it flows gently into the distribution system. If these valves opened instantly, the water pressure they’d release would put stress on pipes and weaken them and leave them more vulnerable to leaks.

Tracking: Pipes have a limited life expectancy. Every city needs a plan and funding for timely replacement of this critical infrastructure and to avoid expensive emergency repairs and disruption in service to customers. The City tracks every big and small leak that is detected and repaired and uses the information to create a map. The map acts as a guide to help the City determine which pipes need to be replaced first.

Sounding Equipment: Leaks are not always easy to find, particularly if the leak is under a busy intersection where there are several layers of pipes as deep as 15 feet. That’s when the city calls in a contractor with special sound equipment that operates like a giant stethoscope and allows the contractor to hear and pinpoint the leak.  Peoria is a young city with newer infrastructure, so this happens only once every five or 10 years.PEORIA Replacing a water service 1

Once water reaches a residential meter, cities count on homeowners to find and fix household leaks. Small leaks can add up quickly, waste water, and cost homeowners money. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research shows the average home can lose up to 10,000 gallons of drinking water a year because of leaks.  These leaks occur in fixtures, such as toilets and faucets, and in broken drip lines and sprinkler heads in irrigation systems.

That’s why the EPA and its partners set aside this week each year as Fix a Leak Week and encourages people to find and fix leaks.

To make that task easier, water conservation professionals from the 10 AMWUA member cities pooled their expert knowledge and created the Smart Home Water Guide website. The mobile-friendly website walks the owner step-by-step through the process of tracking down leaks and provides links to helpful DIY repair videos. The Smart Home Water Guide also is available as a 24-page booklet in both Spanish and English. Check with your city’s water department for copies.

Fix a Leak Week is a good time to replace a washer on a leaky faucet or a valve on a running toilet, to invest in new sprinkler heads or replace cracked drip lines. Reducing leaks, whether in expansive water distribution systems or in our homes, saves money and preserves water for the future.

For 46 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

Removing Grass? Know The Basics Before You Start

By Warren Tenney

Drought-tolerant plants and trees require less maintenance and water than a lawn. Yet, how do you remove grass, whether at your home, an HOA’s common space, an apartment complex or a business?

With the right help, a little knowledge and some patience, replacing grass with a desert landscape can be a simple and creative process. For those simply winging it, replacing grass can become an expensive mess.

The Arizona Landscape Contractors Association (or ALCA) offers the basic information you need to know as you weigh the pros and cons. This professional organization provides resources and training for landscape businesses and professionals. ALCA and its members have provided input into many of AMWUA’s landscape publications and programs. Here are some tips from ALCA and AMWUA about replacing your grass.

Is the grass functional? Before telling you how to remove grass, we want to be clear that grass is good if it is functional. Is the grass where you would let your kids and dogs play on it? Is it a place for recreation and sport activities?

However, growing grass in the desert when it is not functional or has no purpose can be an inefficient use of resources, including water and labor. The average conversion to desert landscaping (Xeriscape) can save 50 percent or more on your outdoor water use. Consider removing and replacing grass in such places as a front yard where no one plays, along a frontage road where no one walks, in a parking median, or along a wall where irrigation water can stain and crack stucco.

Get the best deal from the right contractor. Removing grass can cost far too much for owners and managers who don’t do their homework. There are as many estimates per foot to remove grass, as there are landscapers to do it. Don’t use the first landscaper who comes to mind, such as the one who already maintains your yard or property. Get at least three bids and referrals before deciding. Consider if the landscaper is experienced and trained in removing grass. For big jobs, check the company’s license and record with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.

No matter who you hire, check with your city before starting the project. Seven AMWUA member cities – Glendale, Tempe, Scottsdale, Avondale, Peoria, Mesa and Chandler – help customers pay for replacing grass with desert landscaping. Don’t miss out on this incentive.

Know the basics, whether you are doing it yourself or using a professional.

  • First, check with your city. This is the time of year when AMWUA member cities are offering free workshops on a wide variety of desert landscape topics.
  • Never use or agree to let a landscaper use sheets of black plastic for killing grass or weed control. The plastic eventually breaks down and tears, allowing grass and weeds to grow through it and leaving the landscape unsightly and difficult to clean up.
  • Don’t stop watering your grass because you’re planning to replace it. Fertilize and water your doomed Bermuda grass until it’s lush, usually around July. Then apply an herbicide. Many herbicides must have healthy growing foliage so they can move to the roots and kill the grass. Continue to water and fertilize your grass after the first application. It could take two to three applications.
  • Know what you are doing when applying herbicide or hire someone who does. Some herbicides can damage or kill established trees through nicks in exposed roots left by a mower or by coming in contact with above ground sprouts off a tree’s underground roots.
  • Many trees thriving in turf need to be weaned off water and grow accustomed to a drier environment. A few emitters at the drip line won’t always be enough. Try using a soaker-hose at the drip line once every month or two as a supplement, particularly in the summer, until the ground is moist about 2 to 3 feet deep. Use a pointed stick to measure the depth. (Removing turf can make some trees healthier, such as ironwoods and mesquites, which prefer drier environments.)

Now you are ready to mow the dead thatch by putting your mower on the lowest setting used for scalping the lawn. Then remove about 1 to 2 inches of dirt to finish off the roots, depending on how deep your mower scalps the lawn.

For more details on how to successfully remove grass, download Good Reasons to Take Out Your Grass (pdf).

Before you begin, start with a plan. Don’t remove grass until you have a plan for what will replace it. Decide on a design that includes drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and groundcover that will cool your home or business and improve your property value.

There is plenty of help available at, a site that will help you select plants, design your landscape and keep it thriving. Now is a good time to get started.

For 46 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