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...


 AWE Wins US Water Prize 

USWP-Logo-Award-Winner-477x353The Alliance for Water Efficiency has won the 2014 US Water Prize in the non-profit category.  The prestigious award is given annually by the US Water Alliance to organizations that engage in sustainable solutions and advance holistic, watershed-based approaches to water quality and quantity challenges. In announcing the award, AWE was described as a "leading force for education and advocacy." The prize was announced on Thursday, January 23 at the California Irrigation Institute Conference in Sacramento. 

 “Given the urgent and critical challenges California faces due to drought, there couldn’t be a better place to announce and celebrate U.S. Water Prize winners,” said US Water Alliance President Ben Grumbles.  “Our 2014 winners are leading the way by reducing water waste, reusing water resources, and rethinking watershed strategies and technologies."  Grumbles and Inge Bisconer, President of the California Irrigation Association are shown congratulating Mary Ann Dickinson in the taken at the Jan. 23 event.

Mary-Ann-Grumbles-US-Water-Prize_web“It is a great honor for the Alliance for Water Efficiency to have our work recognized with this award,” said AWE President and CEO Mary Ann Dickinson. “Water is the critical resource issue of our time and AWE is working on behalf of our members to ensure that we have sustainable supplies for the future.  We thank the US Water Alliance for this award and the recognition it brings.”

2014 US Water Prize winners include: American Water of Voorhees, NJ, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, OH, and the Orange County Water District and Sanitation District, California.

The award will be presented to AWE on April 7 at a gala event at the National Geographic Headquarters auditorium in Washington, D.C.  The US Water Prize is awarded annually to water utilities, businesses, and non-profit entities that are leading the way in the water sector.

Learn more about the 2014 US Water Prize here

California Drought Declared After Historically Dry 2013 

Folsom Lake Jan 2014 bHow bad is the California drought?  So bad that in 2013, even the traditional soggy parts of the state received less precipitation than Phoenix, Arizona. “The last year threw the old records out the door,” said Steve Johnson, a meteorologist with Atmospherics Group International, a private weather forecasting company. “On a 1 to 10 scale, 2013 was a 14 to 16. That’s how big an event this was compared to the previous drought.”

On January 17, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, a move that will allow California to seek federal aid as it struggles to provide adequate water supply.  Initial plans are to request a 20% water use cutback from Californians.

Statistically, 2013 was an unprecedented year by an unprecedented margin, so dry that it shattered a handful of previous records by 40 to 60 percent.  For instance, average annual precipitation at San Francisco International Airport is 20.65 inches. The previous drought record was 9.22 inches in 1952. Last year, the rain gauge at the airport measured just 3.38 inches – similar to what was recorded in parts of the Mojave Desert in southern California and southern Nevada.

For most of the year, a large ridge of high pressure (a “brick wall,” said Johnson) blocked storms from the Gulf of Alaska that usually dump rain on California. 2013 was a second consecutive drought year and State officials anticipate 2014 will be the third. The first snow survey of the season found the Sierra Nevada snowpack just 20 percent of normal – “more bare ground than snow,” as the Department of Water Resources put it.

Less snow means less runoff into reservoirs, which are already dangerously low. In early January, storage in the reservoirs that supply the state’s two main canal systems was just 36 percent of capacity. Folsom Lake near Sacramento, shown in the photo here was less than 20 percent full, prompting water restrictions in the region starting in December, usually the wet season.

The Bureau of Reclamation has told California farmers to expect just 5 percent of a normal irrigation allocation in 2014.  A UC Berkeley professor warned that this could be the driest winter in 500 years. 

The small Mendocino County town of Willits implemented a complete ban on outdoor water use in January when it was discovered that local reservoirs have only enough water to last only 100 days.  Businesses have been ordered to cut water use 35%.

However, not all regions face such critical supply limitations.  Water managers in Southern California report they have enough reserves to get the state's most populous region through the year and even into 2015 without rationing, largely because of their investments in water recycling, consideration, and conjunctive groundwater use. San Francisco's water stores are also in decent shape.

View the Governor’s official declaration here

Report Released Blue City: The Water Sustainable City of the Near Future 

Blue City_web_1A new report from the Canadian-based Blue Economy Initiative looks to the future of urban environments and what a sustainable water future looks like.  In Blue City: The Water Sustainable City of the Near Future, the authors interviewed 17 professionals (including AWE’s Mary Ann Dickinson) and found a broad consensus that greater cooperation between all levels of government coupled with successful leadership are required to drive innovation and change to achieve long-term sustainability of urban water systems and supplies.

This is the fourth report from the Blue Economy Initiative. Previous reports dealt with critical analysis, insights and recommendations on the value of water as a financial asset and a catalyst for innovation.   The new report showcases the inspiring and practical foresight of the interviewees and provides tangible examples of water-sustainable projects in municipalities and regions across Canada.

The report is intended to help practitioners and decision makers build a business case for advanced and integrated water management, said Kirk Stinchcombe of Econics, one of the report's authors . “We set out to write a report that will help practitioners and decision makers build a business case for more sustainable, integrated water management," Stinchcombe explained.  "The city we describe, although fictitious, is largely an amalgamation of real cities.  These innovations are actually occurring in places across the country and around the world.  This place is within reach of Canadian municipalities now.” 

Download the Blue City: The Water Sustainable City of the Near Future here.   

Texas Trouble – Prop. 6 Water Conservation Funding Hits Snag 

Texas capitolWhen Texas voters approved significant new funding for water projects in November it was thought at least 20% of the money designated from the State’s rainy day fund would be used for conservation.  Two months after voters approved Proposition 6, a snag in the law is vexing efficiency advocates.  The Texas Water Development Board now faces a serious dilemma: Much of the state's conservation potential rests with consumer-side projects, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads and irrigation systems that automatically shut off when it rains - but state law prohibits the use of public funds for privately owned improvements.

"It's a lot more complex to fund these projects than it is to say we should fund them," said Ken Kramer, a water policy expert for the Sierra Club in Texas.

The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations endorsed Proposition 6, the voter-approved measure that released the $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund, because state law requires at least 20 percent of the funding go toward projects that conserve or reuse water.

Although Texas law bans use of state funds for private benefit, courts generally have deferred to legislative determinations of what makes up a public purpose, said Jeremy Brown, a research fellow in environmental law at the University of Texas at Austin.

In March, state Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, attempted to clear the path for using state funds for "the public purpose of water conservation." But his legislation - HJR 142 - died in the House Ways and Means committee without debate.

Even then, experts said the state board could make the determination that water conservation is a public purpose during the rule-making process for the new bank. The board already has made one exception with a program that helps farmers use less water to grow crops.

The immediate task before the three-member water board is to decide which projects will be the first to receive aid. As part of the discussion, which will take place over the next year, the board will need to define which conservation endeavors would be eligible for funding.

Some experts said the state's water plan, which calls for 25 percent of new supplies to come from conservation, requires innovative approaches - not more reservoirs. Environmentalists point out that conservation is the cheapest source of water.

"There is so much opportunity for water savings," said Sharlene Leurig, an expert on water project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group based in Boston. "We need codification of water conservation as a public good."

That would allow the agency to use the new fund to help finance the replacement of inefficient toilets and boilers and to pay homeowners to rip out their lawns and plant less thirsty landscaping. Seattle, for one, did this by defining the "asset" to be financed as the long-term water savings from low-flow toilets, not the toilets themselves, Leurig said.

Learn more here.   

Proposed Changes to Plumbing Code Would Mandate Hot Water Pipe Insulation 

/assets/0/66/22/5149/9460adfd-73ac-48f6-8144-00ce6d5e04b8.jpgThe United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (UA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have submitted a landmark proposal to save energy and water in new buildings by requiring insulation of hot water piping in new buildings. The two organizations jointly submitted a proposal to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).

To curtail the waste of hot water in new buildings, NRDC and the UA propose that the 2015 edition of IAPMO 's Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) require insulation of all hot water piping systems such as those serving lavatories, showers, dishwashers, and kitchen sinks. The UPC is the model for local and state plumbing codes now in force in at least 19 states.

"As IAPMO drafts its next set of codes, we recommend insulating hot water piping to reduce the waste of energy and water in hot water systems,” said William P. Hite, General President of the United Association. “This proposal is indicative of the UA's commitment in construction, service and maintenance practices required for energy efficient green buildings."

"This proposal is a commonsense solution to an everyday problem that we can all warm up to,” said Peter Lehner, Executive Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Most of us waste too much time, energy and money waiting for hot water to come out of our faucets and showers. This proposal will not only save homeowners and renters money on their monthly utility bills but also protects our environment by cutting energy and water use."

In a typical, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home, an estimated 12 percent of all hot-water use is wasted, according to a 2009 analysis led by Robert Hendron of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Purging at showers, kitchen sinks, and lavatory faucets was responsible for 95 percent of the estimated total of nearly 3,000 gallons of hot water waste annually. NRDC estimates pipe insulation can reduce this waste of water and energy by 15-30 percent.

Learn more about this proposal to change the UPC here

New Guidebook: Five Things to Consider When Developing and Adapting Water Policies and Programs in the West 

five-things-consider-coverA new guidebook from the Environmental Law Institute puts a twist on water policy development. Focusing on what influences success, rather than the policies and programs themselves, Five Things to Consider When Developing and Adapting Water Policies and Programs in the West lays out key factors that ultimately determine the success or failure of water initiatives in the Western United States.

Meeting the many water needs of the West has become more challenging than ever. Some policies and programs designed to address those challenges are outstanding in theory but do not live up to their potential – others work in one location but are unsuccessful when attempted elsewhere. According to guidebook co-author Adam Schempp, Director of ELI’s

Western Water Program, “The fate of any policy or program rests as much or more on the circumstances in which it is applied as on the quality of the strategy being implemented.”

The guidebook identifies five salient factors: social and political dynamics, physical landscape, economics, law, and administrative capacity. A range of variables within those factors include potential economic effects and whether or not champions of the policy or program exist. For example, Montana’s instream flow leasing program, a model for the rest of the West, would not be what it is without Trout Unlimited’s legislative advocacy and dedication to implementation. Similarly, much of the success of the water leasing program between the Palo Verde Irrigation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California stems from expenditures specifically aimed at addressing negative economic externalities, such as the resulting loss of agricultural jobs and the financial impact on farm-related services.

Download the report here. 

USGS Vows to Release Updated Water Use Report in 2014 

A long awaited update on water use and withdrawals in the US should be released in the next six months.  The U.S. Geological Survey has announced that in mid-2014 it will release a much-delayed report on water use in the United States. The new report, with data from 2010, will go into greater detail than before on water withdrawals by the thermoelectric sector. For the first time since 1995, the report will track the water consumed by power plants.

View past USGS water use reports here

Colorado Legislature to Consider WaterSense Fixtures Legislation in 2014 

Colorado State FlagProposed legislation to be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly in the coming days would save water by phasing out the sale of less efficient lavatory faucets, showerheads, toilets and urinals and offering WaterSense-certified fixtures in their place.

The proposed legislation will have manufacturers phase out the sale of four indoor water fixtures in the state of Colorado. The legislation includes:

  • Definitions for WaterSense lavatory faucets, showerheads, tank-type toilets and flushing urinals.
  • A timeframe to gradually phase in sales of new WaterSense fixtures.
  • An annual report by manufacturers with percentages of sales during the phase-in period.
  • No preemption of more restrictive local action.

AWE tracks the progress of pending legislation on our legislative watch page

EBMUD Study Finds 5% Savings from Customer Engagement Software

A new study released by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), the California Water Foundation (CWF), and WaterSmart Software indicates providing information that helps people compare their water use to neighborhood averages can reduce residential water use by 5 percent. This approach is called social norms based water efficiency technology or “behavioral water efficiency.” 

“Californians want to use water responsibly, and most people believe they already do. This research shows that people are motivated to conserve water when you let them know that their water use exceeds that of similar homes,” said Lester Snow, Executive Director of the CWF which helped fund EBMUD’s WaterSmart Software pilot, as well as this new, independent analysis. "Water use reports like those used in this pilot program could prove an especially helpful tool for California water utilities, which face state requirements to reduce their per capita water use 20 percent by 2020 and must think of new, creative ways to encourage consumers to conserve water.”

The EBMUD pilot made use of a behavioral water efficiency approach to promoting water efficiency. The behavioral water efficiency approach provides information to consumers that compares their household’s water use to the average use by similar homes.  Download the full report here

Tampa Florida Hopes to Expand Conservation Rebate Program in 2014 

Tampa-FloridaTampa, FL is expanding the rebate program it offered some of its biggest water customers in 2013 to get them to reduce their water use. 

The 2013 program had limited success attracting residential participants and the 2014 program will be expanded to include commercial customers such as restaurants, apartment buildings and laundromats.

The deal is straightforward: reduce water use, and get a check from the city. The method to achieve the water savings is up to the individual customer.  The city is offering advisers who can help customers decide what options might work best, from replacing an old toilet to fixing leaky sprinkler lines.  Registration for the program ends Jan. 31 and materials can be found at: www.tampagov.net/BYOR.

Rebates are based on how much water is conserved between February and July. Customers that save 5 percent over last year’s water bill, receive $50. Customers that save 20 percent, can receive $500.  The maximum allowable commercial rebate is set at $2,500.

While the rebates are substantial, interest so far has been limited. In 2013, just 20 residential customers took the city up on its offer, saving an average of 538 gallons a day and saving between $191 and $1,700 on their water bills over the six month period. Nine residential customers got the maximum $500 rebate.  All in all, the city gave out a total of just $7,000 in rebates in 2013, according to Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for Mayor Bob Buckhorn.  Hopefully the expanded 2014 effort will yield more significant results.

Learn more here

Land& Water Summit 2014: Drought as an Opportunity for Change, Albuquerque Feb. 20-21 

Arid-LogoThe Xeriscape Council of New Mexico and Arid LID will partner to produce the Land & Water Summit 2014: Drought as an Opportunity For Change conference to be held in Albuquerque, February 20 and 21. 

This year’s conference (formerly known as the Xeriscape Council of NM Water Conservation Conference) will focus on drought, the dominant water resource issue in the western US today.  This year’s conference brings together both traditional and non-traditional speakers to address opportunities brought about by drought and water crisis through storm water mitigation, water harvesting and low impact design principles. 

This year’s keynote speaker will by Cynthia Barnett, author of Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis.  AWE's own Mary Ann Dickinson will be presenting, "Planning for Drought in Changing Times" at the conference.

Learn more, view the conference program and register here

45% Water Rate Increase Approved in Bethlehem, West Virginia 

West Virginia State FlagCiting the cost of a new $39 million water treatment plant, the Bethlehem Council in West Virginia has approved a 45 percent water rate increase.  Bethlehem’s 1,160 water customers can expect to see the increase take effect March 1.

Bethlehem purchases its water from Wheeling, WV which is building a new water treatment plant set to open in 2015. Water customers within Wheeling city limits are coping with a 53.1-percent rate increase to pay for the new treatment plant.

 Learn more here

AM Conservation Group Acquires Niagara Energy and Water Conservation Products Division 

AM-NiagaraThe playing field in water conservation just got a little smaller.  The AM Conservation Group (AMCG) announced in January that it has acquired the energy and water conservation products division from Niagara Conservation, Inc.  Niagara Conservation, Inc. will continue to operate their high-efficiency toilet business division and focus their energies on growing that market.

"We believe there are many synergies to be gained by uniting our two great companies," said Todd Recknagel, CEO of AM Conservation Group. "For over three decades, Niagara has been known as a strong water conservation company and we are excited to gain access to offering their exceptional water and energy conservation product line, enabling us to market the best products from both companies."

"Customers will benefit tremendously as the newly expanded AM Conservation Group team will now be the premier provider for energy and water efficiency products, services, and programs," said Niagara Conservation Founder and President William Cutler.

Established in 1989, AM Conservation Group, Inc. markets energy and water efficiency solutions.  Learn more about the AM Conservation acquisition of Niagara here

Sydney Water’s Water Loss Control Efforts Ignites Critics 

 The economic component of the water loss control process has convinced Sydney Water that not all leaks are worthy of repair, but some critics argue the utility is trying to make expensive desalinated supply appear more viable.  A recent Sydney Water report revealed that the equivalent of 48 Olympic swimming pools is seeping from Sydney Water's network each day, but the same report shows that speeding up repairs is not worth the cost.

Sydney Water's latest water efficiency report shows an average 120 million liters a day leaked from its pipe network last financial year, up from 96 million liters three years ago. It equates to almost 44 billion liters of water a year.

Water main breaks took an average 40 hours to repair - four hours more than the previous year. The report said keeping leakage rates too low would drive up customer bills.  A Sydney Water spokeswoman said it had invested more than $1 billion in leak reduction and management over the past decade and "the biggest gains have already been made".

"Our overall focus for water efficiency now is to deliver services in a way that ... improves value for customers," she said, adding it was not "economically viable or technically feasible" to eliminate all leaks.  Sydney Water was one of the world's best-performing utilities in leak reduction, she said.

Sydney Water was forced to defend its performance last month after its annual report showed profits were growing as complaints and household bills rose. Sydney Water has shed more than 500 jobs since 2011 and made a $415 million profit last financial year. Government dividends almost doubled over the past five years to $368 million.

The report showed Sydney Water also scrapped a program called “WaterFix”, which involved the repair of household leaks and replacement of taps and shower-heads at fixed prices to take the guesswork out of plumbing costs. It has been replaced by a plumber referral service.

It follows drastic cuts to water efficiency programs over the past few years because Sydney Water believes continuing to drive down water consumption would cost it more than the value of the water saved. Critics say the move is designed to preserve profits, maximize dividends

and make the Kurnell desalination plant appear viable.  Learn more here

China Will Incentivize Efficiency by Raising Urban Water Rates 

china_flag_mapConservation-oriented water pricing is making in-roads in the Far East. China announced it will roll out wide-reaching reforms in how it prices water by the end of next year, charging higher prices for the heaviest urban consumers to conserve diminishing resources and spur investment.

The announcement by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) , China's top economic planning body, marks the first stab at actual resource-sector reform after an economic-reform blueprint by top Chinese Communist Party leaders in November targeted the cheap use of resources, promising a greater role for markets in setting prices for power and other commodities.

The new system, which will be in place by the end of 2015 will include a three-tiered pricing structure based on water use for households in all cities and some towns. Under the plan, the top 5% of household water users will pay at least three times the base rate of water. The second tier will pay 1.5 times the base rate, while the lowest tier—roughly 80% of urban households—wouldn't be affected by the changes, according to the NDRC.

Reforms to the pricing system are likely a precursor to new drinking-water standards, which could be in place by 2015. Such higher standards will require new investment in water treatment, say experts.  Learn more here

A Gorilla and a Running Toilet Meet in a Bar….for Fix a Leak Week 

Gorilla and Leaky LooFix a Leak Week will be March 17 through 23, 2014 and this year the US EPA’s WaterSense program has chosen a theme of “chasing leaks to save water.”

In preparation for the Fix a Leak Week festivities, the Phoenix Suns Gorilla mascot teamed up with Leaky Loo McFlapper, the larger-than-life running toilet mascot of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association’s One for Water 4-Miler, to shoot new conservation public service announcements promoting Fix a Leak Week.

According to a Phoenix Sun’s spokesperson, the Gorilla was ready to participate as soon as he learned he would get to work with, “a giant running toilet.”   What are you doing for Fix a Leak Week?  Learn more about the event here and start making plans



News Briefs and Web Links 

  • The California Water Sustainability Indicators Framework: Draft Final Report Released - The Phase I report describes the progressive development and use of sustainability indicators from vision and goal setting to reporting and knowledge-building. Download the PDF here
  • 10 Big Changes Forecast for California Water Management – Leading water thinkers Jay Lund and Ellen Hanak see significant changes for California water policy and management coming in the future.  Learn more here
  • San Francisco May Be First Major City to Ban Plastic Water Bottles - Bottled water could soon be banned in the environmentally conscious city.   Learn more here
  • Study: White Roofs “Greener” than Green Roofs – A new study from UC Berkeley finds the economic and environmental benefits of simply painting roofs white to be significant.
  • Energy Efficiency Financing Program Implementation Primer Released – This new report from the State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network provides an overview of considerations for designing and implementing successful energy efficiency financing programs for existing buildings in the residential and commercial sectors.   Download the PDF here
  • US Shivers While Brazil and Australia Sizzle – While a polar vortex sent temperatures plummeting across the US, Brazil and Australia were in the grips of extreme heat. The Australian continent endured its hottest year since records began in 1910, the Bureau of Meteorology said with average temperatures 1.2 degree Celsius above the long-term average. Learn more here
  • Dust on Crust – Dirty Snow Impacts Water Supplies - Dusty air blowing in from the drought-parched Southwest is subtly changing the color of the snow on the Rocky Mountains, affecting water supplies for millions of people in more than half a dozen states. Learn more here
  • India to Create Water Use Efficiency Bureau - The Indian government plans to create a bureau of water efficiency, a senior official said in October. The bureau will help major water users conserve and recycle water. Learn more here
  • Factories in Asia Begin to Improve Water Efficiency – Intel and other multinational corporations are reducing water demands at their Asian facilities - Learn more here
  • Dead Sea Water Level Continues to Drop – The water level at the Dead Seas is approximately 36 feet lower than it was 10 years ago.  Learn more here
  • New Report Aims to Document Water Risks of Warming Climate – International researchers plan to develop a set of harmonized global-impact reports based on the same set of climate data, which will for the first time allow models to be directly compared. Learn more here
  • Accusations of Illegal Irrigation Emerge in Australia’s Cane Growing Region – Tensions divide a farming community as neighbors are accused of cheating the irrigation system by taking more than their fair share.Learn more here
  • Utah Rockslide Was Largest in Modern History – An April 2013 rockslide sent 165 million tons of debris into a nearly mile-deep pit where it cracked bedrock and triggered unprecedented earthquakes, researchers said in a newly published study. Learn more here

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.