Successful Water Conservation Program Goes High Tech

Rapidly increasing demand coupled with a limited supply has placed a premium on water conservation in southern Nevada. To address this problem, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) needed to enact a broad water conservation strategy.
As part of a study launched in 1995 with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the SNWA worked with 700 customers over five years to monitor their water use. Property owners were also asked if they would trade their sod for water-efficient landscaping.
It soon became clear that property owners using water-efficient landscaping were achieving significant savings—many saw their water use and water bills decline by as much as 75%. Even before the study was complete, it was obvious that water-efficient landscaping was the ideal solution to minimize the effect of population growth on the community’s water supply and serve as a bulwark against the effects of droughts.

The incentive
In 1999, the SNWA began a program called “Water Smart Landscapes” to encourage property owners to convert their lawns into attractive, water-efficient landscaping. The incentive? A rebate of $0.40 per sq ft of replaced sod, which later increased to $1 per sq ft.
“The rebate is funded by regional connection charges and new development in the valley,” said SNWA Conservation Manager Doug Bennett. “When new housing developments go into an already-developed area, it can put a lot of strain in any community where you have to share resources with the newcomers. When we explained that these newcomers were paying the rebates, it helped ease concerns.”
Property owners interested in participating in the program fill out and mail an application or visit a website to apply online, an option favored by about 60% of participants. The process then requires an SNWA representative to visit owners to quantify how much property they are interested in converting. The company found that, while beneficial overall, the process for enlisting customers in the conservation program had some inherent inefficiencies.
“Traditionally, the technicians would drive to the office to get their work orders, go on site to the customer to collect information on their property, then return to the office to fill out forms,” Bennett said. “This office work was consuming one or two hours of their day. That’s one or two hours that could be better spent working on water conservation.”

A high-tech solution
To deal with this problem, the SNWA purchased 23 Panasonic Toughbook CF-18 convertible tablet PCs for its field staff.
SNWA field personnel use the mobile PCs day in and day out to get their work orders wirelessly, map their daily routes, and, most importantly, to display aerial photos and work in real-time with property owners to mark up how much property they want to convert. This has resulted in a 30% increase in visits to customers every day, per technician.

Benefits to the extended community
In addition, the SNWA created a program called “Water Smart Contractor” that allows private-sector landscapers to achieve a certificate in water-efficient landscaping. Contractors who earn their certificates are allowed to use the Water Smart Contractor badge on their marketing materials and vehicles. This, in turn, gives property owners confidence that the landscapers they hire are capable of working on their conversion projects.
The ultimate results of the Water Smart Landscapes program?
Residents and business have removed enough turf to equal 1,250 football fields. That’s more than 70 million sq ft—enough sod to lay a strip one-third of the way around the equator. Twenty thousand property owners have participated in the Water Smart Landscapes program, saving Nevada 4 billion gal of water per year.
Ultimately, what the SNWA is learning can benefit other utilities facing water conservation challenges.
“We regularly have people from other agencies visit to see how we do things,” Bennett explained. “We share this information freely for the benefit of everyone.”

Craig Hale is a data resources supervisor with the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He can be reached at 702/862-3730 or by e-mail at craig.hale@snwa.com.

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