From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Maybe it is projects such as replacing 10,000 toilets in Denver Public Schools. Maybe it is Denver Water’s ceaseless “Use Only What You Need” campaign. Or maybe residents seeing scarcity are self-motivated. Whatever the reasons, water use in metro Denver has dipped to 40-year lows.
The total amount residents used in December decreased to 3.19 billion gallons, and in January to 3.36 billion gallons — down from previous winter highs topping 4 billion gallons, utility officials said.
The last time December use dropped this low was in 1973 when Denver had 350,000 fewer people.
“Our customers are responding. … Conservation has been successful and will be an integral part of meeting our future water needs — along with reuse and new supply,” Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said.
The low use this winter continues a trend of declining water use despite a growing population. Denver residents use 82 gallons a day per person for all indoor and outdoor purposes, utility data show. That’s down from 104 gallons in 2001 and puts Denver ahead of other Western cities that are counting on conservation to avoid running dry.
Water supply has become more of a challenge around the West, with population growth and droughts projected to be more frequent and severe. The crisis in California, where mountain snowpack lags at 25 percent of normal, prompted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown last week to hash out relief.
Farmers use the most water, by far, for food production — an 85 percent share in Colorado. Yet it is city dwellers who are making the greatest strides in water conservation.
Denver Water leaders last week declared a new target for 1.3 million customers: 30 gallons a day for indoor use.
The overall water conservation effort relies on a widening strategy: rebates for those who switch to water-saving appliances, tiered water rates that encourage using less, summer lawn-watering restrictions, and a rule that all new development must include soil “amendments” so that soil retains more water.
Water bills still are relatively low. Denver Water charges about $455 a year for households using less than 115,000 gallons, compared with $1,283 in Arapahoe County and $890 in Colorado Springs.
The recent low use likely resulted partly from citywide conservation projects, utility officials said — including the replacement of toilets in 140 public schools with low-flow models designed in Japan.
Denver Public Schools field supervisor Jeff Lane said current toilets use 3.5 gallons per flush while the Toto toilets use 1.25 gallons. That’s expected to save the city 65.9 million gallons a year.
So far, district crews have replaced 3,200 toilets, Lane said this week at Colfax Elementary. The rest should be done by 2018.
Less water coursing through 4-inch iron and clay sewer lines could complicate the effort, Lane said. “It could get caught up.” But Denver Water officials said they’ve investigated and that, as long as lines are in good condition, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Denver Water pays DPS rebates of $90 per toilet. DPS officials said they’ll also sell old brass parts, $2 a pound, to help finance the switch.
The reduced water use also is attributed to Denver Water “messaging” using billboards, television and utility bills. Last month, bills contained blurbs touting the 30-gallon target. “Each person in an average single-family house should use roughly 30 gallons inside per day, or better yet, shoot for less!”
This is “something to aspire to,” Lochhead said.
Water bill blurbs also exhorted residents to “rethink your fixtures,” consult with neighbors because “understanding how others conserve will help you, too,” and replace portions of lawns with low-water shrubs.
A widening awareness of water supply challenges also appeared to be motivating residents to use less. “Whether it is a drought in Colorado or the West,” Lochhead said, “water availability is becoming a more familiar topic for many people.”
More conservation coverage here.