City Water Departments Answer Five Common Questions

By Warren Tenney

Your city’s water department does a great job using science and engineering, muscle and skill to get drinking water into your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water professionals at your city can answer your questions about water quality testing, water rates and billing, the efficient use of water, free water conservation classes, water conservation rebates, and water leaks in the street. But there are things they can’t do, such as fix your plumbing or chill your water before it reaches your home. We called the people who answer the phone at city water departments and asked them to share a few of the most frequent questions they get from customers. Here they are:

1. Why does warm water come out of my cold faucet? This is, of course, a popular call when summer temperatures are peaking. Your water department cannot make the water coming into your kitchen or bathroom colder or hotter. Water distributed by your city comes to your house and up to your water meter through pipes buried 12 inches to 18 inches below ground. If temperatures are particularly hot, the ground is not cool at that depth. (If you are from a place with cold, hard winters, perhaps Connecticut or Minnesota, water pipes are buried 42 inches below the surface to prevent them from freezing.) From the water meter, the water coming into your house enters through a line (usually under your front yard) and then through an exposed pipe. Water has plenty of time to warm up before it gets to your kitchen or bathroom sink. You may want to keep a pitcher of cold water in your refrigerator for those summer days.

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2. Why does my water smell? There are times when you turn on a faucet and get a whiff of a sewer or rotten egg smell. Look under your sink and you’ll see a pipe shaped like a U. This is called the P-trap (because from a plumber’s angle, when it’s attached to another pipe, it looks like the letter P). It serves two purposes. First, if hair or food creates a clog, this is where it will happen – a place accessible to plumbers, instead of deep within your plumbing system where it would be tougher and more expensive to reach. Second, about a cup of water always sits in that P-Trap and serves as a barrier that keeps sewer smells from entering your home. The barrier can fail and develop gaps when the water in this pipe develops a thick layer of scum from hair or food. Sometimes the barrier fails because the water in the P-trap dries up, such as when you go on vacation or fail to use the guest bathroom for weeks. It’s likely to happen more often when the air conditioner is running and drawing the moisture out of the air in your home. When you run the water, it agitates whatever is in – or not in – the P-Trap, creating that whiff of sewer smell. Run the water occasionally in all of your sinks and, when on vacation, ask the person who is watching your house to run the water in your sinks. If the smell persists, clean your drains or call a plumber.

3. Why is my water cloudy? Air bubbles in the line can make your water cloudy. Sometimes it happens when your water department is flushing out fire hydrants in your neighborhood or when a plumber has been to your home. Run the water for a little while or let the water in your drinking glass settle. It will clear up.

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4. Why is water bubbling up from under my yard? It is your responsibility to identify and correct plumbing issues on your side of the water meter, which is most often located in your front yard near the street. Your responsibility includes the water line buried in the yard that leads to your plumbing and irrigation systems. If water is bubbling up anywhere in your yard, it’s most likely an irrigation line that has been leaking for a while. It’s time to call an irrigation systems professional or to make time for a little do-it-yourself project. It can be costly to ignore your irrigation system. Know where the main irrigation lines are buried in your yard and run the system occasionally when you have time to walk your yard and look for leaks. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix irrigation leaks.

5. Why is my water pressure low? The State requires cities to provide water at a minimum of 20 pounds per square inch (psi).  (Some individual cities have set their minimum pressure higher than 20 psi.) Getting higher water pressure can sometimes be physically hard to achieve. A water department employee can gauge the water pressure for you as it is coming into your home from the city service line to your meter. If the city employee finds that the water entering your meter is at an acceptable pressure then the problem is within your own plumbing system. A broken pipe or a clogged filter in your water softener can reduce your water pressure. It’s time to call a plumber.

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.

On The Job: Skill, Hard Work Ensures Water Gets To Your Home

By Warren Tenney

When someone asks Sal Correa what he does for a living, he answers this way: “You know the water you drink? I make sure it gets to your house.” That’s a pretty good description. Sal co-leads a 7-member City of Chandler team that replaces aging water distribution pipes, repairs breaks, and installs fire hydrants and new water meters. Sometimes his crew lays water lines to new subdivisions.

Sal is a Lead Utility Systems Technician who organizes his crew’s workload and talks to Chandler residents about the work being done on their streets. He drives backhoes, digs holes and wields pipe-cutting saws. “I get muddy,” Sal said. “I like what I do.”

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Each day, Sal walks into work at 5:30 a.m. ready to coordinate each job with Chandler’s traffic and police departments. There is always something that must be done to secure the 1,230 miles of pipes in the city’s water distribution system. He orders equipment that may be needed from vendors and calls Arizona Blue Stake, which maps underground utility lines and helps prevent workers from disturbing other underground lines, such as electric or gas. If a job means Chandler residents will lose their water for a while, Sal makes sure they are notified within 24 to 78 hours in advance.

Sal’s first priorities are emergency breaks. Some can be underground breaks that fracture a length of pipe and send water seeping up through crevices in the street and sidewalks. Neighbors lose water pressure and dirty water comes out of their faucets and they call the department. Sometimes these breaks are more spectacular and blow out a hole in a main pipe sending water gushing 30-feet in the air. These types of emergency breaks are the hardest. Traffic must be redirected, the leak brought under control, and the break tracked down – even before unhappy customers are notified about why they suddenly have no water and how long they will be without it.

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Sal said most breaks – even large ones – can be fixed within three to six hours. Neighbors are always given a window of time that accounts for unforeseen problems, such as a fix that may not hold or trouble tracking an entire break. Most of the time Sal and his crew can finish well within the window, making customers happy again.

Replacing aging water lines and fixing breaks and repairs can mean working in a hole 3 feet deep or 7 feet deep. Anything below 5 feet requires the crew to shore the walls with an aluminum brace to prevent the hole from collapsing. Sal and his team members enter and exit the hole using a ladder attached to the shoring. Everyone shares the hardest parts of the job, the digging and pipe cutting, so one member of the crew is always resting while another is working. (That’s why residents often see one or two workers watching, while one is working.) During the hottest summer days, Sal makes sure members of his team use a canopy for shade and that each member works in short spurts. When Sal suspects a member of his crew is getting overheated, he’ll send him into a city vehicle to cool down in the air conditioning.

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Nine years ago Sal was cutting a pipe with a 12-inch-blade motorized saw, a job he had done hundreds of times. This time the pipe dropped and pinched the end of the blade, which suddenly kicked back and pinned Sal to the wall of the hole. The blade cut deeply into Sal’s mouth, causing damage that required two surgeries and numerous root canals. The accident left him with a thin scar from his lip to his chin that is just visible through his short-cropped beard. He went back to cutting pipe in those street holes as soon as possible. “After I got back in there, my coworkers said, ‘You’re not allowed to touch saws anymore, get out of there’,” Sal remembers.  He admits the first cutting job after the accident was a little terrifying. “I tried not to show it, but yes, it was.” Since that accident Sal said he has cut thousands of pipes. 

In 2001, Sal sold everything he had and followed his wife’s parents from Chicago to Arizona. Sal wanted more opportunity for himself and his wife, Gladys, and a good place to raise their 5-year-old son. Sal started working for Chandler as a meter reader. He took courses to be certified as a Utility Service Operator I and II in the water distribution department and was then promoted to crew leader. Sal’s son, Damien, attended Northern Arizona University on an academic scholarship, just graduated with a pre-med degree, and is waiting to hear from the medical schools where he applied for acceptance.

Damien’s academic pursuits left Sal and Gladys at home with Bella the Boxer and two toy Yorkshire Terriers, Blu and Jax. Sal gets home by 4 p.m. every night and has dinner made by the time his wife, a health care administrator, arrives home. Late last year, the couple joined a neighborhood co-ed kickball team.

Sal is tough when it comes to his job, but gets a little teary-eyed when he talks about the parents and the seven siblings – including a twin – he left behind in Chicago. He is the youngest, visits the city twice a year and still misses them. One sibling has just moved to California. He hopes more family will move west, because Sal said he’s staying in Arizona’s sunshine.

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

Fix A Leak Week: Time To Hunt Down Leaks That Are Draining Your Budget

By Warren Tenney

Water leaks inside and outside the average American home waste up to 10,000 gallons of water a year. This drain on the country’s drinking water supply is so critical that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program dedicates a week each year to remind us to find and fix leaks. Fix A Leak Week is especially important to desert dwellers. A household may use as much as 70 percent of its drinking water outside. Keeping your landscape healthy and your pool full is one thing, but without regular maintenance irrigation and pool equipment are prone to wasteful leaks.

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Outdoor leaks are not as obvious and annoying as a dripping faucet, which makes them more difficult to detect and easier to ignore. It takes little time and very little know-how to keep these leaks in check. Water efficiency professionals at AMWUA cities understand this and want to help.

1. Get help from AMWUA’s #SmartPig. Let the AMWUA #SmartPig be your guide to the valuable information at the Smart Home Water Guide website. The guide shows homeowners how to find leaks inside and outside – and how even the least talented do-it-yourselfers can fix them. Water efficiency professionals from AMWUA cities developed this website and translated their experience, knowledge and methods into short and clearly illustrated lessons anyone can understand. Some outdoor leaks are obvious, such as water pooling around a sprinkler head. Leaks in pool equipment are tougher to spot. These leaks leave small wet spots that can evaporate quickly or white crusty mineral deposits that pool owners may not know indicate a leak. The guide is built for mobile devices so you can carry it around your home and yard on a phone or tablet. The guide allows you to check off steps as you complete your water-leak audit over the course of a day, a week or a month. The information in the website is also available as a free 24-page booklet in English and Spanish. Just call your city’s water efficiency professional and ask. The Spanish language guide also is available online as a flip-book.SmartPig_Final

2. Talk with your landscaper about water. Your landscaper can help you find and fix leaks in your irrigation system and ensure it’s running as efficiently as possible. Let your landscaper know that saving water is important to you. More than twenty years ago, Arizona recognized that landscapers could help their customers save money and help cities save water. With that goal in mind, Tucson Water, AMWUA, the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension and industry partners launched Smartscape. It is a low-cost desert-landscape training program for professionals. Since then, Smartscape has added advanced training dedicated to installing and managing irrigation systems. Since 1994, more than 1,300 professionals have completed Smartscape training in Maricopa County. A list of Smartscape trained landscapers is available online.

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3. Watch your water bill. If you have a spike in water usage that you can’t track down, call your city. But don’t be surprised if your city contacts you first. In some AMWUA cities, employees review individual water usage and billing data for all customers before sending out monthly bills. When employees discover a sudden spike in a monthly bill, they contact homeowners, send a postcard, or post a message to their water bill and offer help to find the source of the problem. Advances in water meter technology can now provide a city and a homeowner with valuable data that can help find a leak. When a spike in water usage is detected, an employee can download 96 days of water usage information – hour by hour – from the water meter in your front yard or back alley. This information is a valuable clue to what is causing the spike. The data may show a homeowner is suddenly 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.

New technology will eventually make it easier for homeowners to detect leaks on their own. Imagine watching your water consumption online in real time. The new water meter reading system is known as “advanced meter infrastructure” or AMI. While some cities are piloting AMI systems, the City of Tempe is pursuing the most ambitious meter conversion in the Valley. All Tempe water customers will have access to their water use online by early 2019. The AMI system helps to alert you sooner to a change in your water use. Being able to see patterns in your hourly water use gives you a better opportunity to pinpoint a leak and know where to investigate.

While technology is helping to find leaks, it still requires us to take action to fix them. Valley weather is always beautiful during Fix a Leak Week. It’s a perfect time to turn on your irrigation system and pool equipment and learn to find and fix leaks that are draining your budget and our drinking water supplies.

AMWUA is a long-standing WaterSense Partner and an active participant in the annual Fix a Leak Week campaign.  This year, we are pleased to host the annual #FixaLeak Week Twitter party as @FixaLeakWeekAZ on Monday, March 20, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

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.

Drought: Five Things You Need To Know About This Rainy Winter

By Warren Tenney

Many people are wondering what this rainy, snowy winter means for Arizona after more than two decades of drought. Here are five things we know right now.

1. It’s raining and snowing in the right places. So far, it has been raining and snowing in locations that have the potential to increase water in two major reservoirs, Roosevelt Lake and Lake Mead. These reservoirs are key to drinking water supplies for the majority of Arizona’s population.

  • Lake Mead relies on runoff from snow pack in the Upper Colorado River Basin, primarily from two main tributaries: the Green River in southwestern Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River in western Colorado. December snowpack in the Colorado River Basin has ranged from 50 percent to three times above normal.  The result of this above normal precipitation will likely boost the reservoir levels of Lake Mead.
  • Roosevelt Lake relies on rain and snow in the watershed that feeds the Salt River. This watershed reaches into the high country northeast of Phoenix. So far, the watershed has received about 45 percent more precipitation than normal. As of January 25th, 211,000 acre-feet of water had flowed into Roosevelt Lake. (One acre-foot of water is enough to serve three average Arizona households for a year.)

2. This is a good start. Weather in February and March must remain cold and wet to hold and increase the gains and potential gains in both reservoirs. Water resource managers are pleased with rain but prefer snow accompanied by extended weeks of cold temperatures. Low temperatures keep the snow on the ground longer, which stops the water in the ground from evaporating and helps to reduce the threat of summer wildfires. The slow flow from melting snow also delivers cleaner water and is easier to manage in a water delivery system. So while it has already been a good winter, we will have to wait until April to know if it has been a great season.

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This is a map of the  watershed where the springs, creeks and rivers originate that feed into Roosevelt Lake, a key drinking water reservoir for the Phoenix Metro area.

3. The drought is not over. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. A drought cycle has fewer wet years than dry and a wet cycle has a greater number of above average rainy years. The current record-breaking drought cycle began around 1996. The last six years have been the driest on record in the Salt and Verde rivers’ watersheds. If the weather follows historical trends, the current drought could be coming to a close within the next several years, but there’s no certainty and it does not factor in climate change. It would take a few years of greater than average snow and rain to begin to heal the wounds left by the current drought. This includes helping to replenish local aquifers used to back up water available in dams and reservoirs. Plus, two or three years of well above-average precipitation on the watersheds that feed the Salt and Verde rivers would help to re-establish depleted wildlife, such as quail and deer. That much precipitation would help to restore overgrazed grasslands and begin to create a healthier forest, with trees not as susceptible to diseases and bark beetle infestation.

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4. AMWUA cities are built for drought. Sunshine is the norm in Central Arizona and rain is an event. We have never denied that we live in an arid part of the country and we plan for drought cycles. AMWUA cities save water underground for future use, keep leaks within their water distribution systems to some of the lowest rates in the country, and re-use 99 percent of their wastewater. Salt River Project (SRP) operates the system of reservoirs and canals that store water from the Salt and Verde rivers. After a rare rainy year in 2010, SRP has faced six dry years on the rivers’ watersheds. Despite record low precipitation, Roosevelt Lake has remained half full and SRP has been able to fill water orders for farmers, industries and cities. SRP was forced to limit water orders by 33 percent in 2002, the driest year in the Southwest in 1,200 years. That year, the SRP system was only 25 percent full and Roosevelt Lake alone was down to 10 percent full. It was the first reduction since the 1950s.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) operates the canal that brings Colorado River water released from Lake Mead to Arizona. CAP has not yet had to reduce water supplies due to a Colorado River shortage. The state’s cities, farmers and industries currently are working together to maintain and increase the level of water stored in Lake Mead and prevent a water shortage declaration next year. The recent increase in winter precipitation and snowpack in the Colorado River Basin decreases the chances that a shortage would be declared in 2018. So, while we regularly face metrological droughts, our water supply droughts are rare.

5. You can make the rain count. Homeowners, apartment managers and businesses make a contribution to our reservoirs when they turn off their irrigation systems and auto-fills on their pools each time it rains. More homeowners and communities also are harvesting the rain by contouring their landscapes to hold storm runoff. Swales built around trees and plants help rainwater stay in place longer so the water soaks deep into the landscape and stays available to plants and trees longer. All of this reduces the need to irrigate and the demand on city water supplies, which in turn saves more drinking water for drinking.

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 http://www.amwua.org. 

 

Desert Landscaping: Ten Tips For Winter Watering

By Warren Tenney

Here’s one of the easiest ways you can save money and water: learn how to manage your irrigation controller. AMWUA cities’ conservation professionals continue to report that many homeowners, businesses and HOAs irrigate their landscapes throughout the winter as if it were still 110 degrees outside. It’s such a waste because most desert-adapted plants can make it through the winter months with little or no water. Even rye grass can thrive with a watering only every week or two.

Water efficiency professionals at AMWUA member cities offer ten important things to know about winter watering.

1.) A “sewer fee” is part of the water bill you receive each month from your city. Most cities recalculate this sewer fee each year based on a homeowner’s average water use during winter months. You can lower next year’s monthly sewer fee by cutting back on the amount of water you use this winter.

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2.) Overwatering can kill your desert-adapted plants. The roots need the soil to dry out between waterings so they can absorb nutrients from the soil. Soggy soil prevents plants from pulling in essential elements, such as nitrogen and iron, and can suffocate the roots. This leads to yellowing leaves, poor health and even death.

3.) Some shrubs and vines will grow rapidly when overwatered in early winter months, exposing tender new tissue to colder temperatures. This can make them more susceptible to frost and damage the plants.

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4.) Cactus plants suffer less frost damage if they have not been watered for several months before cold temperatures set in. Cactus plants hold water in their cells. When the water freezes it expands and ruptures the cells, which can damage or kill the plants.

5.) Overwatering during the winter is more likely to produce pools of water in your lawn and around your plants that won’t evaporate as quickly as they would in summer. These puddles mixed with mild winter temperatures can breed mosquitoes. If you seem to have more of the pests around your patio and yard, check your irrigation schedule – you may want to let your yard dry out. During the winter, water also can pool near a home or building’s foundation, which can damage the foundation and invite pests, including termites.

6.) Most of your cities have water efficiency professionals with the right tools who can help business owners, apartment or facilities managers, and HOA board members determine precisely how much water a particular landscape needs to thrive. If you want to lower your water bill, give your city’s water efficiency professional a call and ask for help.

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7.) It’s the time of year when your winter rye grass is established. That means your grass no longer needs the same amount of water as it did when you were germinating rye grass from seed. The sprinklers only need to come on once every seven to 10 days. You can cut back watering to once every two weeks in December and January. Established rye grass needs to be watered to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Use a small wood stake or a screwdriver to check how deep the water has sunk into the yard.

8.) It’s not wise to assume your landscaper understands how to water desert-adapted plants and trees throughout the year without your direction. Let your landscaper know saving water is just as important as having the yard visually appealing.  You can also take matters into your hands and learn how to manage your own irrigation controller. Most controller manufacturers have how-to videos on YouTube as well as toll free help lines. Check with your city. Some offer free classes or videos about how to operate your irrigation controller.

 9.) It’s possible you are overwatering parts of your yard and don’t know it. While the weather is cool, occasionally turn on your irrigation system to find and fix leaks you may not see if you are irrigating during the night. When temperatures remain above freezing, night is the best time to water because less water evaporates.

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10.) Trees should be watered deeply but far less often in winter. Native Palo Verde, mesquite and acacias only need a good soaking once a month. Other trees should only be watered once every two to four weeks.

If you need more details about watering a desert landscape you’ll find them at Water – Use It Wisely Landscape Watering Guide. It’s worth the effort because homeowners use up to 50 percent to 70 percent of their water outside. That’s why your city’s water department offers free classes, free videos, free brochures and free professional consultations to help you save water and enjoy a thriving landscape all year. Find out more at amwua.org/landscape.  Winter is the best time of year in the Phoenix Metro area and the best time of year to save water.

For 47 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.

Tempe Offers Residents And Businesses Online Access To Water Use

By Warren Tenney

Imagine watching your water consumption online in real time as easily as you access your checking account or medical records. By Spring 2017 about 5,000 City of Tempe homes and businesses will have online access to their hour-by-hour water use. Tempe will continue to add more customers until every Tempe business owner and resident with a water meter can monitor their water use by early 2019. The new water meter reading system is known as “advanced meter infrastructure” or AMI. While some cities are piloting AMI systems, Tempe is pursuing the most ambitious meter conversion in the Valley. Here are five things you should know about the system.

1. A giant step: There are two common ways most Valley cities read your water meter. The first: an employee drives past each home and a computer inside the vehicle reads each meter. The second: a water department employee drives into a neighborhood, parks a specially equipped van on a street or in a parking lot, and uses a computer to read each water meter within a half-mile or so. Some cities use a combination of both of these electronic systems, which are called “automatic meter reading” or AMR. Tempe tested but never committed to either of these AMR methods. Right now, Tempe water employees still read meters the old fashioned way – by opening the lid of your water meter box (which is usually in the ground in your front yard or in the alley), checking the dial, and entering a number into a handheld computer.  

2. How it will work: If your water meter is more than 7 years old, Tempe will install a new meter compatible with the new electronic system. If you have a newer meter, the city will place a new register on your existing meter. A network of “collectors and repeaters” will be attached mainly to city-owned light poles. This network will relay water use from each meter directly to a computer inside Tempe’s Customer Service Division for billing. The new system is flexible. In an emergency, such as a power or computer failure, Tempe would switch to an AMR system and each meter would be read by an employee from a specially equipped vehicle as it passes a home and business. Tempe selected a vendor to operate the system. The vendor also will be responsible for such things as system upgrades and data storage.

3. The rollout: Tempe’s 44,000 water meters are divided into four sections with about 10,000 to 11,000 meters in each. Each of these four sections has 20 routes consisting of varying numbers of meters, up to 1,000. The City will convert 5,000 meters within two sections by January. As each route is completed and tested, Tempe will notify water customers when they have the option of registering for an online portal that will allow them to watch their water use in real time on an hourly basis.

4. What the City gains: Tempe’s goals are improving water conservation and customer service. For example, monthly bills to customers are based on 30 days of water service, but that number can change. When meters are read manually, the number of days it takes to complete a route can vary because of unpredictable circumstances, such as sick days and rainy days. Adding one or two days of water usage to a bill can mean a noticeable increase in what customers pay that month. Fluctuating bills make it harder for customers to budget and often cause customer complaints and questions. The new system will provide Tempe with more accurate data within a uniform period of time, generating more uniform monthly bills. The new system also will provide data for planning purposes, such as tracking the water saved due to home and business water audits, rebates and other conservation programs. Tempe now has four regular employees and four temporary employees responsible for reading meters. Once the conversion is complete, the four regular employees will be assigned new responsibilities, such as fixing broken meters, responding to customer concerns, or completing disconnects.

5. What you gain: The AMI system helps to alert you sooner to a change in your water use. Being able to see patterns in your hourly water use gives you a better opportunity to pin point a problem.  For example, if your water use is suddenly higher than usual between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when the irrigation system is running, you know the first place to look for a leak.

 

Advances in technology continue to help residents use water more efficiently.  Water meters are key to accounting for water used by customers and in turn can help customers find leaks quickly. If you need help fixing leaks, AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide has the answers.

For 47 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.

Peak Demand Dictates How Cities Build Water Infrastructure

By Warren Tenney

It’s no surprise that demand for water in the Phoenix Metro area reaches its peak during the summer months. What may be surprising is that demand nearly doubles from the winter months to the summer months. In February 2015, City of Peoria customers – businesses, apartment buildings and homes – used 2,940 acre-feet of water. In July, Peoria’s peak rose to 6,516 acre-feet of water. (One acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre to the depth of one foot or enough to serve an average of three Arizona households for a year.) In December 2015, City of Mesa water customers used 5,899 acre-feet of water. In July 2015, Mesa water customers used 10,503 acre-feet.

The annual pattern of peak demand can look slightly different from year to year, depending on fluctuations in heat and when monsoon storms arrive. The chart below shows Mesa’s annual water production for the past 5 years. Peaking in Mesa happens most often in July, but a hot June and a good July monsoon can mean that the peak month could be June.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 8.10.27 AM

Watching water-use trends and peak demand is critical to planning and building water infrastructure. Here’s why:

  •  Annual Peak Demand: Cities build infrastructure to meet annual peak demand. It would be cheaper to order just enough water and build just enough pipes, pumps and small reservoirs within a water system to meet average water use but that would make water delivery to your faucets unreliable during peak demand times. More is invested in water treatment and distribution systems to ensure they are built to provide water for the hottest days when landscape irrigation systems, pools and cooling towers are working at maximum capacity.
  • Daily Peak Demand: Each day, demand for water peaks in the morning and, again, in the evening hours. That means water managers are diligently filling a water system’s reservoirs overnight to make sure enough water is ready to be pumped to homes when hundreds of thousands of residents step into their showers between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Then water managers dial back around 9 a.m. when demand lessens and to prepare for the after work demand.

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    Small reservoirs keep water available for peak demand. Photo: City of Mesa

  • Safety Peak Demand: Being ready for daily and seasonal water demands isn’t enough. Water managers must maintain water supplies and build water systems for the what-ifs. What if it’s 6 a.m. on a July morning and firefighters call for more water to fight two house fires and a brush fire? What if the system is just dialing back to accommodate a low demand time when a water main breaks spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water meant for customers into the street instead? A water distribution system must have supplies, pipes, reservoirs and pumps in reserve to keep water running to customer faucets while employees fix the break or provide water for fire suppression.

Most cities, including Mesa and Peoria, use a computer program called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA to track water demand throughout their systems. The program allows city employees to keep their eyes on each part of the water distribution system remotely and in real time. Operators use this innovative computer program to review water distribution continually throughout their service area and to track peaks in demands. For example, a sudden change in pressure could mean firefighters need high volume and increased 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.  Utility workers can quickly respond to investigate and correct the problem to significantly reduce any disruption to your water service. 

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Photo: City of Mesa

During the last two decades, while Mesa and Peoria have grown by hundreds of thousands of people, the water used by city customers, even during peak demand months, has remained nearly flat. Cities helped to fuel this accomplishment by promoting a conservation culture, which includes encouraging drought-tolerant landscapes and the use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures, and helping residents find and fix leaks. Want to help lower your city’s peak demand? Start outside where as much as 70 percent of a home’s water is used. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix leaks. AMWUA’s landscape pages can help you select drought-tolerant plants and trees, design a lovely yard, and efficiently water your landscape for maximum beauty.

For 47 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.