Voluntary Water Conservation

Thanh -- December 20th, 2007

I received my water bill from the City of Harrisonburg today and this was on it –

“Customer Message

Voluntary Water Conservation Status: www.HarrisonburgVA.gov/Conservation for more details.”

On November 15, 2007 Department of Public Utilities (Water/Sewer) Director Mike Collins gave an update to City Council on City Water Resources and asked Council to enact Section 7-2-19 of the City Code to implement voluntary water conservation. City Council minutes read:

“Enacting this ordinance will allow the City to provide educational efforts regarding various practices that can be used during water conservation. He also said Governor Timothy Kaine has issued a voluntary water conservation plan to implement across the state and has urged localities to enact measures to update drought contingency planning. “

City Council approved this motion.

I was present at the Council meeting and listened to Mike Collins describe to Council what the capacity of Switzer Dam is and how low/high it was, and his concerns that if more rain didn’t come that it may have to request mandatory conservation. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the numbers.) These are some recent stories that have been in the local news over the last two months or so:

Governor Kaine’s call for water conservation was reported on WHSV also. National Parks are banning campfires because it has been so dry. In Chesapeake, Virginia the Dismal Swamp Canal had been forced to close due to the drought.

This USGS website, Drought Watch Virginia, and DEQ’s Drought Information shows current data on drought conditions in Virginia. The southern part of the State appears to be the driest currently. There seems to be insufficient data for all of Rockingham County, but from DEQ’s website the County is within the “Abnormally Dry” area which is the best designation considering the rest of the State fairs worse from Moderate Drought, Severe Drought, Extreme Drought, to Exceptional Drought. The State Drought Monitoring Task Force released this monthly report yesterday, December 19. (Although a dry read, its a really good report).

So what can we do? As you do things around your house you can find ways to conserve more water –

  • Check toilets for leaks and later install a low-flush toilet
  • Don’t let the water run while washing dishes or brushing your teeth
  • Install a low-flow shower head or aerators in your sink faucet
  • Water your lawn in the early morning so you don’t loose water to evaporation during the warm day and don’t waste water by watering your driveway or sidewalk
  • Install a rain barrel and use it on your garden, your plants will love you for non-chlorinated water (buy or build one)
  • Run only full loads in the dishwasher and washer. When they’re ready to be replaced, buy energy efficient models that also use less water

Here are more tips (and more). You can also learn more about stormwater management and groundwater recharge. A few things around your house you can do –

  • Disconnect your downspouts and let water naturally filter into the ground (but away from your foundation) instead of flowing into the storm drains and into the stream to be absorbed elsewhere
  • Consider installing a raingarden in your yard (if appropriate) and support other biorention measures in area developments. (good fact sheet; more in depth)

(I’ll try to post more later on stormwater management, as its a pretty big and important topic to me. Here’s a good resource in the meantime, Center for Watershed Protection.)

And lastly I leave you with this interesting read from the New York Times, “From Sewage, Added Water For Drinking” which follows one Florida locality is starting “a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water.” “They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.”

20 Responses to “Voluntary Water Conservation”

  1. Frank J Witt says:

    Thanh ~ Thank you for the TONS of info. I also liked how you added the “dry” read info.

    I look forward to using rain barrels soon. I am also glad that WE do not use anywhere near the average o 60 gallons per day. That is a sickening amount. I like to click http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?01625000 to keep an eye on my favorite river.

    Thanks again.

  2. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the links.

    I have taken some measures to reduce my own water consumption, but I’ve often thought we do with potable drinking water is odd. Or maybe stupid and wasteful is another word for it. We defecate in potable water, or spread drinkable water out over the garden and yard. This seems ridiculous.

    I realize that an additional plumbing/sewage line would be needed to pump non-potable water into the house for everything else we use potable water for. And that system would likely be cost-prohibitive. But when I look at my Harrisonburg water bill, it shows my usage of water in the thousands of gallons. I have to think: that’s all been treated to be drinkable. I’m pretty sure I’m not drinking thousands of gallons of water per month.

  3. linz says:

    Thanks for the great info!

    Related to this, we implemented steps toward water conservation when we moved into our new house earlier in the year. However, I was disappointed to see that on our city water bill, there is a minimum that they charge, even if the cost of your water consumption was less than that amount. We’re paying almost double for what we actually use. I was proud of us for convserving so much water, but am annoyed that our bill didn’t really go down and we’re having to pay to cover other peoples’ water consumption. Also, there are people out there more likely to conserve based on cost savings, and that doesn’t leave much of an incentive for them to conserve.

  4. finnegan says:

    Good point, linz. If local officials are serious about wanting people to use less water, the incentive should be in the bill: don’t charge us for what we don’t use.

    If city council thinks water conservation is important as the drought goes on, perhaps this is something they should take a very close look at.

  5. Frank J Witt says:

    I e-mail the mayor the following:

    Dear Mr. Eagle, can the city council please take some time and look into the billing practices of our local water company? It seems that even if you cut your consumption of water to help with a possible drought, you can only drop your water bill so low. Do you know why this is and what can we do about this? If you don’t know about this you can follow the discussion here: http://www.hburgnews.com

    Thank you.

  6. Thanh says:

    From the City Public Utilities main page, I found this link: http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/index.php?id=1196 “Harrisonburg Water Supply Outlook”

  7. Bubby says:

    What is the status of the Harrisonburg “eastern supply” improvement? That was the pipeline to the South Shenandoah River.

  8. charles chenault says:

    The minimum water fee on first glance does not make sense from the conservation encouragement standpoint. I will look into this. Kudos to the Linz’s on utilizing water conservation in your new house. On the eastern water source, the intake and pumping station is complete I believe. Funds are accumulating in the water department capital improvement fund to build the pipeline back to the city’s water treatment plant. Some of us believe this water and the ensuing infrastructure could be utilized more efficiently and are encouraging talks with the county to look at some sharing options which I thinks makes much sense. Brent – you mean occassionally you don’t drink from the porcelean goblet. Merry Christmas on that one.

  9. Bubby says:

    Thanks for that update Charles. Our house pets are grateful for the quality of the toilet bowl water!

  10. finnegan says:

    Only around Halloween, Charlie. It’s the only container I have that’s big enough to bob for apples in.

  11. Tim says:

    I don’t have time to dig out one of my Hburg water bills but I’m pretty sure that a lot of other services (trash pick up comes to mind) are included in that bill as well and I believe that is the reason you can’t significantly reduce it. I think the “water” part of my personal water bill only accounts for about a third of my total bill. I’m not real on top of my finances though.

    Finn, if you ever need a large bucket on Halloween, dude, just ask…

  12. Thanh says:

    Tim is right about the Water Bill also having charges for Refuse (and recycling), which is $20 for residential, and commercial rates vary. I’m looking at the back of my water bill right now which defines what all the charges are and how much we get charged per 1000 gallons of water used. Its really amazing to me how “cheap” our water is. For 0-2,500 gallons of water its only $2.23 for City residents. However, linz is right that there is minimum bill of $37.09/ month for water, sewer & authority, refuse and tax. I imagine some of these costs can’t get any cheaper due to adminstrative costs of sending a person out to read the meters, to drive around to pick up trash and recycling (whether you put it out or not they still have to drive around town), handling billing, and mailing out bills and receiving payment – so I believe these costs are justified.

    But I do see linz’s point in that there are people out there, unlike us, who will only conserve if there is a large cost savings in doing so. Unfortunately, I only see these outcomes: 1) Status quo – The City & Sewer Authority keep their prices as low as they are and try to encourage individuals to conserve water, make less trash and recycle through education because its the right thing to do or 2) Prices go either artificially up now to save us later or 3) prices will go up when we are in severe drought or when we are out of landfill space and that’s when economic forces will make people conserve.

  13. Thanh says:

    I found this on a website about water:

    “Water is a bargain. The average price of water in the United States is about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons. At that price, a gallon of water costs less than one penny. How does that compare with one can of soft drink?”

    http://www.drinktap.org/kidsdnn/Portals/5/story_of_water/html/costs.htm

  14. Draegn88 says:

    In going over previous bills, I have found that regardless of the amount of water used that I still am paying the minimum fee. Apparently I use more in the summer than winter. So I ask myself, why shouldn’t I use more in the winter and balance out my water usage since I’m paying for it anyway?

    Like Linz, I find myself annoyed at the neighbors who have to wash and wax all five cars every week. The neighbor who’s grass in emerald green even when it’s 95 degrees and has not rained for weeks. I wonder if these minimum fees are in part to make up for those people who leave the area every year without paying for the services they’ve used?

  15. David Troyer says:

    While the minimum fee doesn’t make sense from a conservation standpoint, I think it makes sense overall. There is obviously a major cost for infrastructure, and the minimum fee I would imagine helps support that. We also have to subsidize the costs of hook-up that aren’t covered in the fees the city charges.

  16. David Troyer says:

    hmm… maybe the sarcasm in my last post isn’t evident enough, I wouldn’t mind seeing an adjustment of that system so that hook-up fees better covered the actual costs of hook-up.

  17. charles chenault says:

    David – we have a draft of a new hookup fee schedule before us that more accurately relects the actual costs, especially for commercial and big development customers.

  18. Tim says:

    I think that a major problem in our society right now is that we expect government to fix everything but nobody wants to pay any money (taxes) so it can do it. Thanh and David are right that the water is cheap, and I’ll add that life is good overall, but we take a lot for granted. I will continue to happily pay my bills to this city in return for the quality of life that I enjoy.

    With that said I do agree with Thanh that conservation is something that should be on all of our minds. Oil was cheap, it was a commodity that we took for granted at one point…

  19. finnegan says:

    I found some info my earlier comment regarding non-potable clean water for uses other than drinking.

    It’s called Graywater.

    “Recycled greywater from showers and bathtubs can be used for flushing toilets, which saves great amounts of water. Many attempts at this have been made in Germany.”

    Many states in the U.S. have been experimenting with this, also.

  20. Thanh says:

    I found this interesting video on Corbin’s I’m Spatial website. Its by a Charlottesville group called “Charlottesville Tomorrow” and it covers rainwater harvesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJS6Yu28LeY

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