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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Focus on Outdoor Water Sustainability Efforts: These simple tips can help reduce outdoor water consumption, says Kena Fedorschak

Dec 31, 2013 02:31PM ● By By Kena Fedorschak

Reducing water consumption is a daunting task in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Valley residents currently receive water from three primary sources: the Colorado River, the Salt and Verde Rivers, and underground aquifers. Unfortunately, the latest regional climate models released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that Arizona is entering a long-term warming period; significant reductions in surface water availability are expected from both the Salt/Verde and Colorado River watersheds by 2030.

Recent studies indicate that groundwater mining activity is occurring above the “safe yield” rate and that continued overuse of groundwater will result in aquifer depletion. It is estimated that Phoenix’s population will increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years, resulting in an increased demand for water. Additionally, per capita water consumption in Phoenix is extremely high at 220 gallons per day (gpcd), versus a national average of 98 gpcd. These factors all indicate a need to reduce water consumption.

Lifestyle changes are necessary to ensure that water supplies are managed in a sustainable way. It might be a surprise to learn that indoor water use accounts for only 30 percent of water consumption in Phoenix. Specific factors influence residential indoor water use, including house size, number of occupants, and use of washing machines and dishwashers have the greatest impact. However, outdoor water consumption, which accounts for the remaining 70 percent, has a much greater impact.

For many Valley residents, water-intensive lawns are a beautiful reminder of lush green landscapes that thrive outside the arid southwest, swimming pools seem necessary for survival in the hot summer months, and golf courses provide a tranquil escape from the stress of ordinary life. Unfortunately, changes are necessary to accommodate decreasing water supplies and a growing population. Efforts to reduce water consumption outdoors are more effective than indoor reductions and should be preferentially undertaken. The following tips can help to reduce outdoor consumption in residential areas.

Switch to low water use landscaping. Making the switch from a lawn to low water use landscaping is the most impactful way to reduce residential water consumption. Xeriscaping, an approach to landscaping that attempts to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation, has risen in popularity in recent years. This approach makes use of native species of plants, requires very little maintenance and saves tens of thousands of gallons of water per year. In addition, many Valley cities offer rebate programs to encourage homeowners to make the switch. Avondale, Chandler, Glendale, Peoria, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa offer incentives.

Install a smart meter. Steps can be taken to reduce water consumption while still maintaining a beautiful lawn. Smart irrigation meters are an effective means to accomplish this goal. They automatically determine optimal watering schedules based on time of year, weather conditions, soil moisture data and other variables. Watering occurs in the early morning and late evening hours to minimize evaporation and is discontinued when the soil becomes oversaturated, such as during rain. Smart meter technologies can reduce consumption up to 25 percent.

Eliminate leaks and replace inefficient sprinklers. Regular maintenance of irrigation systems can save homeowners time and money; undetected leaks waste vast quantities of water. Additionally, replacing sprinklers with drip irrigation systems can increase efficiency of water use. Sprinkler systems, which spray small droplets of water into the air, are 50 to 70 percent efficient (the remaining water is lost to evaporation). By contrast, drip irrigation systems, which use a network of plastic pipes to deliver water slowly to plants, can achieve efficiencies exceeding 90 percent. Installation of drip irrigation systems is simple and cost-effective.

Reduce evaporative water loss from swimming pools. The average pool contains 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water and evaporates its entire contents each year. Pool covers are an excellent solution that can nearly eliminate evaporative water loss if used consistently. Liquid pool covers, which form a thin layer of protective molecules on the surface of the water, can be an effective solution for those wishing to spend less time covering and uncovering their pools. Construction of indoor pools is also a viable option. Regardless of the method chosen, significant water savings can be achieved.

Water is an extremely precious resource in Arizona’s desiccant climate, and intelligent water management is crucial to ensure continued well-being, prosperity and sustainability in the Phoenix area. Population increases and long-term warming trends will invariably result in contention over water appropriation. Lifestyle changes are necessary to ensure the continued sustainability of Arizona’s water supply; reductions made in outdoor water use are most impactful. Collective action towards water conservation will ensure Arizona’s continued growth. It’s up to each of us to help realize this goal.

Kena Fedorschak co-founded the Honor Society for Sustainability at Arizona State University. He believes sustainable management practices can be implemented without negatively impacting the bottom line. Contact him at [email protected].

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