By Mojave Water Agency Staff
(Apple Valley)–With an increasing population state-wide—and thus an increased demand for water – it is important that water users know where their water usage occurs and where that usage can be reduced in order to help meet future demands. Why is saving water more important than ever? In November 2009, the State of California made it mandatory that water districts reduce their water usage by at least 20% by the year 2020. Customers are finding ways to reduce water usage in the home on a per person per day basis (measured in gallons per capita per day or gpcd) just as many water agencies consider adopting more stringent water use policies to reduce consumption through mandatory conservation and/or tiered rates. As more water agencies adopt tiered rates – rates calculated by the amount of water used – homeowners that consume more water are paying a higher per unit cost than homeowners who use less.
An important first step to calculate water use is to always review your water bill to determine that the amount you are billed accurately reflects your home’s usage. If the volume billed seems to be greater than usual, one common culprit is a water leak, which should be fixed as soon as possible. Even small leaks can account for more water usage per day than a whole family – and larger, outdoor irrigation system leaks could potentially triple a home’s total water use. The most common household leak is a running toilet – this can usually be fixed easily by the homeowner by replacing a worn flapper, adjusting the floater screw assembly or tightening the flusher chain.
But many High Desert homeowners don’t have leaks and believe that they use a “normal” amount of water and that their use is not excessive enough to trigger a higher rate. However, “what is a normal amount of water?” is a question that many homeowners have asked, especially those experiencing a water rate increase.
Studies have been done to illustrate where water is used in the home and which uses account for the highest level. One well-cited study by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) identifies where household water use occurs and how much can be attributed to which devices or fixtures. When this formula is applied to the Mojave Water Agency (MWA) service area single family residential usage of 66,547 acre feet per year (in 2008), the daily gallons per person per day numbers reflect the average amount of water used by each indoor device . Toilets are the highest water users in the average home accounting for approximately eleven percent (11%) of the total usage, while clothes washers, showers and faucets round out the top four.
After device and fixture measurements are taken indoors at the home and that use is quantified, the remaining water use can then be presumed to be used outdoors. When total household usage is calculated, the results typically show a significant amount of outdoor water use. Most outdoor water use is applied to landscape irrigation, although other outdoor uses like car washing and pool/spa capacities should also be considered. Within the MWA service area, a sparse population and larger lot sizes contribute to over fifty-six percent (56%) of water use attributable to outdoor applications, especially landscape irrigation. Five to eight acre-feet of water per acre of turf must be used in hot, dry western climates for turf grass growth, only to eventually evaporate into the air through evapo-transpiration.
Studies show that reducing irrigated turfed areas is a sure-fire way to reduce household consumption. Southern Nevada Water Authority conducted a five-year study on its turf rebate program that demonstrated an average thirty percent (30%) water savings in landscapes that converted at least 500 square feet of turfgrass to low-water using landscapes with fifty percent (50%) canopy coverage.
Irvine Ranch Water District found a savings of over 50% (1.4 acre-feet per acre) in homes landscaped with native plants rather than turfgrass.
A University of Arizona study concluded that while a 3,000 square-meter turfgrass lawn used 9,000 to 15,000 gallons of water per month, that same area covered with native plants, shrubs and trees used only 800 to 1,300 gallons per month. Even in Marin County, California with its cooler, coastal climate, a study by the Pacific Institute showed water use reductions up to fifty-four percent (54%) when landscape designs contained plants other than turf grass. Within the MWA service area, studies show between 55 and 80 gallons of water are needed to support each square foot of irrigated turfgrass. This means homeowners can save half or more of the amount of water being used on lawn area when they remove turf and replace it with desert adaptive plants.
AMERICA’S DRINKING PROBLEM
Amy Vickers, a leading water conservation expert stated that “America’s biggest drinking problem isn’t alcohol: it’s lawn watering.” Turf grasses are some of the highest water using plants that a homeowner must irrigate to maintain an attractive yard appearance and health – in arid areas like the Mojave Desert, turf will not survive without irrigation. When higher water using landscapes like turf are replaced with lower water using desert-adaptive and drought tolerant plantings, a significant volume of water can be saved. In agencies where billing is based on a tiered rate system, users in the higher tiers could reduce their per unit charge by reducing the amount of water used in outdoor landscaping. What may seem like a small change to outdoor plant types could result in “bumping” a homeowner down to a lower billing tier.
When homeowners change their plant types, they also need to be aware of managing irrigation systems for proper irrigation application. Any areas of turf that are retained in landscape conversion projects must be appropriately irrigated to avoid run-off and over-watering, which accounts for a large percentage of the water used on outdoor landscaping. Irrigation controllers must be adjusted to match the season and should be maintained to avoid run-off and over-watering. Irrigation run-off can significantly contribute to the degradation of our streets and intersections and homeowners will be billed for that use, despite waste.
SAVINGS PASSED TO THE CONSUMER
Reducing water use reduces the system-wide energy cost of distribution. This use reduction results in an overall cost savings to the water utility that can otherwise be passed on to customers. Additionally, turf removal reduces water quality impacts from over-fertilization and excessive use of pesticides, air quality contamination, and the heavy carbon footprint associated with the energy and pollution of lawn mowers, blowers and trimmers.
HOW DO I CONVERT MY LANDSCAPE?
Want to “cash in” on the landscape conversion movement sweeping the High Desert? In cooperation with the Alliance for Water Awareness and Conservation (AWAC), MWA offers financial rebates to customers who remove their high water use lawns and replace them with 25% of the area removed with desert adaptive and drought tolerant landscaping. Once approved for participation by the local water district through the Cash for Grass Program, customers can receive $0.50 per square foot for turf removed. All water district customers in the MWA service area are eligible to participate, along with well owners and those who have their water hauled.
Resources are available to homeowners from their water district and MWA personnel to help plan a low water using landscape, including:
Throughout the year, AWAC conducts workshops on choosing the right plants for desert yards, installing and maintaining drip irrigation systems, and learning to identify water use and avoid water emergencies in the home, among others.
Most water districts throughout the MWA service area also have literature, outreach items and staff persons that can help teach smart water use habits to and help with planning low water using yards for their customers. For more information on the Cash for Grass Program, AWAC and its workshops and the steps you can take to establish and maintain a successful, low-water using landscape, please log onto www.highdesertsaveswater.org, www.hdawac.org and the MWA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mojavewater; or call Tamara Alaniz, MWA Water Conservation Manager at (760) 946-7038.