Cities reward 'lifestyle' that conserves water
By Judy Keen
More cities are creating or expanding programs that give residents and businesses rebates or utility-bill credits for installing grass-free lawns or toilets, washing machines and showers that use less water.
Warren Selkow, a retiree in Glendale, Ariz., got a $100 check — and lower water bills — after planting foliage that needs less water than grass. "The first thing I heard was 'never cut grass again,' " he says. "I thought, this is not a bad deal."
Glendale just increased the residential rebate, first offered in 1986, to as much as $750, depending on the size of the lawn. The program was expanded last year to give businesses and homeowner associations as much as $3,000.
Water conservation manager Jo Miller says Glendale wants to create "a lifestyle of conservation." Water usage dropped 5.6% between 2002 and 2005 despite population growth.
"Rebate programs have grown substantially" because of expanding drought conditions and population increases, says Greg Kail of the American Water Works Association, a trade group. Examples:
• This month, Albuquerque increased its water-bill credit for converting grass lawns to low-water-use "Xeriscapes" from 40 cents to 60 cents for each square foot. Xeriscape is landscaping that uses native plants that require little water.
Albuquerque also offers credits to residents who reuse rainwater or install water-saving toilets, washers, dishwashers, showerheads and sprinkler timers. Since the city first offered credits in 1995, says water resources manager John Stomp, 100 billion gallons of water have been saved — enough to supply the city for three years.
• Santa Cruz, Calif., this spring began sending water conservation staffers to homes at residents' request to assess usage and recommend water-saving changes.
The city pays $75 to residents who buy low-flow toilets and $100 to those who buy water-efficient washing machines.
• In Charlottesville, Va., residents can get $100 rebates for replacing toilets with more efficient models. Bill Dyer, director of the city's utility billing office, says it also has given away thousands of kits that include faucet aerators, dye tablets that detect toilet leaks, garden hose nozzles and repair kits and outdoor watering gauges.
Since the program began in 2002, Dyer says, water usage has dropped 16%.
Kail says cities are trying other ways to conserve water, including watering restrictions and encouraging the reuse of water in manufacturing and to irrigate golf courses.
El Paso plans to build the world's largest inland desalination plant, which would turn previously unusable brackish groundwater into 27.5 million gallons of fresh water daily.
Cliff Harrington, president of a homeowners association in Glendale, hopes to remove part of the 300,000 square feet of grass in the town home complex and replace it with low-water-use landscaping.
Besides the rebate of as much as $3,000, he says he wants to help the environment: "Save money, save water. It just makes sense."