Water Conservation Leads to Improved Water Quality

As the cost of water rises, an increasing number of California’s local water agencies and districts are discovering that water conservation not only saves resources, but improves water quality as well. According to a survey conducted by EIP Associates, a water resources firm, approximately 58% of the California water agencies and districts surveyed said they use water conservation incentives to address water quality concerns.

Furthermore, 59% of the agencies and districts that have public outreach water conservation programs said these programs link landscape irrigation usage and urban water runoff.

“This tells us that agencies are starting to realize that water quality can be improved by conserving water, particularly water used for landscaping and irrigation,” said John Moynier, senior water resources manager for EIP Associates. “Everyone knows it’s wasteful to over-water a lawn—you can literally see the water going down the drain. But more people are realizing that such urban water runoff can adversely affect water quality as well because it may contain fertilizers, pesticides or other contaminants that can get into the water supply.”

EIP Associates surveyed more than 70 water resources professionals throughout California on the subject of water conservation. Key findings from the survey include:

 

  • Most agencies meter customers’ water usage. The vast majority (89%) of respondents said their agency or district meters the water usage of customers, and most (60%) of these respondents said they meter residential and industrial landscaping separately.
    “This is an important step toward effective water conservation,” Moynier said. “Before you can promote efficiency, you must have a thorough account of where the water is going and how it is going to be used.” He added that although a number of agencies and districts do not currently meter water use, there is legislation pending that will address this issue.
  • Public outreach water conservation pro grams often focus on promoting efficient water use. More than three-quarters (82%) of survey respondents said their agency or district has a public outreach water conservation program. Of these respondents, more than half (66%) said their program focuses on reducing demand through effcient water use, and most (59%) said their program links landscape irrigation usage and urban water runoff.
    “A lot has been done over the years to promote indoor residential water conservation, like encouraging homeowners to install low-flow shower heads, high-efficiency washing machines and low-volume toilets,” Moynier said. “But people are beginning to see the benefits of using water for irrigation and landscaping more efficiently. For instance, agencies are starting to limit irrigation to nighttime hours to help reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. They are also encouraging the use of computerized irrigation controls and drip sprinklers instead of less efficient spray sprinklers.”
  • Most agencies use water conservation incentives to address water quality concerns. Of the majority of respondents (58%) who said their agency or district uses water conservation incentives to address water quality concerns, more than half (65%) use water conservation incentive rate structures.
    “By charging a higher rate for high-volume consumers, these agencies put the onus on consumers to limit their own water use,” Moynier said.
  • Opportunities exist to increase the use of water conservation as a means to improve water quality. Although water conservation is becoming an integral part of water agencies’ plans to improve water quality, agencies have not fully tapped its potential. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said water conservation is currently a component of their programs to reduce non-point source pollution from urban water runoff.

“Not everyone sees the relationship between reducing urban water runoff and improving water quality through the reduction of non-point source pollution,” Moynier said. “This creates an opportunity for water providers to combine their efforts to reduce wastage and improve water quality, even to the point of significant cost savings and increased water supplies.”

Although it may not be standard practice yet, survey results indicate that water conservation will be used to reduce non-point source pollution from urban water runoff more often in the future. Approximately 20% of the respondents who said water conservation is not currently part of their programs to reduce non-point source pollution from urban water runoff indicated that it would be in the future.

Water conservation is an important issue in California, and agencies and districts can take it to new levels by using conservation to improve water quality. By addressing the link between water conservation and water quality, agencies protect the integrity of their water resources and free up water to be used elsewhere.

Brian Boxer is senior vice president of EIP Associates and founder of EIP’s Water Resources Group. He can be reached at 916/325-4800 or by e-mail at bboxer@eipassociates.com.

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