Households were given a water budget—families were given an allotment of 225 gallons-per-month of water to use. If you used more than that, you were fined. (In the Bay Area, I found record of a $55 dollar fine. Remember, this was 1977, when a gallon of gas was $0.62!)
People put bricks in their toilet tanks to reduce the amount of water that flushing used, brought buckets into the shower to capture water run off with which they would then water their plants. Public restrooms were closed because of heavy water restrictions. Water police patrolled neighborhoods to see who was using sprinklers at non-designated days and times. People who were caught with green lawns, had water restrictors installed by the local water company. The devices were so restrictive that only a trickle of water came out of the sink and you could not do dishes and take a shower at the same time.
In 2014, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency. He has requested a voluntary 10 percent water reduction by all Californians. Sound familiar? Are we doomed to repeat history?
In the spirit of breaking the trend, let’s look at what uses water in the typical U.S. home. According to the EPA, 70 percent of all water consumption occurs indoors and the rest is outdoor use. I believe that, due to the density of multifamily the percentage of indoor water used is about 80 percent (on average). But the breakdown is still valuable. Using the EPA’s information—the toilet accounts for 27 percent of all indoor water use, the washing machine is 22 percent, the shower is 17 percent, the faucet uses 16 percent, 4 percent is other water use and 14 percent is assessed as leaks.
Let me repeat that last one—14 percent of water use on any given home is leaks.
Let’s look at some low hanging fruit.
In multifamily, we like to say that we should not be held accountable for the water consumption in the unit because we cannot control how many times-per-day residents flush the toilet or how long tenants spend in the shower or if they run the faucet while they are brushing their teeth. But we can control how those fixtures function.
It is our responsibility to keep our fixtures in proper working condition. This means no leaks. What if we simply make it a routine process to inspect the units for leaky faucets, test for toilet leaks and set our toilet fill levels correctly? Potentially we could save up to 14 percent on indoor water use. This means that your residents can save 14 percent on their water bills, which assists in the renewal process. A leaky toilet can lose up to 200-gallons-per-day. If we fix leaks we save water which will save money and save the world.
The dementors are coming! Or water police, whichever name you prefer. They will fine you and suck the water pressure out of your lines.
Technology has changed a lot since 1977, too. Dudes don’t need to drive around in cars to see if you are using too much water. There are satellite-based weather tracking irrigation systems out there that check the weather for the month and develop what your water budget should have been for that month and compare that water budget against your actual use. Then you may be fined accordingly for the excess amount of water that you used.
Foster City, California, currently uses this type of system and fines communities that exceed their water budget. This technology is being deployed by other cities. The fines on irrigation will most likely have to be absorbed by the property owner. These costs will be difficult, if not illegal to include in your allocation to your residents. How will you defend yourself?
Active irrigation control will become paramount. The dialogue with our landscapers needs to evolve to involve more than “are my plants pretty?” and “let’s walk the property and look at our less attractive areas.” Bring your water bill to the meeting with your landscaper and maintain a dialogue regarding water management. Confirm that he understands that his role involves not just the plants, but the water.
We are not condemned to repeat ourselves. We can do better, if we choose. California needs to improve very quickly if we do not want to run out of water.
Wasted water will grow more expensive on a national basis. As an industry, we have power when it comes to water management. We have great, garden-style communities, epic fountains and a vast numbers of toilets. As we learned from Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Water we waiting for?
Author Mary Nitschke is passionate about utilities and should, perhaps, switch to decaf. She is the first president of the Utility Management Advisory Board, holds an Energy Resource Management Certificate from UC Davis, two BAs from UC Berkeley and is director of ancillary services for Prometheus Real Estate Group, Inc. Nitschke has the first law of thermodynamics posted by her office door, and a 1970 Lincoln Mark III, which over 400 bhp, in her driveway in Northern Calif.