Water Conservation from A to Z
New publications, organizations, and research all have contributed to a richer professional environment for water conservation than ever before. We all know that there still is plenty of hard work to be done, but successes are coming from wider and more varied sources every day.
From the original American Water Works Association (AWWA) water conservation planning manual in the 1980s, and from the Energy Policy Act of 1992, water conservation has come a long way. And it’s paying off, in local successes and at the national scale; the US Geological Survey has documented a drop in water withdrawals for municipal and industrial uses in the past 10 years despite growing populations (a). From the local to the national, data show that efficiency and a healthy economy can and do go together.
The Water Sources Conference in Albuquerque, NM (b), last February was a recent indication of the growth and development of the water conservation field. The caliber and breadth of professional presentations and the increasing sophistication of programs and technologies represented all speak to the importance of water conservation in present and future urban water management.
Every year more resources are developed for the water conservation field, with Water Efficiency the latest exciting development for professionals everywhere.
Also new this year is the Alliance for Water Efficiency (c). For many years, water conservation professionals have hoped for an organization to promote, on the national level, the standards, research, and advocacy necessary to ensure wise water use in our country. This organization, known as AWE and to be based in Chicago, has the potential to both represent and involve a wider array of professionals concerned with wise water use than ever before. Roundtables held across the country have demonstrated a strong interest from water providers, government officials, irrigation and plumbing industry representatives, and environmental interest groups. There are still many details, such as funding and operations, to be worked out, so stay tuned!
At the state level, there are many conservation and efficiency alliances working to promote regional efforts. The most well-established and productive has been the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC) (d). Its leadership on a wide range of conservation issues and its willingness to share resources has been of tremendous assistance to conservation programs in California as well as throughout the nation.
The past 10 years also have seen more professional training opportunities for those working in water conservation. The California-Nevada section of the AWWA took the lead in offering training and certification programs and continues that effort to date (e). The CUWCC also has offered multiple-day training programs, many delivered by conservation veteran Amy Vickers. Colorado offered two-day training for the first time in 2005 and plans to continue professional development programs in the future (f).
Another sign of the evolution of the profession is the sheer growth in the number of water conservation–related jobs that have been created. Many, many positions have been created in California, southern Nevada, Texas, and Colorado—in many cases more than doubling the capacity of 10 years ago for delivering conservation services.
A huge advancement for water conservation was the publication of Amy Vickers’ book Handbook of Water Use and Conservation in 2001 (g). For many professionals, this has become the go-to guide for program planning, background data, and water-use standards. We can only hope that many more like materials will be developed in the coming years.
One recent addition to the planning literature is that of the updated AWWA M52 manual (who comes up with these names?), just released earlier this year (b). The result of several years’ work by the Maddaus family and others, this publication offers planning steps, evaluation tools, and water conservation case studies from around the country.
In addition to the prodigious finds on Google and other search engines, the best, most focused online source for water conservation is WaterWiser (b). Developed as a cooperative effort between the EPA and the AWWA, this site has matured into a resource offering the latest in conservation news, research, and programs from, and for, water providers.
On the print side, WaterEfficiency will complement the many newsletter-style publications that offer conservation updates from programs around the country and around the world. Some examples from this list are the Water Demand Management Bulletin from the UK (h), the Water Logue from the CUWCC (c), Water Conservation News from the California Department of Water Resources (i), New Mexico’s Water Conservation News (j), and WaterWise from the Colorado WaterWise Council (f).
The past decade has seen a tremendous amount of activity in the area of water conservation research as well. A fundamental work was that of the Residential End Use Study (REUS) funded by AWWA Research Foundation, and has become one of the best-selling research reports of recent record (k). The REUS project was directed and managed by Aquacraft of Boulder, CO, assisted by PMCL of Champaign, IL, and John Olaf Nelson of Petaluma, CA. REUS established a dataset of detailed, reliable residential end-use data from cities across North America. The research method utilized in this study—refined data collection using data loggers on water meters—since has been adopted and replicated in studies across the world.
Water agencies also have been busy gathering better information about their customers’ water use patterns and the effectiveness of conservation programs. Impressive work has been done at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) on the effectiveness of landscape-water-conservation programs (l); at the East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD) on rebate programs and standards (m); at Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) on the savings potential of residential retrofit programs (n); and through the Water Conservation Alliance of Southern Arizona (Water CASA), who released earlier this year a review of the effectiveness of a variety of conservation programs (o).
In addition, important, policy-oriented research has been conducted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Pacific Institute in California (p) and Western Resource Advocates (WRA) in Colorado (q). The Pacific Institute continues to produce quality in-depth materials aimed at both encouraging water-use efficiency and broadening the scope of traditional urban water management. Its Waste Not, Want Not report of 2003 outlined the huge potential for urban water efficiency in the future of California. Further inland, WRA has focused on the status and role of water conservation in the inter-mountain West. One report, Smart Water, documented both the disparities between states and programs in terms of their water-efficiency and the potential for water-wise practices to help the many tense water-allocation problems to be found throughout the US.
Academics as well have shown more interest in water conservation in the past decade. Work on program delivery, policy, and awareness has been produced through universities in California (r), New Mexico (s), Texas (t), Wisconsin (u), and elsewhere.
Many local, regional, and state legislative bodies have incorporated water conservation directives over the past decade. This is a rich area for collaboration (“selective borrowing”) among water conservation professionals, as consistency in language and clarity of purpose often result in the most effective regulations. Some recent examples from California and Colorado illustrate the opportunities for shared learning.
As with many things related to the issue of water, California has been a leader in legislative innovations as well. Recent years have seen water conservation programs created, and dollars allocated, through the Cal-Fed process, citizen referenda, and many local mechanisms. A product of value to many professionals was the report Water Smart Landscapes for California produced by the legislatively directed Landscape Task Force (f). This report outlined a wide variety of policy opportunities for increasing water efficiency in the landscape, through program development, setting of standards, and increasing the professionalism of those in the green industry.
In my home state of Colorado, the years following the “big drought of ’02” saw the legislature create new urban water conservation planning requirements, with new funding opportunities to create those plans, and to fund implementation projects (v). Over the past several months, a cooperative of NGOs has traveled the state to produce workshops to introduce water providers and community planners to the new standards and opportunities in water conservation (w).
Among others, mayors have been leading the charge for a more integrated approach to water management, one that includes conservation and efficiency. The US Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council (x) has created several policy and survey instruments to indicate its interest and commitment to the issue.
Mayors and other elected officials have taken up the cause of water conservation at the regional level as well. In the Denver, CO, metropolitan area, for example, the Metro Mayors Caucus, representing 32 different municipalities and more than 1.5 million people, created and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the long-term importance of water conservation (f). The MOU outlines their commitment to a reliable and efficient water supply for their citizens, and further incorporates the adoption of water conservation best management practices to ensure achievement of those goals.
One of the most encouraging things about the current state of water conservation is the adoption of a broader definition of water conservation. In the past, conservation simply meant, to many, the curtailment of accepted water-use patterns. Understandably, in times of severe supply shortage, that effort may have been appropriate. However, as conservation professionals long have known, and as many of our customers now are coming to understand, there is a world of difference between curtailment or restrictions and embedded efficiencies. Water conservation now can offer a more robust research basis, stronger programs for delivery, and more reliable and cost-effective technologies that allow a focus on the delivery of water services, not on the delivery of gallons. We all know that what our customers really want is the services that water can provide: a hot shower, clean clothes, and a healthy landscape.
While this is an exciting time for the water conservation profession, much remains to be done. In most regions of the country, it is only the largest of water providers that have made the commitment to provide conservation services. Many still view conservation as a customer relations program more than a water management program. There is still the need to develop the capacity to deliver more conservation services in almost every city and town across the country. Even though the profession is still in its formative stages, the resources outlined above indicate a growing maturity and a willingness to be a part of any water management strategy.
And new strategies will be needed. Population continues to increase in most of the southern and western states, where water resource issues are already quite complex and management and allocation issues tense. In the West, the US Bureau of Reclamation has identified major “hot spots” where it expects these complexities and tensions to increase through the year 2025 (z). On the economic side the US EPA has indicated the need for more than $300 billion to be invested in drinking-water systems over the next 25 years just to keep up with standards (y). Conservation can, and will, help each and every situation by promoting the appropriate sizing and design of infrastructure for the delivery of actual water services.
Although we have a long way to go before conservation is integrated into water management and is an ethic shared by all of our customers, it is a great time to be working in water conservation. It is a profession filled with dedicated, creative, and very fun people.
Paul Lander is a water conservation specialist with the Water Conservation Office, Water Quality and Environmental Services, City of Boulder, CO.