As more residents are staying at home in response to the coronavirus, some utilities may be seeing an increase in residential water use. As the pandemic drags on, it’s easy to imagine residents spending more time in their gardens and lawns – which could result in an increase in outdoor water use. Under more normal circumstances, approximately one third of household water use is devoted to outdoor watering, and as much as 50 percent of that water is wasted due to unwise and wasteful watering behavior. Given these conditions, it’s a good time to review strategies to promote wise outdoor water use as the summer months approach.
NWPA Lawn Watering Guidelines
Following a difficult drought in 2012, the NWPA identified lawn watering practices as a key area to reduce outdoor water use and peak demand. Water use is fairly constant from November to April, but starts rising in May and peaks in July as residents and businesses try to keep their yards and gardens green. This often coincides with low river and groundwater levels in the NWPA region, and causes strain on community water systems as they try to meet peak demand.
The NWPA endorsed new, voluntary lawn watering guidelines and drafted a model ordinance, which includes consecutive day and time-of-day restrictions, applies year-round, and discourages the use of unattended sprinklers in favor of more water efficient handheld devices, irrigation systems, and water reuse options, such as captured rainwater. The ordinance bans the “watering” of sidewalks, driveways, and roads, and prohibits installation of new, water intensive landscaping (seed, sod, and planting) in July and August, the most water-stressed months of the year. Extreme situations such as drought or water shortages are addressed via emergency proclamation made by each municipality.
The NWPA recognized the value of communicating uniform watering hours and drought status criteria across a wide area. Research by the Alliance for Water Efficiency has shown that communication and messaging strategies are essential components of reducing outdoor water use, without which water savings cannot be achieved. Consistent sprinkling restrictions across communities makes communicating through a variety of media easier, since a single message can apply broadly. By collaborating and using the same set of guidelines, water utilities can reinforce each other’s messages through municipal websites, water bills, newspapers, and social media.
To assist the NWPA, CMAP reviewed municipal ordinances to learn more about the status of lawn watering restrictions. Over 60 percent of NWPA communities have adopted some form of lawn watering restrictions. However, most communities have chosen to implement only a few of the provisions identified in the NWPA ordinance, most commonly the emergency proclamations, consecutive day water use restrictions, and time-of-day restrictions that avoid mid-day watering. Thirteen communities have adopted the full NWPA ordinance with minor edits.
Check out your municipality’s existing outdoor water use guidelines and communication strategies and refer to the NWPA lawn watering resources for ideas on how to encourage more water conservation.
The latest updates page features posts about issues affecting NWPA member communities and best practices, drawing on interviews and conversations with experts.