Drab to Fab: Watch And Learn From This Backyard Makeover

By Warren Tenney

Lisa Osborne and her husband bought their City of Avondale home in 2008. They planted two citrus trees in the backyard that sat in a field of gravel for years and proceeded to turn brown. Until last November, the backyard had not changed. The economic downturn and family responsibilities left the yard to become what Lisa called the dog’s den, since their dog Abby was the only family member who found a good purpose for it. Today, Lisa’s backyard is filled with flowering shrubs, lovely cactus and desert shade trees surrounding an extension of her patio where guests sit around a fire pit in bright red chairs. Lisa was the first winner of the Drab to Fab Backyard Rehab contest, randomly selected from nearly 11,000 entries from Phoenix Metro area homeowners. The prize was a backyard makeover valued at $8,000.

YES Drab to Fab Before

Lisa’s back yard was a blank slate.

The contest was created by Water – Use It Wisely, a water conservation awareness campaign started by the City of Mesa in 1999 to help Arizona residents understand easy ways to save water. The new organization quickly invited partners to join and help fund the campaign. Water – Use It Wisely now has 19 Arizona partners, including AMWUA, the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale among other cities, private utilities, Central Arizona Project, Salt River Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

Water – Use It Wisely maintains an informative website and distributes a monthly newsletter featuring a weekly blog post that has 21,000 subscribers. The partners work with a professional public relations agency to keep the campaign fresh and to buy media time during the spring and the fall prime planting seasons. Drab to Fab Backyard Rehab isn’t Water – Use It Wisely’s first contest. The campaign has sponsored photo contests and children’s contests and worked closely with local television news stations to promote them. The Drab to Fab Backyard Rehab contest is the organization’s most ambitious – and most successful – contest. The contest was so successful that Water – Use It Wisely held another Drab To Fab contest this year. A City of Tempe homeowner won this year’s makeover.

The contest’s first winner hadn’t completely ignored her Avondale backyard. In recent years, Lisa met with a few landscape companies to talk about improvements. While they were willing to do the labor, the companies left the task of designing the yard to Lisa, a task she found overwhelming. One morning in April 2016, Lisa was home later than usual and watching the morning news. She saw an ad about a contest for a backyard makeover and she entered. A few months later she received a call about winning the Drab to Fab Backyard Rehab contest. Lisa didn’t remember entering a contest and assumed it was a scam. The contest representative on the other end of the call gave her a phone number to call back once Lisa did her own investigating.

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Lisa’s yard looks beautiful now. Can you imagine it with a few years of growth?

Soon Lisa had the professional help she needed. She started with a copy of Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert, an AMWUA booklet first published in 1991 and expanded in 2003. (The booklet also is a mobile website offering detailed information about 200 trees, shrubs, vines, succulents and cactus.) A landscape architect took Lisa to the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden, a demonstration garden in Chaparral Park, where she could see and choose the trees and plants for the shady and colorful back yard she had always imagined. Her goal was to have color throughout the year and to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The architect knew where to place the trees and shrubs, the walking paths and an extended patio for more seating. Irrigation experts helped Lisa to understand her irrigation control box and watering system and a landscape contractor helped her select the stones and pavers for the yard’s paths and patio. The landscape contractor also oversaw the crew that implemented the plan within two weeks in November. Lisa built three raised gardens for vegetables and herbs and landscapers brought drip lines to each of the garden beds.

The best part about a backyard makeover is watching it happen and getting ideas for your own yard. Considering the thousands of people who entered but didn’t win, Water – Use It Wisely documented the Drab to Fab Backyard Rehab in a 10-part step-by-step video series. The videos come with additional tips and resources to help you imagine, plan, plant and maintain a new back yard of your own. The Water – Use It Wisely backyard rehab contest was so far-reaching and successful that it is a finalist for a 2017 Arizona Forward Environmental Excellence Award. The winner will be announced Sept. 23.

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Abby approves.

Lisa now meets regularly with family and friends to party in her backyard where she and her husband installed a fire pit, added new furniture and set up a gas grill. She said it’s like having another room in the house. Among the backyard guests is Harriet the Hummingbird, who built a nest in one of Lisa’s new trees this spring. Abby doesn’t seem to mind sharing the space that was once only for her.  The new backyard includes a dog path designed just so Abby can continue her daily patrols around the perimeter unimpeded.

For 48 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 amwua.org.

Want A Lovelier Landscape? Master Your Irrigation Controller

By Warren Tenney

More than half the drinking water used in the Phoenix Metro area is used outdoors, mostly to irrigate landscapes. Desert dwellers irrigate a variety of plants, trees and grass all year long as the weather swings from extremely hot to freezing. Establishing a lovely landscape can mean a steep and expensive learning curve. It doesn’t have to. There are two important and easy lessons to maintaining a pretty and water-efficient yard in the desert. First, understand how much water your plants, trees and grass need to thrive. Second, learn to set your automated irrigation controller so it waters for maximum health, beauty and efficiency. AMWUA cities offer homeowners free classes, publications and videos to help.

The efficiency of an automated irrigation controller is directly related to the competence and knowledge of the person setting the controls. To keep any established desert-adapted landscape thriving the controller needs to be set to water infrequently but deeply. People who are not used to daily sunshine eagerly water their trees, cactus and shrubs a little every day. It’s a common practice that wastes water and threatens the life of any landscape. For example, you can program your controller to water your grass 15 minutes every day and your grass will stay green. The problem: you could be using two and half times the amount of water your grass needs to thrive. You can water your tree 15 minutes every day but frequent, shallow watering means your tree will never grow roots deep enough to stand up to monsoon winds. Here are general watering rules that help. AMWUA has links to more complete watering guides.

  • Water once a month in the winter, once every two weeks when temperatures begin to rise in the spring, and once a week in the hottest and driest part of the year, usually late May until the monsoon brings rain and higher humidity in early July.
  • When you do water, water to a depth of 3 feet for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, 1 foot for smaller plants and a half foot for grass. (You can measure the depth of your watering with something as simple a wooden stick.)

The second step is learning to adjust an automated irrigation controller to match what you’ve learned. Typical controllers are not difficult, but they can be confusing at first. People can’t tell the difference between station A and program A and don’t want to deal with it. They set it once and forget about it or leave it up to a landscaper. Watch the manufacturer’s how-to video designed for your controller. Then you can set it yourself and save water and money. Irrigation specialists recommend re-programming a controller at least four times a year to match the seasonal needs of your landscape.

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This irrigation controller can be programed with a cell phone app. Photos: Jeff Lee

Newer automated irrigation devices are known as smart controllers. If programmed correctly, these controllers adjust for seasonal changes on their own based on weather data. This technology has been used to irrigate city parks, golf courses and farms for decades. Now this technology is being perfected for back yards.

Some of these controllers adjust themselves according to historical weather patterns and an onsite temperature sensor that’s part of the control box. Many of them come with rain gauges attached or ones that you can add. Other types of smart controllers use a manufacturer’s cell phone modem to attain current weather conditions. These controllers are more precise but require a monthly subscription fee.

The latest smart controllers use your home’s Wi-Fi connection. They allow you to program and adjust them from an app on your cell phone and connect to the closest weather station for daily meteorological conditions. These controllers are easier to use but need more initial input to set up. Owners are asked to answer questions such as kind of plants being watered, type of soil (clay loam in central Valley, sandy loam in higher, northern parts of the Valley), sun exposure, sprinklers or drip, and slope. The manufacturer’s videos help answer these questions.

Rainbird ESP SMTe 01

This irrigation controller comes with a sensor.

Rainbird ESP SMTe Pod 01 SENSOR

The sensor measures both temperature and rain.

You can find smart controllers that include soil sensors. These soil probes let the controller know exactly how much water is in the soil. Due to mixed landscapes – with different trees, plants and grass – and different sun exposures these can be more challenging to configure.

Some cities will offer homeowners, HOAs and businesses rebates for installing new WaterSense approved smart controllers. Residents can make an appointment with the Town of Gilbert’s irrigation specialist to come to your home and help you set a smart controller. One precaution: When buying any smart controller make sure it allows you to do more than just adjust run times. These types of smart controllers are made for other climates and will not water long enough in the winter to reach the roots of your trees and plants. Desert yards require a smart controller that adjusts both run time and frequency (or how many days between watering). This allows you to adjust the controller to meet the needs of desert-adapted landscapes by programming to water deeply all year but less often when it’s cooler.

Right now, AMWUA cities are offering free landscape classes about watering and irrigation systems. These classes can make maintaining a lovely and water-efficient yard far easier.

For 48 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.

Why Are We Still Using Flood Irrigation In The Desert?

By Warren Tenney

Flood irrigation can be a surprising sight in a desert Valley. Water comes pouring out of ditches, covering large parks, ball fields or yards in what looks like deep storm runoff. While the rest of us are using drip lines and sprinklers, this sort of watering is difficult to understand. Here are the facts about flood irrigation in the Valley.

A Little History: Flood irrigation is a vestige of the Valley’s agricultural roots. Phoenix area farmers and ranchers had been brought to near ruin by the devastating cycles of flood and drought. At the turn of the century, these farmers and ranchers pledged their land – totaling 200,000 acres – as collateral to obtain a loan from the federal government to build Roosevelt Dam.  The dam allowed the fledgling community to manage cycles of drought and flood.  Each acre of land that was pledged as collateral represents one share in the Salt River Valley Water Users Association (today part of Salt River Project), the public corporation formed to secure funding for the dam. Those shares are tied to each acre, or portion of an acre, and the shares transfer with the land.  Shareholders are entitled to vote in the SRP elections of governing representatives.

Irrigation brochure

PHOTO: Salt River Project

In Arizona, the rights to surface (river) water are tied to the land by law.  Those lands where the water was put to use first have superior rights, and court determinations affect the distribution of surface water supplies.  In 1910, a court decision called the Kent Decree determined which lands were entitled to receive water stored behind Roosevelt Dam in Roosevelt Lake.  These lands, totaling 240,000 acres, are the SRP service area. It spans portions of Maricopa, Gila and Pinal counties, including from the City of Mesa and west to the City of Avondale. SRP is responsible for accounting and delivering that water.  These lands are entitled to a predetermined allotment of water.

 

A Big Change: Over the decades, the SRP service area became increasingly urbanized. Farms were subdivided into residential neighborhoods.  The shares in the Salt River Valley Water Users Association transferred with the land to homeowners and businesses. The rights to water from SRP, also tied to the land, transferred to the new landowners.

The new landowners frequently decided not to take their water via flood irrigation.  Their allotment of raw water was instead delivered to growing cities and towns to treat and deliver to the residents and businesses within the SRP lands.  Over the decades, that trend continued. Today, the majority of the water delivered by SRP (about 85 percent) goes directly to municipal water providers.

lake in a park

PHOTO: Salt River Project

The water still provided by SRP for flood irrigation is untreated and delivered largely by gravity through open canals.  The cost of this raw SRP water is low because the investment in construction of the system was made long ago and the cost of water is subsidized by SRP’s energy sales. However, municipal drinking water is significantly more expensive. There is considerable cost to treat raw water to meet drinking water standards, to maintain the treatment plants and the massive miles of mains and pipes and meters, and to employ professionals to maintain and operate that system.

The Pros and Cons: Flood irrigation isn’t necessarily as bad an idea as it appears, at least not for turf and large trees. Many old and beautiful trees, including fruit and nut trees, wouldn’t survive without flood irrigation. The main benefit is it quickly irrigates at infrequent intervals. The water soaks deeper, limiting build up of salinity in the soil (which can damage turf and plants) and encouraging deeper roots.

Cities run on tight budgets and water is a huge expense.  Where they can, cities use recycled wastewater for irrigation, but that, too, requires costly treatment and a separate distribution system.  (Virtually 100 percent of Phoenix and Tucson area recycled water is put to beneficial use.)  If a city has the right to use cheap, untreated flood irrigation for ball fields and parks instead of installing an irrigation system that uses more costly drinking water, it is understandable they would take the opportunity to save taxpayers money.

2003 Annual Report

PHOTO: Salt River Project

The homeowners on SRP lands also have rights to flood irrigation, but most have opted to no longer take it. Only about 22,000 homeowners receive flood irrigation, about 5 percent of SRP lands. Using flood irrigation can be inconvenient.  Homeowners must get up in the middle of the night to open and shut the irrigation gate on their property. The ditches are the private property of homeowners. Some neighborhoods have abandoned flood irrigation because of the cost of maintaining and repairing aging delivery ditches. Other neighbors have come together to save flood irrigation and agreed to tax themselves to cover the cost of professional repair and maintenance of the ditches. (Arizona law permits special taxing districts. These particular taxing districts are called Irrigation Water Delivery Districts.)

For more than 35 years, AMWUA members and its partners have worked toward more water-efficient, environmentally friendly landscapes. We have made considerable progress.  Back in the 1980s, 70 percent to 90 percent of residential properties in the city of Phoenix had turf landscapes.  Only 15 percent do now.  Flood irrigation is becoming a thing of the past.

The downside of eliminating flood irrigation is that it is more expensive and energy-intensive to treat raw water to drinking standards and then use it to irrigate turf and plants. Even if plants are drought tolerant, they will likely require some irrigation in an arid, urban and increasingly hot environment. Trees, plants, and turf provide shade, reduce energy demands (and the water needed to produce energy), filter pollutants from storm water, improve air quality, and provide places to rest and recreate. Learn more about flood irrigation from Salt River Project. 

For now, flood irrigation is part of our history that saves money and energy.

For 48 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 amwua.org.

Dirty Secrets: Backyard Composting Among Cities’ Free Landscape Classes

By Warren Tenney

AMWUA cities offer more than 70 free landscape classes throughout the year to help you grow a more beautiful yard with less water. Local experts introduce you to a wide variety of desert plants and how to use them to design shady and colorful spaces that attract birds and butterflies. Topics also include how to select, plant and nurture trees, how much and when to water, how to grow vegetables and herbs in the desert, and how to operate your irrigation controller. This fall the City of Glendale is offering five classes, including one called “Backyard Composting.” 

There are several reasons why desert dwellers put time and energy into becoming backyard composters. Some talk about the magic of science that turns their kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into something that looks like rich, dark soil. For others, it’s about growing the best tomatoes on the block or creating a booster for container gardens. People who take the time to compost will tell you they want to decrease the amount of garbage they pack into large plastic bags and send to landfills. When compost – officially called a “soil amendment” – is used on trees, plants and vegetables the water is more readily absorbed. That can make deep, infrequent irrigation more effective and help you use water more wisely.

Here are just a few tips about basic backyard composting that you’ll learn at the Glendale class offered 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the city’s Main Library. 

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Composting containers can be bought at any gardening store.

Container: Compost containers must be at least one cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) to get the kind of microbial activity you need to create compost. You can buy a container specially made for composting through a gardening outlet. You also can check with your city’s solid waste department. Some cities recycle old trash and recycling cans into inexpensive compost bins. They remove the bottoms, drill holes in the sides to facilitate aeration, and keep the lid on to help prevent evaporation.

Composting material: Anything that once grew roots and leaves – or is made from something that once grew roots and leaves – is a suitable composting material. You need nitrogen (often green) and carbon (often brown) to create compost. Nitrogen is most likely supplied by your kitchen waste, such as the woody stems on asparagus and broccoli, a celery stump or the lettuce you forgot about in the back of the refrigerator. Dried landscape materials supply carbon, such as wood chips from a trimmed tree limb, dried leaves or a pile of lawn clippings left in the sun for a week. (Fresh, green lawn clippings are a source of nitrogen). The smaller the size of the composting material the quicker it changes into compost. Never use bones, grease or meaty leftovers in a compost pile. These food items need different microbes to decompose. Never use cat or dog droppings, or droppings from any animal that consumes meat. These droppings harbor unhealthy bacteria that composting does not destroy. It’s fine to add manure from cows, horses, goats, rabbits or llamas. 

Oxygen: The composting material changes into compost through the work of microbes. These microbes need oxygen. They get that oxygen when the compost is “turned” or churned. The more frequently the compost material is turned the more oxygen the microbes get, the harder they work and the faster the compost is finished. Some composting containers come with a handle that turns and tumbles the composting material. Other gardeners prefer to simply transfer their material from one container to another with a shovel. 

Water: Composting microbes also need water. In the desert, compost bins tend to dry out. (Turning your compost by hand lets you find dry spots.) Your compost material should be warm in the middle and as moist as a wrung sponge. If you squeeze it and water comes out, it’s too wet. Add carbon with some dry materials. If the pile is crispy, it’s too dry. Sprinkle it with water and add some nitrogen.

Patience: Finished compost equals 40 to 50 percent of the volume of composting material used. A single typical compost bin could produce one to two wheelbarrows of compost in 6 to 10 weeks. Finished compost is rich, dark, soft and earthy. If your compost still has chunks, microbes are still working. Instead of helping your plants, microbes in unfinished compost will draw nitrogen from plants and soil to stay alive.

So, you just can’t see yourself chipping, shredding, collecting and turning your way to compost? AMWUA has a list of free city landscape classes on its website. Take a look. You’re likely to find a class you need. Some cities are offering classes right now. Others will be posting soon.

For 48 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

Pure Brew: Campaign Promotes Future Source Of Drinking Water

By Warren Tenney

A couple dozen Arizona craft breweries will bring their beers to Phoenix in September to vie for a professional judge’s choice award and a people’s choice award. Here’s why this particular beer competition is big news: The competing brewers are making their beers with purified recycled wastewater for the 32nd Annual WaterReuse Symposium being held in Phoenix. The competition is the culmination of a statewide traveling campaign called the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge created by a Pima County Southwest Water Campus partnership. The campaign’s goal is to help people understand and trust the technology that creates purified recycled water, a renewable source of future drinking water.

Recycling wastewater is nothing new. AMWUA member cities put virtually all of their wastewater to beneficial use. Since 1973, much of the recycled water has been sent to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a power station southwest of Phoenix that provides energy for 4 million people in four states. Cities use recycled water to create fishing lakes, restore or construct riparian areas, and irrigate large turf areas, such as parks and HOA common areas. Cities also store recycled water underground for future use. The Arizona Department of Environment Quality sets the standards for recycled water and cities treat recycled wastewater to A+ quality, which means it is treated and disinfected until there are no detectable disease-causing bacteria.

Pure Brew Truck

There is now technology to clean A+ wastewater beyond drinking water standards. This water is called purified water. It is recycled water that is further treated using ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection with advanced oxidation, activated carbon filtration and chlorine disinfection. Professionals view purified water as an important part of solving drinking water shortages in the future, but it has one major problem standing in its way: public perception. Imagining where the water originated is a hurdle many people find difficult to overcome.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge was designed to help people get over that hurdle. The project was created by a partnership that includes Pima County Southwest Water Campus, a team of water professionals, University of Arizona scientists, local municipalities, including Tucson Water and the Town of Marana, and consulting organizations. In November 2016, the concept won the $250,000 New Arizona Prize competition and its $2,500 people’s choice award. The project received an additional $50,000 in assistance from the WaterNow Alliance and about $50,000 in donated time and equipment.

Team members who created the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge knew it wasn’t enough to simply tell people purified water was safe and tasted good, they had to show people. The idea of a beer contest was appealing but the Arizona team was looking for something more ambitious, something that would reach a wider audience and showcase the technology that produces purified water. The partnership decided to build the technology used to process purified water inside a semi-trailer truck. The truck has traveled around the state and used local water professionals to explain to visitors how the technology works. The truck includes looping videos explaining the basics of Arizona water, such as where drinking water comes from and how it’s treated.

Pure Brew Open Truck

The truck travels to festivals and events, such as the Arizona Great Outdoor Festival in Flagstaff. People who visit the truck are asked to fill out a 15-question survey about their perception of purified recycled wastewater. So far, the majority of the 1,300 surveys completed show people are open to the idea of drinking purified water – but are more enthusiastic about drinking beer made from purified water.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge project included recruiting small and large independent craft breweries to compete in a taste challenge using beers brewed with purified water processed in the truck. The team has worked closely with the Arizona Craft Brewer’s Guild and participating breweries come from across the state, including the cities of Yuma, Sedona, Flagstaff, Oak Creek, Tucson and Phoenix. In July, the truck received its permit to create purified water from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and was hooking up to a wastewater treatment plant and purifying water for participating brewers. The team also was filling a tank with purified water to take to a bottling company to have samples ready to hand out to visitors at the campaign’s next stops and at the week-long WaterReuse Symposium.

It’s not really about the beer created from this campaign. It’s about introducing Arizona residents to the technology that can help augment future water supplies. Once the craft brew challenge is completed the team will have just enough money left to take the truck to a half-dozen more festivals through December. The team is looking for funding to keep the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge campaign on the road in 2018.

For 48 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.

5 Trees To Shade Your Desert Home

By Warren Tenney

It’s the time of year when many homeowners are tired of the glare from their windows and are thinking about adding more shade to their yards. The beautiful combination of cactus, succulents and desert-adapted flowering shrubs are unique to our communities, but trees give height and width to a landscape. In the desert summer, trees also help to cool a home’s windows and walls and keep its air conditioner from overworking. We asked AMWUA cities’ conservation professionals about a few of their favorite water-efficient shade trees. These trees lose all or most of their leaves in the winter so they are best planted on the south and west sides of your home. That will give you maximum shade in the summer and allow light and warmth into your home and yard in the winter.

  • Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) This large tree is always showing off. Its green canopy turns bright yellow and red in December and then drops its leaves. After this tree loses its leaves small greenish flowers emerge during the winter and new leaves start over in March. It provides deep shade in the summer but needs space. It can eventually reach 30-to-35 feet high with a 25-to-35 foot canopy. There is a similar hybrid called a Red Push Pistache.
  • Arizona or Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina) Give this native tree plenty of room. The mesquite spreads its trunks and main branches in unpredictable and sculptural ways. It needs space to stretch. The tree sprouts white or yellow blooms around May then produces brown pods loved by all types of wildlife. It also offers shade in the summer and sheds most of its leaves for a few months in the winter.
My Mesquite

Mesquite

  • Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) This is a tree that’s only pretty in the summer, but its very pretty. Its showy trumpet flowers bloom from spring through fall in a variety of colors including white, pink and purple. It grows to 25 feet but only about 20 feet wide so it fits nicely into a small yard. This willow also grows pods and loses its leaves in the winter. There are a number of varieties available that produce and drop fewer pods.
  • Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) The shade this tree provides is filtered through an airy and upright canopy about 10 feet wide, so it’s another option for a small yard. It grows about 20 feet high and has creamy spike-shaped flowers in the spring. The tree is lovely even in the winter when it sheds many – but not all – of its leaves and shows off its creamy white lacey bark.
  • Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida) Arizona’s state tree is a popular and uniquely desert tree with greenish blue bark. It can grow 30 feet high and 30 feet wide. It has multiple trunks and does best in large yards.  Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphyllum) is another Arizona native.  It is smaller, growing to 15 feet high by 15 feet wide.  There also are plenty of hybrids that are suitable for smaller yards. Palo Verdes produce a dramatic canopy of yellow flowers in the spring.
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Palo Verde

Check AMWUA’s plant pages for the trees that are right for your yard. Consider where to plant the tree so it can grow comfortably into its space with minimal trimming. Desert-adapted trees need their foliage to keep them strong and protect them against sun and wind. AMWUA’s plant pages also offer practical information and answer important questions: Is this tree light on litter and pool friendly? Does this tree have thorns, does it attract wildlife, or can it cause allergies? Make sure you understand how to plant, stake and nurture a desert tree. October is the best time to plant a tree but don’t plant before mid September. Trees are valuable to the urban environment and an investment of your time and money.  Review your options now before heading to the nursery to reduce impulse buying and a costly mistake.

For 48 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.

Study: Conservation Reduces The Cost Of Your Water Services

By Warren Tenney

Water conservation has been a bedrock element of water management in Arizona for the last several decades. Water conservation is built into our communities where summer highs remain above 100 degrees and rain is a rare blessing. We conserve to stretch water supplies, assure a sound economic future for our grandkids, and keep our environment healthy.  Yet, when water rates are increased, I am often asked: “Why am I using less water but paying more?”

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The question Arizona residents should be asking is “How much more would I be paying without conservation?”  To help answer this question, the Alliance for Water Efficiency worked with two Arizona communities, Gilbert and Tucson, to examine how costs were reduced thanks to decades of conservation.

AWE-color-verticalThe fact is, water rates are rising in many Arizona cities and across the country. It’s costing cities more money to ensure a reliable supply of water, to maintain and operate the treatment plants, and to keep the infrastructure sound, such as repairing and replacing pipes, pumps and meters.  

Conservation actually helps keep costs as low as possible even though rates do rise.  Using less water lengthens the lifespan of critical water supplies by being able to serve more people with the same amount of water.  This avoids the costs of securing new supplies, building, operating and maintaining new infrastructure to access those supplies, and treating more water and wastewater. Here is a quick summary of  the results from the Alliance study.

  • In the Town of Gilbert, two decades of conservation has reduced per-person-per-day demand from 244 gallons to 173 gallons.  This reduction helped the town avoid the need for more than $340 million in water and wastewater treatment expenses. As a result, rates are 5.8 percent lower than they would have been – a savings of $38 annually for customers. Additionally, connection fees for new businesses and new homes are 45 percent lower today. That’s a savings of $7,733 that the builder is not passing on to customers.
  • In the City of Tucson, 30 years of conservation reduced water use from 188 gallons per person per day to 130 gallons.  Without this reduction, Tucson would have needed to invest $350 million in new infrastructure to deliver and treat more water and wastewater.  Thanks to conservation, rates are 11.7 percent lower and all customers save an average of $112 annually on their water bills.

Arizona residents understand that conservation is important to maintaining the state’s water supplies and its economy. This is why cities offer a variety of conservation services, such as offering free desert landscape classes, rebates to customers who replace grass with desert landscaping and free water-saving audits to businesses and homeowners.  The Alliance for Water Efficiency study shows that conservation also is a cost-effective and sustainable way to keep rates low and water affordable.

For 48 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.