Water Efficiency Watch

News from the Alliance for Water Efficiency


Water Efficiency Watch is the online newsletter of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, edited by Peter Mayer.   

In this issue of Water Efficiency Watch...

$13-$15 billion Economic Boost from Water Efficiency: AWE Report 

 Dec. Transforming water coverAWE released a new position paper titled, Transforming Water: Water Efficiency as Stimulus and Long-Term InvestmentThe paper quantitatively examines the short-term economic growth impacts of water efficiency investments, specifically in terms of job creation, income, GDP, national output, water savings, and other benefits 

The report estimates that a $13-$15 billion boost to the U.S. economy is possible through water efficiency investments. In addition to the growth in GDP, an investment in water efficiency programs could create 120,000 to 260,000 new jobs while saving between 6.5 and 10 trillion gallons of water.  Learn more here

AWE documents US efficiency gains with new USGS Data 

Public-water-withdrawals-and-population---2015The Alliance for Water efficiency has created a page to updated national water demand trends. Lead by California and Texas, public water withdrawals continue to decline even as population increases according to the Public Supply and Domestic Water Use in the US 2015 update, recently issued by USGS.  The report confirms the significant impact of urban water efficiency across the US.  Public withdrawals in 2015 were 7% lower than in 2010, and 2015 was the lowest year since 1985.  Per capita use in 2015 was 11.5% lower than in 2010, demonstrating the efficiency increases achieved.

From 2010 to 2015, population in the United States relying on public supply increased 5.2 percent, or approximately 14 million people. Total withdrawals for public supply were about 39,200 million gallons per day (MGD) in 2015 and decreased 7 percent, or about 2,890 MGD from 2010 (42,100 MGD) to 2015 (39,200 MGD), continuing the decline in public-supply withdrawals observed from 2005 to 2010.

The largest decreases in total public-supply withdrawals at the state level were in California and Texas (1,150 MGD and 1,110 MGD, respectively). Decreases in California and Texas accounted for 78 percent of the overall reduction. Thirty-four other states had estimated decreases in public-supply withdrawals and 16 states had increases or were largely unchanged.

These results come from the limited in scope 2015 update report from USGS.  A more complete and detailed report will be issued after 2020.

AWE’s Water Use in the US page offers more information on water use trends in the US based on data from the US Geological Survey.

Public Comment Period Held for AWE 2017 State Water Efficiency Scorecard 

State Scorecard_Public Comment Draft COVERDuring the month of December, the Alliance for Water Efficiency and the Environmental Law Institute released their draft version of the 2017 Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws for public comment

The 2017 iteration is a five-year update of the 2012 State Scorecard, and is based on a very similar, but much expanded, survey than was used for the 2012 State Scorecard. The 2017 update used a 16-question survey; this includes two new questions, and also a series of sub-questions to develop a deeper understanding of laws and regulations in critical areas such as water loss control. In addition to water loss control, the expanded survey creates a better understanding of the nuances of laws and regulations centered around appliance and fixture standards, water conservation and drought planning, funding sources for water efficiency and conservation programs, and technical assistance and informational resources, customer metering practices, volumetric billing for water and rate structures. 

A special feature of the 2017 State Scorecard is a review and scoring of state policy and laws pertaining to climate resiliency planning. A three-question survey was used to begin understanding what states are taking action to prepare for climate adaptation, the climate-related challenges that are being prioritized, and the implications for water and wastewater utilities.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the draft report.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency and the Environmental Law Institute are grateful to the Turner Foundation, which partially funded this important research effort.

Utilities Must Adapt to Declining Flows: New White Paper

A new white paper examines the negative impacts observed by water utilities during recent mandatory drought restrictions in California.  Adapting to Change: Utility Systems and Declining Flows, explores utility operations under lower flow conditions.  The work was sponsored by the California Urban Water Agencies (CUWA), and a consortium of others.  

The research specifically, looked at drinking water distribution systems, wastewater conveyance, wastewater treatment, and production of reclaimed water. The research team found that significant reductions in water demand and declining flows resulted in unintended consequences that ripple throughout California's interconnected urban water cycle. These observations offer a preview into the potential impact of establishing permanent indoor water use targets at or below the thresholds achieved as a result of the Governor’s emergency conservation mandate. 

Understanding the system-wide impacts of increased conservation will help decision makers address current and future water challenges. The research team conducted a survey to inform their findings, and also gathered 8 utility case studies. Co-funding for this project was provided by California Association of Sanitation Agencies, California Water Environment Association, WateReuse California, and the Water Research Foundation

2017 Water Efficiency Year in Review 

In 2017 it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for water efficiency.  Here is our annual review of the top 10 stories of the year from Water Efficiency Watch

1. WaterSense on the Chopping Block 

WaterSense LogoThe proposed EPA budget put forward by the Trump Administration called for the elimination of the WaterSense water products labeling program, a cornerstone of water efficiency progress over the past 10 years.  AWE is helping to lead the national effort to keep WaterSense funded into the future.  To date, long-term funding has not been secured and this fight is not over.

2. California Water Efficiency Partnership becomes AWE’s first State Chapter 

AWE CWEP logos verticalThe Alliance for Water Efficiency has a new family member and strategic partner, the California Water Efficiency Partnership (formerly the California Urban Water Conservation Council).  AWE announced that it has successfully negotiated with the California Water Efficiency Partnership to formalize a relationship between the two organizations moving forward.  Expect big things from AWE and CalWEP in 2018.

3. 2015 USGS Data Show Substantial Water Efficiency Gains across the US 

 USGS-Water-US-in-US-2015-coverLead by California and Texas, public water withdrawals continue to decline even as population increases according to the Public Supply and Domestic Water Use in the US 2015 update, recently issued by USGS.  The report confirms the significant impact of urban water efficiency across the US.  Public withdrawals in 2015 were 7% lower than in 2010, and 2015 was the lowest year since 1985.  Per capita use in 2015 was 11.5% lower than in 2010, demonstrating the efficiency increases achieved.

4. AWE Launches Net Blue Toolkit for Water Neutral Communities and Commercial Kitchens Guide 

 Net Blue HeaderAWE proudly launched a major new initiative focused on water neutral development – Net Blue.  The new Net Blue Toolkit includes information to help communities create ordinances and regulations to establish water neutrality in their growth.

Net Blue is a collaborative initiative of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the Environmental Law Institute, and River Network. The project team members developed a model ordinance that communities can tailor and customize to create a water demand offset approach meeting local needs. Communities in different regions throughout the United States were consulted to help develop the model ordinance and the offset components, and to ensure that the program is adaptable to many different political climates, legal frameworks, and environmental challenges.

5. Innovative AWE Peak Demand Study Released in conjunction with NJ American Water and Rachio 

Peak-Water-Demand-Management-Study---CoverGrabbing a page from the energy efficiency playbook, a new report from the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) described an innovative load shifting experiment carried out during the summer of 2016 by New Jersey American Water (NJAW), Rachio, and WaterDM. The AWE Peak Day Water Demand Management Study explores the viability of using remotely-controlled irrigation systems to reduce peak water demands and introduces a promising new approach.

In the AWE study, fifteen NJAW customers, equipped with Rachio irrigation controllers, agreed to have their irrigation remotely interrupted on two separate dates in August 2016 for the experiment. Irrigation programs were successfully interrupted and resumed normal operation the following day, demonstrating the ability to precisely target specific sites and dates to shave peak demands. Based on historic water use records of the participants, an estimated total of 84 kgal of peak demand reduction occurred on each day of interruption.

6. Tax Exempt Status for Water Efficiency Fails to Advance 

money-netThe estate tax is gone, but water efficiency rebates remain taxable. For years, AWE and partners have worked to get the attention of Congress to pass federal legislation exempting water conservation and efficiency rebates from being taxable on consumer’s income tax returns.  In spite of substantive efforts by AWE and others, legislation introduced by California legislators Senator Feinstein and Representative Huffman to repair this inequity did not advance. 

IRS law requires water utilities to send 1099’s to customers receiving rebates totaling $600 or more in any calendar year, and with the growing issuance of turf replacement rebates, many customers are now getting these 1099 notices, with predictable negative reactions.  Ironically, energy efficiency rebates have been tax exempt for decades.

7. Drought weakens in early 2017, then picks up steam 

droughtOn April 7, 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown made official: the five- year California drought is over. Brown issued an executive order that lifted the drought emergency. Brown also made it clear that conservation is not going away and the state will now transition into a permanent conservation framework.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in his statement. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Brown is correct and the emergency could return sooner than hoped. The early winter of 2017/18 has been one of the driest on record in California and the Rocky Mountain West.  The odds of achieving even an average snowpack are dwindling

8. AWE Releases Avoided Costs Studies for Two Communities in Arizona 

GilbertAZ_IconAWE released two major reports explaining how water efficiency has helped keep water rates lower in Tucson and Gilbert, Arizona. In Tucson, customers today pay water and wastewater rates that are at least 11.7% lower than they might have been if they had not conserved for the past 30 years. Water customers in Gilbert, Ariz. today pay water and wastewater rates that are 5.8% lower, and tap fees for new development that are 45% lower than they would be without 20 years of conservation. A 2013 AWE report also revealed that customers in Westminster, Colo. pay water rates that are 47% lower than what they would be had conservation not been made a priority more than twenty years ago.

9. The 10th edition of the Water Smart Innovations Conference Was More Somber on the Heals of Las Vegas Massacre 

watersmartlogo2017_headerHosting a water efficiency conference following a brutal, senseless massacre is no easy task, but Doug Bennett, Patrick Watson, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority team rose to the occasion at Water Smart Innovations 2017.  This was the much-anticipated 10th edition of the conference, which attracts 1,000 water professionals annually.  Everyone participating in the conference was touched in some way by the events.

10. Carole Baker wins Water Star Award from AWE 

MAD and CaroleThe AWE Water Star Award recognizes individual excellence in water efficiency and celebrates the “unsung hero” who makes a huge difference by their quiet dedication, passion, and progressive approaches that move water conservation forward. The 2017 Water Star Award was given to Carole Baker, President & CEO of the Texas Water Foundation.

After beginning her water career at the Houston Subsidence District in 1990, Carole quickly became a leader in the emerging Texas water conservation movement, providing counsel to state legislators and committee chairs. Thanks to her guidance, Texas became the second state to adopt WaterSense® plumbing standards statewide, and allocated $400 million for conservation and recycling in the Texas water bond—still the largest of any U.S. state.

When the Alliance for Water Efficiency was formed in 2007, Carole was integral in securing start-up funding, raising nearly $600,000 herself. She served as the first Board Chair for the Alliance and held the position until 2015. Now, Carole directs the Texas Water Foundation and continues to mentor water professionals throughout Texas.

Challenges Mount But Agreement Eludes Colorado River Water Managers 

Lake MeadClose but no cigar.  Despite three days of meetings in close quarters, water managers in the Lower Colorado River Basin (which includes California, Nevada, and Arizona) were once again unable to reach an agreement that would enable water banking in Lake Mead and share the pain during drought.

At an early December meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas, Arizona, California and Nevada water managers affirmed their commitment to the drought contingency plan known as DCP, but actual agreement eluded the group again. Nevada appears ready to sign the plan. California too seems ready, but Arizona was unable to commit.  A river management dogfight between the AZ Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project (CAP) derailed any agreement in 2017.  The same conditions derailed agreement in 2016.

“Our challenge is growing, not contracting,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, adding that he needs to get legislative approval for the DCP.

The drought contingency plan builds upon a 2007 agreement under which Arizona and Nevada agreed to reduce the amount of water they pulled from Lake Mead if the federal government declares a shortage (the threshold for a shortage is 1,075 feet; the current elevation of Lake Mead is 1082 feet). California, which has senior rights to Colorado River water and takes the largest allocation from the reservoir, was not required to take cuts in the 2007 deal.

Meanwhile, just a few miles away, Lake Mead hovers at seven feet above the dreaded shortage level, well under 50% of full capacity.  The Upper Colorado Basin is experiencing an epically dry winter so far and the chances of even an average water year are fading. The pressure is on for swift internal peace and forward progress among the three states.

Trump Administration Freezes Energy Efficiency Standards at 2016 Levels 

DOE LogoThe US Department of Energy has indefinitely deferred action on 20 appliance energy efficiency standards, based on the Fall 2017 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. By deciding not to honor statutory deadlines for these standards, the DOE under President Trump is de-emphasizing efficiency and conservation. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), these actions jeopardize billions of dollars in savings for American families and businesses, while also creating uncertainty for manufacturers and markets.     

The efficiency standards completed through 2016 are already saving the average American household about $500 on its energy bills each year, and by 2035, the required updates could save consumers and businesses another $43 billion annually.

Periodically updating these standards, as required by law, ensures technological progress, maximum efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction, and helps eliminate problematic codes.

Nobel Winner Overpeck to Speak at Next Generation Water Summit 

nextgenerationwatersummitThe Next Generation Water Summit (NGWS) 2018 will host the 2nd annual regional forum, featuring globally recognized climate researcher and Nobel Prize winner, Jonathan Overpeck.

The NGWS 2018 takes place on April 29th – May 1st at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Next Generation Water Summit brings together developers, builders, architects, and water professionals to share best practices and learn on the best water conservation and water reuse practices from around the southwest.

Overpeck’s visionary work has been at the forefront of the heated climate change public debates and identifying the risks to managing water resources, providing valuable insights into past climate variability and change in the Southwest. He will present on the Climate Change forecasted impact to the Colorado River flows.

One Water for America Listening Sessions Executive Summary Released 

 Listening Session logoA summary of the “One Water for America Listening Sessions” conducted by the US Water Alliance’s 40 partner organizations (including AWE) has been released. AWE is a national collaborating partner in this effort, representing the importance of conservation and efficiency to the One Water management approach.

These listening sessions, which took place across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders, including water utility managers, public officials, business executives, farmers, environmental and watershed advocates, community organizations, planners, and philanthropic organizations. US Water Alliance compiled the strongest, most consistent themes from the One Water for America Listening Sessions into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water in the United States.

Meanwhile, Lake Mead ended 2017 at elevation 1,082.5, almost two feet above December 2016. Lake Powell ended the year at 3,623, up more than 20 feet from a year ago. Combined storage in the two primary Colorado River reservoirs ended 2017 up more than 2 million acre feet.  The reason?  Lower water use due to efficiency and demand management

WaterSMART Program: Drought Funding Opportunities for 2018 

usbrThe Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program released funding opportunities for 2018.  Both funding opportunities focus on solving issues related to drought in the Western United States.

  • FOA BOR-DO-18-F007 provides up to $200,000 financial support for applicants that need to develop or update a drought contingency plan.  Projects that develop a new Drought Contingency Plan or update an existing Drought Contingency Plan are eligible for funding.  The deadline for this funding opportunity is February 7.
  • FOA BOR-DO-18-F008 provides two different funding groups for projects that will increase water management flexibility and improve the resiliency of water resources throughout the West.  Drought resiliency projects mitigate the effects of drought by increasing the reliability of water supplies, improving water management, and providing benefits for fish, wildlife, and the environment.  In Funding Group I, the federal government will fund up to $300,000 per agreement for a project completed within two (2) years of the initial funding date.  In Funding Group II, the federal government will fund up to $750,000 per agreement for a project completed within two (2) years of the initial funding date.  The deadline for this funding opportunity is February 13.

Environmental Group Sues California Water Providers over Landscape Water Use 

NRDC LogoThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group, has filed suit against the cities of Pasadena and Murrieta for what it describes as their “failure to comply” with California’s Water Conservation in Landscaping Act (MWELO). 

NRDC’s suit claims that neither Pasadena nor Murrieta provided any evidence that they had implemented the requirements for landscape installations that are required under the Act and the 2015 MWELO

Ed Osann, director of NRDC’s Water Efficiency Project defended the lawsuit as a way of ensuring continued growth and affordability, in a press release issued by the organization after it filed the suit.

“If the state wants to continue growing and ensure it has affordable drinking water for all its residents, it’s crucial that the landscapes around homes and businesses be designed and installed to be both attractive and water-efficient,” Osann said.

The NRDC suits allege that Pasadena and Murrieta:

  • Failed to adopt new landscaping standards by December 1, 2015, as required by law;
  • Issued permits for hundreds of housing units and associated landscaping since December 1, 2015;
  • Without applying the state-required standards intended to prevent the waste of water in new landscapes; and
  • Failed to submit required reports to the state on the content and enforcement of their local landscape requirements.

A response from Pasadena and Murrieta is anticipated.

AWE Member Spotlight 

STEMhero Cultivates Water Conservation and STEM Skills in Middle Schools across the Country 

Stemhero_spotlight_AWEIn his work as a teacher in Wisconsin, Nate Conroy saw a huge opportunity to help students engage with water through data, and created a start-up to leverage his experience in education. STEMhero, founded in 2014, provides teachers with a project-based and technology-driven curriculum designed for middle school and lower high school grades to empower students to build STEM skills for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Schools increasingly want to provide students with web-applications to practice engineering skills. STEMhero engages students by having them collect and analyze their own home and school’s water, electricity, and natural gas consumption data directly from the meter.  

Students create a baseline of local consumption, and then determine the impact of efficiency measures. In the process, students connect online with efficiency rebates, utility social media, and AMI customer portals.  

For example, STEMhero partnered with AWE to incorporate AWE’s Home Water Works Calculator into one of its Student Missions (interactive modules) designed to compare predicted vs. actual consumption. The interactive calculator provides estimated consumption with detail on where the water is used inside the home and conservation tips to save water and energy. Nate Conroy explains that when students compare the estimate to their actual measurements it “sparks a natural interest in the students to learn more and find out ‘what is really going on’.”

Water utilities are sponsoring STEMhero to deploy the curriculum in their local schools. This partnership allows the students to study and affect their actual water consumption over the course of weeks, and in turn develop the types of rigorous math and science thinking skills desired by schools at the upper middle school level.  

Learn more about AWE member, STEMhero here.

News Briefs and Web Links 

How to Submit Content for Water Efficiency Watch 

Water Efficiency Watch welcomes submission of articles, photos, stories, commentary, new technologies, web links, etc.  Please e-mail your submission to Peter Mayer – peter.mayer@waterdm.com.

DISCLAIMER: The Alliance for Water Efficiency reports on research and information as a service. This should not be considered an explicit or implicit endorsement of any product, service, research effort, analysis, etc. unless specifically so indicated.