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...

Drought Weakens Across the US, but Lingers in Key Regions 

 20170207_usdm_homeThe winter of 2016-17 has brought welcome relief from severe drought impacting California and the Southeast US including Georgia, but parts of both states remain in declared drought.  The latest US Drought Monitor shows significantly improved conditions in these regions, although extreme drought conditions persist in six places across the country. 


California’s snowpack is now at 184% of average for this time of year, and 127% of the April 1 average — typically the year’s high point. In February, the State Water Resources Control Board held firm in the face of opposition and extended the state’s emergency drought regulations, pledging to revisit them in May, when the state’s traditional rainy season has ended.

The board decided last spring that local water districts were allowed to set their own savings targets based on water supply and demand forecasts tailored to their areas. That means that places that received a lot of rain — and communities that purchase or are entitled to water from sources there — see fewer restrictions, while dry areas without water from those replenished supplies are still under conservation requirements.

Much of Northern California is out of drought thanks to one of the wettest seasons on record. Southern California has also seen record rainfall, but relies heavily on the Colorado River system which remains in structural deficit.  Additionally, parts of California’s Central Coast and Central Valley remain in drought and groundwater shortages remain in many areas, including the southern Central Valley.

An analysis from Yale and UCLA universities suggestions the record-breaking drought in California is not chiefly the result of low precipitation, but instead three factors – rising temperatures, groundwater depletion, and a shrinking Colorado River.


Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division declared a Level 2 drought response on November 17, 2016 across 52 counties, including the 15 counties in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. From March to November of 2016, just over 23 inches of rain fell in the metro area, which is nearly 14 inches below average rainfall.  Although conditions have improved, the drought declaration persists due to the moisture deficit.


Drought watch and drought advisory conditions have been declared across Connecticut since Oct. 26, 2016 as dry conditions have persisted.  All residents and businesses have been asked to reduce their water use by 10 – 15%. 

AWE Seeks Tax Exempt Status for Water Conservation and Green Infrastructure Rebates 

 AWE LogoRebates from energy utilities are tax-exempt, but not rebates from water utilities, whether they be for drinking water efficiency, wastewater, or storm water programs. Because water utilities cannot process tax-free rebates, they often provide 1099s at the end of the year to customers that have received $600 or more in water rebates. This tax liability serves as a disincentive to water efficiency retrofit programs and other worthy efforts to encourage sustainable water use.

For the past several years, AWE has spearheaded a coalition of non-profit organizations, water providers and others to advocate for a solution. In 2016, 34 members of Congress sent a letter to the IRS requesting this change, and many communities have issued a resolution voicing support for a solution.

In February 2017, a group of seven U.S. Senators including Diane Feinstein D(CA), Jeff Flake R(AZ), Michael Bennet D(CO), Cory Gardener R(CO), Dean Heller R(NV), Maria Cantwell D(WA) and Patty Murray D(WA) have sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Treasury Adam Szubin requesting clarification on the taxation of rebates for water conservation. 

The letter asks Acting Secretary Szubin to clarify if “water conservation rebates and storm water management rebates, including the installation of green infrastructure, can be excluded from residents’ taxable income.”   This has become an important question as large rebates for turf replacement and other measures have recently been provided.  AWE works on this issue from a legislative angle, seeking Congressional action.  Download the resolution supporting this effort that AWE asks all of members to sign.

AWE Welcomes New Board Members and a New Chair 

AWE's Board of Directors will have two new Directors in 2017.  The following new Directors will serve a three-year term, expiring in 2019:

  • Steve Gombos, Manager of Water Efficiency at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario.
  • Maureen Westbrook, Vice President, Customer and Regulatory Affairs at Connecticut Water Company.

The Board also welcomed Pete DeMarco of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials as incoming 2017 Board Chair.

  SteveGombosSteve Gombos is the Manager of Water Efficiency at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario and has been in this role for 16 years. His responsibilities include the development of their Water Efficiency Master Plan, and delivering water conservation programs. He is a past chair of the Ontario Water Works Association Water Efficiency Committee and remains active in committees associated with the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association and the Canadian National Water Efficiency Network. He participates in water conservation research, and plumbing-related standards development with organizations such as the Canadian Standards Association and NSF International. He is a past member of the Great Lakes Charter Annex Advisory Panel, and also assisted the Council of Great Lakes Governors’ Conservation Committee develop Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin regional water conservation objectives. Prior to focusing on water, Steve spent 10 years developing and implementing municipal Waste Management programs.

 Maureen Westbrook photoMaureen Westbrook is the Vice President of Customer and Regulatory Affairs at Connecticut Water Company. In her 28 years with the company, Maureen has held various positions in the areas of source protection, water resource planning, regulatory compliance, business development, community outreach, customer communications, and customer service. Her focus is on developing strategies, legislation and programs that balance the interests of the company, its customers, and other stakeholders, protecting water supplies and promoting environmental stewardship. Her contributions have resulted in the passage of legislation providing tax credits for open space donations and ratemaking tools that support infrastructure replacement and water conservation. Prior to joining Connecticut Water Company, Maureen worked in the Connecticut Department of Public Health and as a town planner in a local community.

AWE Offers Tools for Developing Affordable Rates 

 FSW LogoAffordability is fast becoming a critical component of utility operations, so creating impactful rates, that are both sustainable and affordable in the long-term, will help stabilize revenue and keep the utility on pace with system and customer needs.

AWE has developed useful resources to guide utilities through the process of evaluating the impact of their rates on their most financially disadvantaged customers.

  • Affordability Assessment Tool for Federal Water Mandates includes tools for analyzing socioeconomic indicators and income distributions within a service area to assess the feasibility of a rate structure.  It contains helpful information on many other affordability-rates issues, and uses charts and real-world examples to guide a reader through the appropriate considerations for addressing this tough issue.
  • The University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center has a free, comprehensive tool that can guide utility rate makers through this assessment.  The Water and Wastewater Residential Rates Affordability Assessment Tool uses multiple metrics based on billing and demographic information to help users understand what ‘affordable’ actually is within their own service area.  It also allows users to compare two rate structures side-by-side and to assess the impact of each, or the impact of changing from a current to proposed structure.
  • The latest version of AWE’s free Sales Forecasting and Rate Model offers an Affordability Index—a feature that indicates whether a change from current to proposed rate structure will significantly impact customers.  The Rate Model also includes several visual representations that express to what extent a water bill will be impacted by changes to the rates.  This kind of information is very helpful when communicating proposed changes to customers and community organizations.

Learn more at AWE’s Financing Sustainable Water website. 

New Reports on Shower Water Use from MaP Testing 

map-test-logoBill Gauley and John Koeller, the brilliant engineers behind Maximum Performance Testing (MaP) for toilets and fixtures, have released two new research reports of shower water use.  These reports leverage data and information from the updated Residential End Uses of Water study and are available for free download.

Energy Star Releases Updated Clothes Washer Specification 

Laundry GraphicThe Energy Star specification for residential and commercial clothes washers is currently under revision by the Department of Energy. Materials related to this revision process are available here. Partners and other interested parties with questions or concerns regarding these materials or the revision process can contact Melissa Fiffer, EPA.

2016 Moving Forward Report Released 

2016-Moving-Forward-Report-CoverThe National Institute of Building Sciences' Consultative Council released its 2016 report, Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council, at its annual conference in Washington, D.C. The report is delivered to the President of the United States and Congress and contains detailed recommendations reflecting the consensus of the construction community on the topics of Workforce Development and Water Resources. AWE’s new Board Chair, Pete DeMarco, Executive Vice President of Advocacy and Research at IAPMO, served as Chair of the Consultative Council in 2016.

Among the 19 specific recommendations contained in the Water Resources section is a call for re-establishing the plumbing research laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). There has long been support for reconstituting the NIST plumbing research laboratory that was disbanded in the 1980s due to budgetary constraints, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) reintroduced legislation that would do so — H.R. 301 — on Jan. 5.

AWE has provided input on water efficiency to NIBS' Moving Forward Report since 2010.  IAPMO and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) also provided content for the water-related recommendations contained in the 2016 report.

Canada Offers New Programs to Address Infrastructure Planning and Climate Change 

CanadaCanada has launched two new programs to address climate change in communities and to strengthen infrastructure planning and decision-making.

The Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program and the Municipal Asset Management Program will provide municipalities with access to funding, training and learning opportunities to increase their capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build resilience to the impacts of climate change, and support better planning and management of municipal infrastructure.

  • The Government announced investments over the next five years in infrastructure that protects communities and supports Canada's ongoing transition to a clean growth economy.
  • To support municipalities' front-line efforts, the Government is providing $75 million for the delivery of the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program.
  • The Government has also endowed the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with $50 million to establish the Municipal Asset Management Program.
  • The Government will provide more than $180 billion in infrastructure funding over 12 years for public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, transportation that supports trade, and Canada's rural and northern communities.

Details about the programs are available here. 

Western Mayors Talk Water Conservation in DC  

Nearly a dozen Western mayors gathered in January to discuss anything and everything “water” except the Colorado River drought contingency plan, “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” according to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

Stanton, speaking after a panel on the issue at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington DC, said the federal contingency plan is under “delicate negotiation” and that it is better left untouched by the mayors – for now. The plan will determine how water from the Colorado River, and Lake Mead, is allotted.

 “The point of bringing this group together was making us challenge each other, be our better selves, go further than we thought we were going to go on water conservation policy,” Stanton said.

Conservation was a topic of discussion at the gathering which included Mayors largely from Arizona and California. 

Upcoming Water Loss Control Events 

pressure reducing valve 1The AWWA Water Loss Control Committee is offering the following events in locations near and far:

EPA to Fund $4 Million for Drinking Water Quality Research Related to Low-Flow Fixtures 

EPA Logo with BorderIn early January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced approximately $4 million in funding to two universities to research water quality issues related to low flow conditions of drinking water in premise plumbing systems.

“The research announced today will guide decision makers as they design, renovate, or manage plumbing systems to provide safe and clean drinking water,” said Thomas Burke, agency science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Grants were awarded to teams at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA and Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Premise plumbing is the portion of the drinking water distribution system located within a building, including pipes, valves and faucets that carry water from its entry into a building all the way to the consumer’s tap. The research announced will provide a greater understanding of health risks associated with low flows.

Decreases in water consumption result in lower flows of water through water system pipes that were designed to manage higher flows, which may negatively impact water quality. Waterborne disease outbreaks (such as Legionella) can occur due to issues within premise plumbing systems, emphasizing the importance of this research.

The awardees will create methods, tools, and models to help design plumbing systems that will ensure appropriate flows and water pressures, while delivering clean drinking water at actual consumption levels.

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.