Utility launches plan to curtail residential water use | SierraSun.com

Utility launches plan to curtail residential water use

A yard of immaculately mowed Kentucky bluegrass might be an ideal place for the kids to spend the summer playing ball, but its maintenance might be taxing Truckee’s water system.

“Landscaping is a problem throughout California,” said Peter Holzmeister, general manager of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. “It’s even a problem in Truckee. We’re just not very smart about landscaping.”

Truckee has grown to the point where the population’s water use is starting to burden the pipeline system, district officials have said, especially in the summer months when Truckee’s water consumption increases by nearly 4 million gallons per day.

“Most people are unaware the difference between high-water and low-water using species,” said Scott Terrell, head of conservation programs for the district. “There are a lot of low-water using options out there.”

The district will attempt to tackle Truckee’s water woes this summer with its water conservation program. The program will provide information on low-water using landscape and irrigation through workshops, nursery seminars and brochures.

“The biggest impact we hope to have on the community is awareness,” Terrell said.

Water use in the fall, winter and spring months is pretty static in Truckee – district residents used 2 to 3 million gallons per day in winter 2002, according to district data. However, on many days in summer 2002, district residents used nearly 9 million gallons of water, and most of it, Terrell said, was for landscape irrigation.

District officials have said they hope the conservation program’s efforts will defer having to build more water facilities, which ultimately will increase rates for residential customers.

Adding to the rationale to curtail water use in Truckee, some state lawmakers want to require water purveyors to begin installing water meters in all residences by January 2008. General Manager Holzmeister estimated installing meters would cost the district roughly $1.5 million.

With the possibility of the statewide mandate, Terrell said getting into the habit of water conservation makes monetary sense for the average customer.

“If people don’t plan for low-water using landscape, they’ll be very surprised how expensive it will be once the metering begins,” Terrell said. Officials in cities like Sacramento have estimated metering could nearly double the average residential water bill.

“It’s a lot easier to take measures to reduce water use now, especially during the construction of a home,” Terrell said.

Currently the public utility district only meters its commercial customers, and although golf courses, the recreation and parks district and the school district are among the area’s biggest water users, Terrell said, they’re still footing the bill for watering their grass.

“Commercial customers who have higher water bills are trying to lower their water bills,” he said.

Regardless, the focus of this summer’s program will be on the residential customers. The district has even hired a public relations firm to help get the word out.

“We’re going to try our darndest to get people to look at how much water they use,” Holzmeister said. “If we fail at that, the next thing we’ll do is put in meters.”

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