On Thursday, October 4, 2012 the Alliance for Water Efficiency awarded its 2012 Water Star award to Karen Guz, Director of Conservation for the San Antonio Water System.
The AWE Water Star Award is an award intended to recognize individual excellence in water efficiency. AWE wishes to celebrate the “unsung hero”, the quiet water conservation practitioner working in the trenches who makes a huge difference by their dedication, passion, and progressive approaches to move forward our field. Water Star award winners receive this recognition not because they apply for the award, but because their peers around them recognize the value of their significant contribution and achievements over time and their quiet dedication to the cause. Past Water Star award winners include water conservation champions like John Flowers of EPA, George Kunkel of the Philadelphia Water Department, and Bill Maddaus of Maddaus Water Management.
“Karen exemplifies those same qualities we wish to honor: a personal passion for water conservation, a dedication to obtaining needed reductions in municipal water use, and persistence in the face of numerous obstacles and challenges,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, who presented the award. “Karen has been working in water conservation for 12 years, a relatively short time in the span of some of our conservation careers. But in those 12 years, six of which have been spent as Director of the San Antonio Water System’s water conservation program, she has been developing strategies and programs for saving water that are innovative, gutsy, and no-nonsense stringent. Programs so effective that per capita consumption has been reduced by 40%. San Antonio now has 50% more people, yet they use 0% more water. These are impressive numbers.”
Some of her conservation program achievements include:
- Retrofitted in excess of 300,000 toilets in the past fifteen years (120,000 alone since 2006).Changed the local code in 2010 to require WaterSense fixtures on all new construction.
- Retrofitted all public schools and city buildings with high efficiency fixtures.
- Developed a “four star efficiency” program for hotels, and over 200 hotels have completed retrofits.
- Instituted “Plumbers to People” and Conservation Make Over programs that have brought free efficiency retrofits and leak repair to hundreds of low income customers.
- Conducted conservation consults at homes that became so popular that 3-4 week wait lists developed, despite having 150 appointments per week.
- Instituted a weekly conservation e-newsletter that now has over 11,000 subscribers.
- Documented 120,000 personal interactions per year with their customers on conservation issues.
- Developed a certification program with 80% of their local car wash operations participating.
- Enhanced a custom rebate program to allow a $400/acre foot savings formula for any innovation that could prove savings over ten years; savings from over 100 projects have come from food process improvements, condensate recovery, car wash reclaim systems, hospital sterilizer upgrades, and laundry operation improvements.
- Enforced all conservation programs, with a streamlined process with officers and the courts.
- Conducted surveys to document that nearly 90% of their customers understand the rules and support them.
- Instituted on-line water waste reporting, developed specialty software for tracking all reports and violations, and developed a cross departmental team to monitor weekly operations and progress.
And she is a statewide leader as well. She serves as the municipal representative on her state’s Water Conservation Advisory Council, where she leads the Metrics and Conservation Tracking workgroup and the Municipal BMP update project. She took the initiative to become a licensed irrigator, and is active in statewide irrigation issues. She serves on her state’s Irrigator Advisory Council and will assume the chair of the group for 2013. She also serves on the Board of her state’s Irrigators Network. And she helps the Alliance for Water Efficiency and others by being a continuous and willing participant in numerous research studies and projects, lending her expertise and data for the good of the overall conservation community.
Her water utility is justifiably proud of her accomplishments. Her boss Charles Ahrens said the following: “Karen is professional, creative, tireless and certainly one of the most knowledgeable water conservation professionals in the U.S. I am always amazed how she can motivate her staff, one that she leads with compassion but respect, in such a way that they continue to develop and implement creative and new approaches to achieve additional savings via our conservation efforts.”
Her President/CEO Robert Puente reflected that, “her expertise and professionalism has helped put San Antonio on the international map for water efficiency. Her tireless service to the people of our city and the state of Texas are a shining example of the positive impact a single person can have on a sustainable future.”