Water Smart: reflections on a conference and meeting future water demand

By Mark Shively, Douglas County Water Resource AuthorityEnglish: Vector image of the Las Vegas sign. P...

This week I attended the WaterSmart Innovations conference in Las Vegas.  The event is attended by water efficiency experts from all over the United States, as well as other nations.  It’s hosted by Southern Nevada Water Authority, the water provider to the City of Las Vegas.  Attendees included Colorado Front Range participants from Denver Water, Douglas County Water Resource Authority, Colorado Springs Utilities, Castle Pines Metropolitan District, City of Westminster, Parker Water & Sanitation District, Irrigation Analysis, Center for Resource Conservation, University of Colorado at Boulder, and Western Resource Advocates, as well as the Colorado Water Conservation Board.  We stayed at a hotel on the south side of town that included a rodeo arena that was hosting a quarter horse competition.  Really.

One topic repeated in the presentations and hallway conversations is that water prices are rising sharply everywhere.  The question you heard over and over was, “How are we going to pay for this?”.  Rather than rolling over to complaints about “We conserve, and prices still go up”, the City of Santa Rosa, CA pointed out to its citizens and the press that weather and population are the factors that drive higher water prices.  If you use water thoughtfully, the prices you pay won’t go up as much as if you use water in a wasteful fashion.  Population isn’t just growing in just Colorado.  It’s growing everywhere.  Drought isn’t just happening in Colorado.  In 2012, drought happened in most all of the United States.  The efficient use of water can slow the time until projects are needed, or decrease the size and cost of a project that’s needed.  Investing in water efficiency can be a good first step.  But, water projects are needed, and taxes and fees are needed to pay for the cost of these projects.  We need to pull together to give councils and boards the courage they need to make the case to customers and citizens for the money needed to provide for adequate water supplies.

A second topic is that as new housing becomes more efficient, and as old appliances are replaced, the significant efficiencies in water use will come from advancements in outdoor water use.  Regular maintenance and repair of leaky toilet flappers will fix most of the indoor leaks in existing housing.  Smart controllers that regulate irrigation cycles by linking to weather real-time data seems to be the wave of the future, especially when coupled with good maintenance practices and modern technologies, such as rotary sprinkler nozzles.

We presented on “Engaging Communities Through Water Education”, which chronicled how our program has grown from a dinner time conversation a few years back with two really smart 12th graders, to having brought a water efficiency message to 20,000 students in the S. Metro area of Denver.  Doug Campbell is our Water Ambassador coordinator.  His talk was very well received on this national platform.  Check out www.DCWater.org to learn more about these efforts.

In addition to the sessions, the conference provided ample opportunity to network, and ask professionals from other areas how they’ve tackled some of the same problems we’re facing.  I had the chance to chat up attendees from Australia, to Oregon, Texas, Georgia, all parts of California, and Washington DC, even folks with the EPA WaterSense program.  It seems to me these are all serious, conscientious folks, who are very open to sharing stories of their successes, as well as their failures.  They love what they do, and they love learning.  Water Conservation used to be regarded as being somewhat geeky, the domain of people wearing Birkenstocks.  Today, Water Efficiency has now morphed into a legitimate mainstream part of our collective water futures, regardless of your footwear preference.  As prices rise, efficiency will becomes increasingly cool.  Water is precious.  Use it thoughtfully.  Support solutions for the future.

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