Water conservation, Downey style

DOWNEY - To put our water use in global perspective, recent data indicates that Americans use an average of about 152 gallons of water per capita per day, whereas in the U.K. average daily water use is about 39 gallons, and in China, it's about 23 gallons per day. Most African countries surveyed are at or below 13 gallons per day, which has been characterized as water poverty.Three comparisons can be made for our own Downey community. First, when water rate increases were under consideration this past June, now Assistant City Manager John Oskoui stated that 80% of single family residences in Downey use less than 35 cubic units (CU) of water per bi-monthly billing cycle. A CU is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons, the typical billing unit for water. Assuming a family of four per single-family residence, this works out to about 109 gallons per person per day--well below the U.S. average, but almost three times more than our counterparts in the United Kingdom and over 8 times that of our water-deprived neighbors in Africa. A second Downey comparison can be looked at this way: using the new Downey water rates, the lowest single-family pricing tier covers the first fifteen CU's, or 11,220 gallons of water. Shared by a family of four for the two months of the water billing cycle, that works out to about 47 gallons per person per day--still more than our friends in the U.K., but a very prudent use of water indeed, compared to other U.S. averages. Here's a third and rather sobering comparison: if each person in our hypothetical family of four flushes a conventional toilet once, that equates to almost the entire daily per capita water ration in those African countries mentioned above. Now, you may say, that's all well and good, but they don't have lawns to water in the U.K. and Africa, so aren't these comparisons really just sophistry? And you have a point. But what these contrasts do highlight is how fortunate we are to have this much water at our disposal. And they further suggest the opportunity for more conservation in our own use of water, which is in itself at least one purpose for the new water rates: to provide an incentive to use less water. The cost of water is currently of particular concern as Downey residents adjust to the new water rates. City staff member Dan Mueller notes that the first bill at the new rates arrived in the fall and reflected what would typically be the highest water use of the year--namely that including additional irrigation during the hottest summer months. Average use during the entire year could therefore be expected to be much lower. Mr. Mueller also points out that, in discussing concerns with customers, "we always focus on the low hanging fruit first (number of irrigation days per week, time per water cycle, time of day to irrigate, check and fix overspray, replace broken sprinkler heads, use mulch, check and fix leaks, use full dishwasher and washing machine loads) and then move to the second tier of items (consider native plants, drip irrigation, length of showers if excessive)." This significant list of genuine opportunities rightly begins with landscape irrigation, by far the highest percentage of typical water use. We have discussed a few rudimentary elements of efficient landscape irrigation in this space in previous articles, and the City has also provided extremely helpful flyers with past water bills. Next week we will begin to systematically analyze the numerous ways in which a Downey resident can carefully monitor and moderate water use. Lars Clutterham is the co-founder of downeygreen, a local non-profit organization advocating sustainability.

********** Published: December 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 37