Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Colorado WaterWise Council and Indoor BMPs

After what has been a bit of a circumlocutious road for a number of organizations and individuals, it appears that some real progress is about to be made regarding identifying the true costs and benefits of water conservation in Colorado. I am speaking specifically about the Colorado WaterWise Council convening a group from across the state to develop a working list of indoor water conservation best management practices.

For the uninitiated, best management practices (or BMPs) are those activities or programs that entities can implement to improve water use efficiency in their home or business or office. Water providers in Colorado have been developing water conservation plans that list BMPs that they plan to implement for the combined benefit of themselves (water conservation can reduce the costs of developing new water supplies; postpone pricey new capital projects like expanding water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities; etc.) and their customers. However, real water conservation is often driven by individual water customers improving their own water use efficiency because it saves them money - for reduced water use reduces energy costs (for heating hot water) and water and sewer bills.

The State of Colorado has tried repeatedly to develop an understanding of the cost and benefit of water conservation, in part to support the Interstate Basin Compact Commission (IBCC) process, without success. This is not necessarily the State's fault, for good, reliable information regarding the true cost and benefit of improved water use efficiency has only recently been collected in many areas of the state. Denver Water, for example, may have been collecting cost benefit information for perhaps the last 8 to 10 years,... but most locations do not have the resources and therefore programs that Denver Water has had to bring to bear on the issue. Not until recently (the last 2 years or less) has substantial information been collected through "hands on" water audits and meaningful planning efforts to help shed light into the true cost of water conservation.

It is not surprising that the results of recent information collection efforts indicate that thoughtful, focused, meaningful water conservation can be had by any entity that seeks to implement it. The current challenge for improving Colorado's water conservation efforts is more a matter of getting the right information to those that wish to act upon it. Enter the Colorado WaterWise Council and their working group that will be attempting to bring together the most recent information collected statewide, and then packaging it for use by a broad group of water providers and water customers. Let us wish them well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Project WET in Douglas County and Aurora

Project WET curriculum and activities for the classroom has been developed by school teachers and education professionals from across the country. The activities, which are constantly being revised and upgraded and enhanced, are field tested and reviewed in hundreds of classrooms nationwide including Colorado, such that each and every component of the program is relevant and current with the needs of our teachers and our students.

Recently, Project WET visited Castle Rock's Meadow View Elementary School's 6B and 6C classrooms, taught by Ms. MaryAnn Caterina and Ms. Shirley Gilbertson. Their 6th graders were taken on a journey as water molecules, utilizing teaching activities such as the Incredible Journey and the Water Model. These activities link kinesthetic learning skills, with children moving around the room rolling dice and collecting beads, with notebooking and intuitive learning methods. No other water education program has the same breadth of learning tools or interactive teaching methods. "Thank you for all Project WET has done for me. Its truly been a blessing to my teaching," Ms. Caterina wrote.

Project WET is scheduled into the other 6th grade classes of Meadow View shortly, as well as Mountain Ridge Middle School and Summit View Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. That will mean that this wonderful program will have touched another 300 Douglas County school children this year.

Noteworthy is that in Aurora, the public school system is embracing Project WET for all classrooms where teachers teach water content. Marilyn Achten and Jennifer Nassar, who are both Science Instructional Coaches for the School District, have been actively linking the District's pacing guides to Project WET curriculum and activities. This linkage helps teacher frame all aspects of the water education effort in terms of school essential learnings and CSAP testing requirements. This is a very powerful tool that is expected to be reproduced in school districts across the Front Range.

Finally, Aurora Water continues to support and host the combined Project WET and Project Learning Tree water and watershed education program "Forests to Faucets". This critically acclaimed program takes teachers into the mountains and to the treatment plant, and everywhere in between, to help them learn about the watershed and water supply from start to finish. Natalie Brower-Kirton is once again teaching this four day course this year in June.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Proud Day in Highlands Ranch

Centennial Water and Sanitation District (CWSD) has recently succeeded in updating their Water Conservation Plan in accordance with State regulations. Although the exact date of the Plan approval by the State is unclear, the Plan now can be found on CWSD's website (Water Conservation Plan) and on the CWCB weblink site (as of April 3rd), which is indicative of State concurrence that the Plan meets the regulatory requirements.

The Water Conservation Plan update underwent substantial revision since its draft release for public comment in December of 2007. Although public comment was reserved to a handful of letters, CWSD crafted a much improved Final Plan based on the public comment and guidance they received from the Office of Water Conservation and Drought Planning. The initial Water Conservation Plan update was admittedly short on implementation details, which were added and clarified in the later draft and final product.

CWSD has included provisions for residential toilet rebates, pre-wash spray nozzle giveaway for commercial kitchens, residential irrigation system rainfall sensor rebate, non-residential irrigation system rainfall sensor and ET controller rebates and non-residential turf replacement rebate. It is unclear exactly when these measures and programs will be implemented (some time in 2009 according to the Plan), but having them selected for implementation is a tremendous benefit for the water using community and the overall financial operation of the water district (since the cost to implement these measures and programs is a fraction of the cost for replacement water).

One other noteworthy addition to the Final Plan (beyond what was included in the Draft Plan) is a comprehensive evaluation and analysis of non-revenue water (CWSD uses the term unaccounted for water). The analysis provides substantial discussion regarding the measurement and characterization of water losses in the system, and provides an excellent representation of how non-revenue water can be tracked and quantified. One key component of the tracking of non-revenue water is CWSD's meter testing and replacement program. Maintaining accurate and verifiable customer water metering systems is one key component of any appropriate water loss tracking effort.

Now the key challenge for CWSD will be to get the information out to its customers regarding the rebate programs, in conjunction with the District's ongoing educational efforts and water budget billing. It will be most interesting to watch as data is collected to characterize the effectiveness of the program and the change in local water use behavior. Improved water conservation plans are coming to be in many locations across Colorado, and in each locality the challenge will be to collect meaningful data and adjust the Plan implementation in accordance with the feedback provided by water use and customer response. We hope that CWSD can keep the positive energy going behind this important effort given all the fiscal challenges that water providers across the state have had to manage through due to recent events.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Shovel Ready" Water Conservation Infrastructure Projects

All the buzz right now relates to the President's stimulus package that is rightfully focused on America's infrastructure. American Society of Civil Engineers identified a $500 billion gap between infrastructure needs and funding last year, chiefly as a result of aging and poorly maintained pipelines, reservoirs, bridges and streets, and treatment facilities. However, many of these projects are not at the "ready" for construction - aka "shovel ready" ( the current term of art or science) - since there are first needs for studies and planning, permitting and procurement that could delay moving earth and fixing cracks and crevasses for years.

I do believe that the nation's infrastructure has critical needs, and repairing our water and transportation systems, as well as building new facilities to meet the needs of our growing communities are paramount to maintaining our quality of life and meeting our public health standards. However, we have critical infrastructure needs that I fear are not getting the play that they should, related to water conservation and water use efficiency that are in fact shovel ready and can boost the economy by creating jobs, reducing system inefficiencies, and helping to managing our water resources all at the same time. How bad can that be?

I speak of course of managing and tracking non-revenue water by the nation's water providers. Many, and perhaps a large majority, of the nation's water providers do not formally track non-revenue water in their systems. What is non-revenue water? It is the combination of water delivered by the water provider that is either metered by but not charged for (many park and rec departments get water deliveries but don't pay for it), apparent losses (for example when a meter under "reads" an actual water delivery), and real losses (related to leaks in the delivery system). AWWA estimates that real losses in most water provider systems range from 10 to 15% of total water deliveries. That means that as a community, we are investing in the energy and cost to treat billions of gallons of water a day, only to have it be lost in transit. And in some communities the combination of real and apparent losses exceeds 30% of treated water demand. Ouch.

One reason non-revenue water is untracked, relates to the cost of maintaining and upgrading customer meters. Another relates to the cost to install and manage automated meter reading (AMR) devices, which vastly improve the data collection component of leak detection. AMR has been shown to not only be useful to identify leaks at individual customer connections (like leaking toilets or broken pipes), but it also allows for tracking and identifying distribution system leaks.

The cost to install AMR technology is not inconsequential. Five thousand taps go for about $1 million, or about $200 per tap. Then there is the cost to develop a mechanism for data acquisition and mining, so leaks can be identified and managed, and billings can be supported. New meters, which for large taps (2-inches or greater) should be installed at least once per every five to ten years, are also an expense that some water providers can ill afford.

But what is the cost of not maintaining meters and upgrading to AMR technology? If it is 5% of the nation's drinking water, that is perhaps 3 billion gallons of water a day or slightly over 3 million acre-feet per year, lost from our water provider distribution systems. Just in Colorado, reducing real losses from by 5% of total M&I water deliveries could provide for about 40,000 acre-feet per year. That is about $800 million in lost delivered water costs in today's water market. These are savings that can be realized in a matter of years. What is the planning horizon for a new 40,000 acre-foot reservoir in the state?

New meters and AMR installations are shovel ready, installing and managing the data they obtain creates jobs, and responding to the data saves water. Can we afford not to move toward a substantial investment in managing our non-revenue water?

There are other water conservation related projects as well - toilet replacements, showerhead and faucet aerator upgrades to high efficiency equipment, cooling water tower retrofits and operating improvements, irrigation system improvements, just to name a few - that can be implemented to save water today, without permits or substantial planning needs, and at a fraction of the cost of new water deliveries. Seems like we have plenty of options to improve our water use efficiency as part of the stimulus package. I hope that the word gets out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

GWI and Project WET

Project WET (which stand for Water Education for Teachers) has been in Colorado since the mid 1990s. The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators, and communities of the world with water education. This organization has programs in 49 states and 26 countries across the globe, and reaches tens of thousands of school children each year.

The way that Project WET works is that it executes Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Host Organizations in specific geographies. These Host Organizations are empowered to lead Project WET in their defined geographies, by administering and promoting Project WET, and establishing a delivery system to distribute Project WET materials through workshops and other events.

Due to changes and challenges in state and local funding resources, the past organizational structure in Colorado for Project WET was in need of being revised. After an exhaustive and deliberate search process, members of the past advisory committee and the Board of the Colorado Watershed Network (the past Host Organization) selected Great Western Institute to carry on the legacy of Project WET in Colorado.

Great Western Institute is pleased and thrilled to be selected to take on this important responsibility. Last year, Great Western Institute was instrumental in bringing Project WET into the Douglas County school system, and has been helping municipalities and special districts across the state include Project WET as part of their water conservation programs. Project WET also has a strong nexus with local and regional stormwater permiting efforts mandated by the MS4 permtting process, and K-12 water education needs in general. Overall, Project WET supports local edcuational efforts by facilitating and promoting awareness, appreciation, knowledge, and stewardship of water resources through the dissemination of classroom-ready teaching aids and the establishment of internationally sponsored Project WET programs.

Great Western Institute is looking forward to establishing a regional network of program coordinators that can help expand the breadth and use of Project WET in Colorado. If you or someone that you know has an interest in supporting our efforts, or may be interested in a position as a regional coordinator, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pagosa Spings Water Audits Move Forward

Great Western Institute (GWI) has successfully initiated a demonstration SMART WATER audit program for hotels and restaurants in Pagosa Springs, working with the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and Environmental Dimensions, a local consulting firm. The demostration program is part of the newly developed PAWSD Water Conservation Plan developed by GWI, Harris Water Consultants and Environmental Dimensions through a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

GWI lead the audit team in characterizing water use in various local hotels and restaurants, looking at customer uses, facility heating and cooling, outdoor irrigation, and kitchen and food preparation operations. Opportunities for water and related energy savings were identified and discussed with the facility owners and/or managers, focusing on capital investment, rate of return and payback periods. In nearly every facility, owners and managers were extremely eager to learn about water and energy savings options - some with capital paybacks with timeframes as little as weeks to months.

Most water and energy savings identified by GWI involved retrofitting and/or replacing fixtures and/or appliances that would reduce cold and hot water use without changing customer or employee behavior. In some cases, GWI was able to install new fixtures utilizing materials donated by its various corporate sponsors during the audit, instantly saving the businesses money and the District water.

GWI and the rest of the audit team will be returning to Pagosa Springs in the first quarter of next year to provide the business owners with full reports regarding the costs and benefits of various business specific water conservation programs. GWI will also be working with PAWSD and Environmental Dimensions during that same period to plan for a larger role-out of the SMART WATER audits for commercial and residential customers in the area. Thank you to PAWSD, Environmental Dimensions, Home Depot and SSI, as well as the local businesses in Pagosa Springs for helping to make the SMART WATER audit program a success.