Tips to help customers step up their water efficiency programs

Water utilities can’t seem to catch a break: The need to improve aging infrastructure has pushed water rates up in many parts of the country, while increasingly unpredictable weather patterns make conserving water more important than ever. Agencies that own their own treatment plants also have to be conscious of the wear and tear on aging equipment, as well as the cost of power for processing operations.Vector illustration of water tap with the Earth globe inside water drop on blue background

Strong customer relationships can be instrumental in working through such challenging times. Unfortunately, frustrated customers—especially large key accounts—who haven’t seen their water bills go down after installing low-flow fixtures may be feeling less than cooperative. The October issue of FacilitiesNet magazine You are leaving suggests 10 measures that can help customers take water efficiency to the next level. Use these recommendations to open dialogue with your biggest water users, educate them on the challenges you face and build the bridges that will help you find solutions.

1. Equipment upgrades – New equipment is almost always more efficient than older models, especially when equipment is nearing the end of its useful life. Businesses with commercial kitchens or laundries can see significant water and energy savings by investing in new dish and clothes washers. Replacing water-cooled chillers with air-cooled units and adding water recirculating systems where the hot water source is more than 100 feet from the fixture are other measures worth considering.

2. Leak detection – According to New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, even a small toilet leak can waste 30 gallons daily at a cost of forty cents every day, and the statistics only get more alarming from there. A one-gallon-per-minute leak equals 1,140 gallons per day, which can run up a huge water bill even where local water rates are low. Given that many small leaks can be fixed quickly and inexpensively, leak detection is worth the constant vigilance it requires. It also pays to educate building occupants to be aware of leaking fixtures and mysterious dripping and running sounds, which leads to the next tip.

3. Staff/occupant training – The maintenance crew cannot be everywhere, especially in large buildings and campuses. Facility managers need to recruit housekeeping and other staff to alert building operators to plumbing leaks so problems can be addressed quickly. Make sure all staff knows who to call when they see a leak. A simple sign in restrooms and break rooms, for example, can tell building occupants who to contact when they notice a dripping faucet or running toilet. One school district trained its janitorial staff and vice principals to report all water leaks by calling a specific number, and saved $700,000 in utility bills in the first year of the program.

4. Metering and sub-metering – As the old saying goes, you can’t control what you don’t measure. Water metering and sub-metering can help in tracking water consumption and leak detection in both new and existing buildings. Ideally, water sub-metering could provide valuable input on cooling tower, irrigation and hot water use.

The article suggests that water metering is most effective when incorporated into the building management system so that the data is reported with other facility data. Keep in mind that many irrigation systems use proprietary protocols so you may need a communications interface, which will add to the total metering cost.

At least one water metering company markets a smart meter using a wireless mesh open radio protocol and battery-operated water sub-meters that report their data to plugged-in transceivers. These low cost installations are practical for existing buildings as well as for new construction.

5. Water audits – Water audits will help facility managers determine what next steps to take and in what order. Keep in mind, however, that water audits are a new practice and don’t have a standard protocol like energy audits. For a good starting point, check out South Florida Water Management District’s Water Efficiency and Self-Conducted Water Audits at Commercial and Institutional Facilities: A Guide for Facility ManagersYou are leaving

6. Benchmarking sustainability goals – Use the water audit to help establish where water is being used in a facility and benchmark sustainability goals. Software platforms are available that automatically import utility bills and then measure and benchmark the facility’s performance against your goals.

7. Cooling tower maintenance – Cooling towers are generally part of the HVAC system in large buildings of more than 10,000 square feet. HVAC water use can account for more than a quarter of the total water use in institutional buildings, according San Jose Environmental Services Department data. Facility managers should prioritize keeping cooling towers clean and minimizing scale buildup.

8. Irrigation systems – A range of options is available for improving both new and existing irrigation systems. For new installations, drip irrigation uses significantly less water than traditional sprinkler systems. And don’t forget to use native and low-moisture plants when landscaping.Incorporating smart controls that respond to weather events and soil moisture sensors can make existing systems more efficient. The City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, decided to convert several athletic fields in 2008 to an irrigation controller with soil moisture sensors. By 2010, water use was reduced by 8 million gallons, saving the city $29,000.

9. Rainwater capture – If you are willing to do the research with local water, environmental or development bureaus, harvesting rainwater for irrigation is an excellent alternative to using municipal water. Rainwater could also be used in new construction for some indoor uses like flushing toilets. In all cases, be sure to check your municipal codes regarding the reuse of rainwater.

10. Graywater/reclaimed water use – The California Uniform Plumbing Code You are leaving defines graywater as “untreated waste water which has not come into contact with toilet waste.” It can be used for irrigation or non-potable building uses such as flushing toilets and urinals, but graywater’s acceptance is regulated by state and local governments. Each has its own definition of what constitutes graywater and what, if anything, it can be used for. Where water recycling is permitted by local authorities, reclaimed water is being put to good use for landscape irrigation, toilets and urinals.

Source: Facilitiesnet via RCM News, October 2017

USDA offers funding to protect, restore key water resources

Riparian easements, like this one along a creek in Story County, Iowa, enhance environmental quality and preserve wildlife habitat and open space.
Riparian easements, like this one along a creek in Story County, Iowa, preserve water quality, wildlife habitat and open space. (Photo by USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service)

Financial assistance to purchase agricultural land easements is available from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NCRS). The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is offering $350 million to support the voluntary sale of easements to maintain farms and ranchland and to protect critical water resources.

Native American tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements.

Agricultural land easements help to protect the nation’s food supply by preventing productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses. Lands protected by easements also enhance environmental quality and preserve historic sites, wildlife habitat and open space.

Wetland reserve easements improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding and recharging groundwater, all critical concerns to agricultural producers.

In announcing the funding, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that the USDA is committed to protecting the long-term viability of farming across the country, as well as restoring vital sensitive wetlands. “The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” he said.

NRCS state offices are accepting applications for partnership wetland restoration projects from eligible partners through July 31, 2015. Application deadlines vary by state.

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the any time at the local USDA Service Center.

Source: USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, 11/19/15

Meet Western customer Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District

[Editor’s note: Every Western customer is unique, but they also share many circumstances and characteristics. Profile stories highlight the strengths, challenges, programs and operational and planning strategies our customers use to “keep the lights on.” We encourage utilities to recognize the issues they have in common and to swap ideas and ask each other questions. If you would like to see your utility featured, contact the Energy Services Bulletin editor.]

Small but complex, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (WMIDD) is vitally important to its southwestern Arizona service territory as both a water and power provider.

Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD's service territory, and lettuce is a principle--and thirsty--crop.
Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD’s service territory, and lettuce is a principle–and thirsty–crop. (All photos by Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District)

The Arizona State Legislature created the combination reclamation project/electric utility in 1951 to repay the construction costs of the irrigation and power systems, and to operate and maintain its facilities. The Desert Southwest region customer is governed by a nine-person board of directors elected by landowners living within its boundaries.

Maintaining low rates
WMIDD serves about 3,500 customers, of which 81 percent are residential, 17 percent commercial and 2 percent agricultural. Agriculture is the region’s leading industry, with the district providing irrigation for more than 62,000 acres of cropland. That leaves little private land in WMIDD’s territory for expanding the local economy to offset losses caused by changes in the agriculture business. This scenario led to several years of a shrinking customer base and declining school enrollment, a common occurrence in many rural communities. The area has become a popular destination for retirees and “snow birds” fleeing cold winters, but the proportion of low-income customers remains high. 

It is no wonder, then, that the district’s highest priority is keeping its water and electricity rates affordable. “One of our customers’ greatest concerns is just being able to pay their utility bills,” confirmed Susan Lozier, WMIDD power procurement and marketing specialist.

Purchasing hydropower from Western helps WMIDD keep customers’ rates low. Most of the district’s generation comes from three hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River. Western also provides ancillary service support to WMIDD, coordinating supplemental power purchases, scheduling, regulating load and balancing energy delivery. “Western is instrumental in all our power dealings,” Lozier observed. “Our hydropower generation is the district’s most important power asset.”

Promoting efficiency
Load management is not a high priority for WMIDD, and resources for developing customer programs are limited.  Nevertheless, the district has found ways to encourage customers to control their energy consumption.

Air conditioning represents a big opportunity for energy savings to the summer-peaking utility. WMIDD, through its Wellton-Mohawk Co-op, stocks air conditioners with a 13 or higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, rating for resale to customers at cost, plus a small handling charge. Customers are responsible for installing the units, although some local technicians do installations. “The local contractor pool is pretty small,” Lozier explained. “There are more contractors in Yuma, but the city is 30 miles away with a mountain range in between. They aren’t going to travel that far to do one installation, unless they sell the unit also.”

Other measures WMIDD takes to save energy include replacing mercury vapor dusk-to-dawn lighting in public spaces with high-pressure sodium lamps and doing annual infrared inspections of its distribution system. The practice of leveling crop fields using laser technology reduces the need for pumping, saving both water and energy.

Simply reminding customers of tried-and-true energy-saving tips can be an effective load-management strategy and here, again, Western can help small utilities like WMIDD. Lozier has used the Energy Services Easy Ways to Save Energy bookmark as a bill stuffer. Our graphics department set up artwork with the district’s logo that could be printed and cut right in the office. This year, at Lozier’s request, we turned our cooling maintenance tip sheet into a bill stuffer to help WMIDD customers make sure their air conditioners are ready for the hot weather. 

Water in a dry land
Electricity is only half of WMIDD’s story, of course—the district has approximately 378 miles of main canals, lateral canals and return-flow channels to irrigate prime and unique farmland. The system includes three major pumping plants and four minor pump stations, 10 side delivery pumps dispersed along main and lateral canals, 90 drainage wells and about 300 observation wells. WMIDD also provides water to several small communities through public, private, municipal and domestic distribution systems. 

WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.
WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.

The area’s principal crops include alfalfa, grains, cotton, fruits and vegetables and specialty seeds. Wellton-Mohawk customers grow most of the world’s supply of registered Bermuda grass seed. The widely used grass is highly salt tolerant, and was a mainstay for local farmers from 1940 to 1952 when well water grew increasingly saline.

Water salinity is an ongoing issue WMIDD has dealt with since its inception. The district shares the waters of the Colorado River with many jurisdictions, as well as Mexico. The farther a river flows from its heading, the more saline it becomes naturally, and diverting water for other uses increases the salinity even more. The district has been a party to many international agreements and construction projects throughout the decades aimed at improving or maintaining the water quality of Mexico’s share. Working with growers and the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt best land-use and irrigation practices also helps to reduce the salinity of Wellton-Mohawk’s return flow.

Add in vegetation management and flood protection activities, and it is clear that the work of a desert-region water reclamation project located along an international boundary is never done. Western salutes this small, but hard-working, multi-tasking agency. Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District plays a critical role, not only in its community, but also in the vitality of the entire region, and knowing we support such customers gives meaning to our work.

Water, energy, climate change on Western Governors meeting agenda

Utility professionals from the West might have felt right at home at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) annual meeting in Whitefish, Mont., June 27-29, as discussions covered three pressing issues—water, transmission and climate change.

Potential water crisis looming

On the meeting’s opening day, WGA chairman Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told attendees that the demand for water across the West is beginning to outstrip supplies, and states have no time to waste in averting a potential crisis. “As a region, we have to become more aggressive and a lot smarter in how we manage this resource,” Schweitzer declared.

Guest speaker Robert Glennon, author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” noted that the problem is already affecting communities, states and the region. “We need to use a full suite of tools, including conservation, desalination, reclaimed water, and pricing incentives,” he said. “We also need to facilitate reallocation of water to the highest-value uses.”  

WGA Vice Chairman, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter pointed out the important connection between energy development and water supplies in the West, emphasizing that “both traditional and renewable energy resource development requires adequate water.” 

At the end of the session, the governors accepted a Progress Report from the Western States Water Council on implementation of the Governors’ report on “Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future.”

Tackling complex energy issues

The push for clean energy is likely to accelerate in the wake of the Gulf oil spill and the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy, and transmission will be needed to carry that energy to market.  

Gov. Schweitzer unveiled WGA’s “Transmission Roadmap” on the second day of the meeting. The report can be used by anyone who wants to build a renewable energy facility with transmission. Developers who have not previously done a project will find the report especially helpful. 

The governors also passed a major energy resolution that will have the WGA reporting on industrial and commercial energy-efficiency programs, the impacts of plug-in vehicles on the electrical transmission system, and issues associated with expanding nuclear energy in the West.  Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy will be used to develop transmission expansion plans for the West. The plans will not only consider the development of renewable energy, but also wildlife and water concerns.

Report on climate adaptation

The governors also adopted a climate adaptation scoping report during the annual meeting. The report, which emphasizes the need for state and Federal agencies to coordinate efforts to identify key science that is specific to the West, is the first step in sharing and implementing smart practices.

The Scoping Report report comes from WGA’s Climate Adaptation Work Group, composed of western state experts in air, forests, water and wildlife.  The report contains important recommendations for responding to climate change impacts and for including climate science in western states’ policy and management activities.

The WGA Climate Adaptation Work Group will work with stakeholders to implement the recommendations in the report, which is available on the WGA website. The reports are available online, along with more information about the annual meeting.