Originally Published: February 21, 2014 6 a.m.
Water is vital to the survival of everything on our planet. It is a life-giving and sustaining resource and, unlike energy, there is no alternative for water. Although it's true that the water cycle continuously returns water to Earth, it is not always returned to where it is needed.
The arid West has some of the highest per-capita residential water use because of landscape irrigation. Prescott has an average indoor use of 98 gallons per person per day, and Arizona between 126 and 155 gallons per capita total household, commercial and industrial use per day. The reservoir lakes, rivers and aquifers in Arizona are shrinking and we are a long way from the goal of safe yield: balance between the amount of water withdrawn from and recharged into an aquifer.
With climate change concerns, pervasive droughts in the west, high energy cost and population growth in Arizona, everyone should be looking for ways to conserve water resources. The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee (WAC), the US Geographical Society and many other water conservation groups continuously grapple for a resolution to our pending water shortage.
There has been a lot of talk, but little action. The WAC spends about $250,000 a year measuring ground water only to find that the majority of our wells are depleting. The ADWR talk a lot about who can commandeer water rights from whom, but most of the discussions are based on finding more water not conserving what we have, and most of the solutions cost tens of millions of dollars and take many years to implement if and when started.
The good news is that by using a little "water sense" we can all save water, energy, and money. WaterSense, a program supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products and conserving behaviors. Prescott has a limited program called WaterSmart that combines water conservation recommendations with a rebate program. You can find information at www.cityofprescott.net/services/water/conservation.php.
According to the EPA the average family spends $950 per year on water costs, but could save 30 percent by retrofitting with "WaterSense" labeled fixtures and Energy Star-qualified appliances. As an example, my LEED gold home follows WaterSense specifications and uses less than half the Prescott average of 98 gallons per person.
It also takes a considerable amount of utility energy to deliver and treat the water we use. In-home water heating for bathing, cooking, and cleaning is typically the second largest use of energy. Studies have shown that the average home wastes more than 3,650 gallons of water per year just waiting for hot water to arrive at the faucet. WaterSense allows no more than 0.6 gallons of water delivered to a fixture before hot water arrives.
Showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use, with the average family using nearly 50 gallons per day. Using a WaterSense showerhead would save up to 3650 gallons a year.
Replacing old, inefficient bathroom faucets with WaterSense units that use a maximum flow of 1.5 gallons per minute can reduce a sink's water flow by 30 percent or more and save the average family 700 gallons of water per year. Since these water savings reduce demands on water heating, they also save energy cost.
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home. Older, inefficient toilets can use as much as 6 gallons per flush; where new WaterSense units only need 1.28 gallons per flush or 79 percent less water, while still providing equal or superior performance - that's nearly 13,000 gallons of water savings per year.
Another water hog is clothes washing. According to the EPA the average family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. An Energy Star-certified clothes washer uses about 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less water than regular washers; that's 15 gallons of water per load or 4500 gallons per year.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that drip away 90 gallons a day or more! Many of these leaks reside in old fixtures such as leaky toilets and faucets. In fact, water lost by these leaky residences could be reduced by more than 30,000 gallons if new, efficient fixtures were installed.
Many of these new water saving products cost no more than alternate inefficient ones; you just have to know what you are looking for before you buy.
Another large loss is utility infrastructure mains water pipe loss; Prescott loses 7.7 percent (221 million gallons) of water to leakage each year. Modernization and maintenance programs could minimize this tragic loss.
In Arizona, a large part of domestic water use goes to outdoor irrigation, so methods and practices that target and reduce outdoor use can be very effective. If homeowners eliminate high-water-use landscapes (lawns), use drip irrigation systems and plants that come from a desert environment they could reduce irrigation water by at least 15 percent or about 9,000 gallons annually.
Prescott has conservation ordinances for low water use landscaping, plumbing, on-site gray-water and water harvesting. They also have a four tier water cost structure that provides water at low prices for basic and essential needs, and rewards conservation. Unfortunately fixed costs negate the low volume unit costs. They could however, improve the WaterSmart program by bringing it up to the WaterSense standard and attaching it to the building codes for new and remodeled construction; this would ensure that all new construction met water conservation objectives. Low water landscaping should also be part of new construction programs.
For existing homes a much more realistic incentive program would make a lot of sense www.cityofprescott.net/_d/cctitleiii1110.pdf Section 3-10 addresses the current water programs. The trade-off is, do we spend tens of millions of dollars installing pipelines from far away water sources, or do we spend much less money on a conservation program that achieves the same end? Over time we probably need both.
By using water efficient products and practices, consumers can save natural resources, reduce water consumption, and save money. If Prescott residents were to implement these water conservation products and practices and reduce water consumption by 30 percent it would save 860 million gallons (3,644 acre feet) of water a year, and if Arizona did the same 100 billion gallons (307,000 acre feet) a year. We should start soon before the taps run dry...and people say, "We didn't know it was this urgent!"