Fact Sheet: Local Water Conservation Tools

Page 1

JUNE 2021


Local Water Conservation Tools Colorado water utilities and other providers work to ensure there’s sufficient clean water to meet the needs of their communities without interruption. That includes during drought, low-water years, or times of water quality disturbance when certain water sources are unusable. Because of the state’s growing population, efficient water use and conservation efforts allow water providers to further stretch their limited water supplies. Some have implemented permanent waterreducing policies and programs while others push hardest for water conservation during drought. Strategies range from land use and zoning policies to conservation-encouraging water rates and rebates to educational programming. Municipal water is used for many different purposes: drinking, sanitation, landscape irrigation, as well as for fire protection and to supply public facilities and businesses. In Colorado homes, while landscape irrigation historically accounted for more than half of annual domestic water use, overall household water use has moved toward a division of 60% indoor use

Colorado Municipal Use, 2015 Colorado Municipal Water Water Use, 2015 12% 31% 17%

Residential Indoor Residential Outdoor Non-Residential Indoor Non-Residential Outdoor



Non-Revenue Water Loss

Source: 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan

and 40% outdoor. Even so, residential indoor water demand has decreased throughout much of the state recently, largely due to advancements in technology like water-saving fixtures and appliances, according to the 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan.

Water providers and municipalities encourage conservation Best practices can incentivize and result in water conservation and efficiency. Although many must be implemented by homeowners and business owners, water providers and governments often use a mix of these tools to promote conservation. FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE AND INCENTIVES Financial incentives to foster conservation can include rebates for efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances and sprinkler heads, turf removal and replacement with native plants, and more. They can also include conservation water rates which may be structured as tiered or increasing block rates, where charges escalate as more water is used. Sometimes these tiers are customized based on individual customer needs, or surcharges are added during times of peak demand.

EDUCATION AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE Public education efforts raise awareness and foster water-saving behaviors. These include in-classroom programs, water festivals, marketing campaigns, technical water use efficiency mapping, at-home irrigation audits, landscape water budgets, and even the use of smart meters. Smart meters, irrigation audits and water use efficiency mapping all collect real household water use data so that water providers and customers can better understand and improve their water usage. Water use efficiency mapping is used to identify a municipality’s least-efficient customers and target them with audits, rebates, education and other incentives.

OUTDOOR WATERING RULES Water waste ordinances and watering restrictions are used to discourage wasteful practices, such as watering more frequently than needed, in the heat of the day, or with overspray onto non-landscaped zones like pavement. Such restrictions can be enforced by fines, and are often implemented during summer droughts, if not on a permanent basis. A 2020 study by the Alliance for Water Efficiency found that voluntary conservation doesn’t generate significant water savings but mandatory restrictions reduce annual demand by 18%–30% and cut monthly peak demand by as much as 42%.

Building water smart from the start

Planning for new homes and developments can present fresh opportunities for local governments, water providers and even developers to reduce water use before construction even begins. This can be done through: Policies and Planning Tools: Planning, zoning, building and land use codes direct development. Some cities set “minimum” density standards to limit the size of lots and lawns, enabling efficient water delivery systems and minimizing outdoor water use. Some are designed to limit water demand with built-in graywater systems, shared open spaces with native landscaping rather than lawns, and other features. Landscape ordinances can also integrate water efficiency into land use plans to limit turf coverage, improve soil health, encourage native vegetation, and more. Conservation-Based Connection Charges: Also known as tap fees, impact fees, system development charges, or plant investment fees, these charges can be structured to incentivize developers to build more water-efficient developments. Green Building Codes: By setting a higher standard in water efficiency than standard building codes, these programs encourage green building and water use reductions and may mandate them for city buildings. The U.S. EPA’s WaterSense Labeled Homes provides the first national certification for water-efficient new homes.



Gallons per capita per day, Colorado’s current residential indoor water demand


of Colorado’s current water use is lost as “non-revenue” water. Those losses vary dramatically by basin from 5% to 18%


Gallons per capita per day, Colorado’s projected residential indoor water use in 2050


Acre-feet of new municipal and industrial annual water conservation by 2050, the goal set in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan


Gallons per capita per day, the Metro Basin’s residential indoor water demand goal, to be achieved by 2050 Source: 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan


Reducing water loss in transit

Water providers can also conserve with efficient delivery systems. The 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan found that about 12% of municipal water in the state is considered “non-revenue water” meaning that it’s either lost en route to its destination or is not billed for. This includes transmission and distribution system losses, losses from unauthorized water uses, and water that’s unaccounted for due to metering inaccuracies or other errors. Strategies to cut losses include identifying and fixing leaks, maintaining pipelines, installing customer meters to measure the water reaching its destination, and implementing water audits that trace the flow of water through a system to spot and stop leaks.

Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan https://bit.ly/3iWOcP0 Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Irrigation Restrictions During Drought Report https://bit.ly/3qnFbjT Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation https://bit.ly/3xvZo9o Colorado WaterWise https://bit.ly/2TFcrqv EPA WaterSense Homes https://bit.ly/3wB1rcn

Produced by Water Education Colorado, an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit working to ensure Coloradans are informed on water issues, in collaboration with its news initiative, Fresh Water News.

1600 Downing St., Suite 200 Denver, CO 80218 (303) 377-4433 Copyright 2021 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education DBA Water Education Colorado. www.watereducationcolorado.org

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