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The Denver Water Department wants to hire an engineer to show metro businesses how to wring water out of their industrial facilities to help conserve dwindling reservoir supplies.
The engineer would audit a company's manufacturing systems and offer suggestions or design water-saving processes - with Denver Water picking up the tab if the recommendations were followed.
On Wednesday, the utility's board of directors unanimously approved the pilot program as part of a $1.2 million conservation package that include "flush fund" rebates for customers who install ultra-low-flow toilets and water-saving, side-load washing machines.
Denver Water estimates the package could save 292 million gallons a year, or enough for 1,600 families of four.
The programs, which include the purchase of more effective leak-detection equipment and a giveaway program that will provide a bucket full of home water-conservation devices to residential customers, is being funded by a drought tap-surcharge program adopted this summer.
Liz Gardener, Denver Water's conservation manager, said the items approved by the board represented only the first of several phases of new water-saving programs. A suite of outdoor lawn- watering measures also is in the works.
The idea to provide free water consulting services to businesses grew out of focus groups held with small companies this summer, she said.
"Most said they wanted to help us save water, but they didn't have an on-staff process engineer," Gardener said. "They asked if we could help."
An internal review showed that car dealers and car washes, food and beverage processors, hospitals and health clubs, hotels and motels, as well as commercial laundries were among the highest-volume users by type, she said. Denver Water does not identify usage by individual customer.
Only $80,000 has been earmarked for the program, but Gardener said she'd go back to the board for more if it proved popular.
"We really don't know what kind of reception it will get," she said. "For some companies, installing new systems could mean them shutting down for a week."
The so-called "flush fund" would provide rebates of $100 for each new, 1.6-gallon flush toilet or $125 for new washers. Customers who install multiple appliances are eligible for $25 or $50 bonuses because it would save on the cost of inspections.
Toilets are the single largest water user in homes and offices. Standard toilets that use 3 to 7 gallons of water with each flush are no longer permitted in new construction.
The board also got a first look Wednesday at several lawn-watering ordinances adopted by Nevada communities that could help constrict the single biggest demand from summertime residential customers.
One would require moisture sensors to prevent automatic sprinkler systems from turning on during a rain. Another would force landscapers to add organic matter to lawn soils to help them retain water. A third would prohibit homeowner association covenants that ban Xeriscaping or require residents to maintain golf- course-green lawns.