Describe the goals of your program.
We are submitting this application for our Landscape Water Budget Program (LWBP). Through this program, we provide a customized, site-specific landscape water budget for different large outdoor water users based on real-time weather data. Additionally, we contract with an online platform to visually display and share the data so that it is accessible in a user-friendly format for optimum landscape management. There are a portion of our monitored sites that due to their total landscape size, we elect to create visual data summaries in-house as opposed to contracting these out. This allows us to best stretch our program dollars and maximize water savings through our potential participants.
The goal of this program was to reduce excess irrigation while helping people sustain healthy landscapes. While our customers desire to have an attractive landscape, they don’t specifically desire to waste water. Our LWBP is a way to close the gap between sustaining an attractive landscape and staying within suggested watering guidelines, based on local weather and specific site characteristics. Our program reduces excess irrigation through two main attributes: 1) It increases the amount of information that key stakeholders have regarding their water use and allows them to make more informed decisions, and 2) It provides us with the ability to recognize users and their needs. We can then help our participants troubleshoot why they may not be meeting their budget, resolve ways to get within their budget, and honor those meeting their budget.
What need or problem are you trying to address with this program?
In the arid Southwest, people know the importance of water to our community and have a desire to conserve water; however, they often don’t know the best ways to conserve water. Knowing that landscape water use can easily account for up to 70% of total water consumption in our climate, we wanted to find a scalable program that could help conserve outdoor water use among some of our biggest water users.
Describe how the program increases engagement with landscape and/or irrigation professionals within the community you serve.
Most landscape contractors never see the water use from the sites they manage, yet through their practices, they heavily influence water consumption on the landscape. With instructions to keep the landscape looking attractive, it is not uncommon for a landscape contractor to err on the side of overwatering. Through our LWBP not only do we provide data on the water use at the site, but we provide a custom water budget to compare that water use to as a reference point for efficiency. We work with a contractor, Waterfluence LLC, to display this data visually through any internet connected computer or smartphone. Furthermore, the data for the site is shared with all key stakeholders at the site, where they can hold each other accountable to bring landscape water use within the provided budget and celebrate each other when they do. Community managers can hold their landscape contractors accountable for best watering practices. Similarly, HOA Board Members can justify the amount of money spent on water consumption, when they know they have been watering their landscape efficiently
Describe how the program incorporates smart technologies, efficient technologies, best practices, or programs related to outdoor water conservation.
The crux of this program is based on providing best watering practices to large landscape water users. By knowing the site characteristics (i.e., how much turf, is that turf overseeded, is there a large body of water on-site, and the amount of planted areas) we can appropriately account for how much water should be used to irrigate based on local evapotranspiration data. Furthermore, when we know how much water we should apply, anomalies stand out. We can detect patterns indicative of inefficient, broken, or leaking irrigation systems and then do a more thorough on-the-ground analysis. When we can refine the data, we can spend more time with our anomalous cases that tend to yield greater water savings potential. We will make recommendations for improving a site’s irrigation efficiency, as needed, and then work will the site to find custom smart technologies that are best suited for their setup. Since April 2017, we have installed smart irrigation technology at 26 unique sites. This technology includes, smart controllers, high efficiency nozzles, flow sensors, and rain sensors as wall as some indoor water conservation technology as well. However, the majority of these installs are focused on landscape water conservation.
How is the program’s success measured?
There are a few metrics that we look at to measure the program’s success, they include:
- What percent of non-SFR landscape water use is being monitored through our program in Gilbert?
- Of the water tracked in our program, how much of that water could be considered waste (i.e., above the 120% water budget)?
- How many sites can we honor as a Water Wise Gilbert entity?
What are the results of the program to date?
There are 458 sites in the program, these sites include HOAs, commercial properties, churches, schools, and municipal parks using either potable or reclaimed water. By the end of 2019, we were monitoring 33% of all non SFR landscape water use (up 5% from 2018). Additionally, when we know how much of our non-SFR landscape water use is being monitored in the LWBP, we can balance that against how much water they should use, if they were irrigating efficiently (i.e., within 20% of the established budget). Consequently, we know exactly how much non-SFR landscape water waste is occurring in our LWBP. In 2019, of that landscape water use, only 7.2% was above the 20% variance (an improvement from 2018, when 14.8% of our monitored landscape water use was above the 20% variance. Using the first number, we can track the growth of our program. Using the second number, we can look at the water waste percent of our total participants and track year-to-year effectiveness of our outreach. We anticipate this number to fluctuate from year to year due to irrigation equipment failures at sites, but are pleased with a value less than 15%. We can ask ourselves if it is more important to expand our program or improve our communication with our current participants; when this number increases, it indicates to us to spend extra time on the latter. This holistic assessment allows us to see the program from different angles. Lastly, we can quickly highlight when a site is doing a great job of watering efficiently and we can honor them. Each year we assess how many sites have been efficient irrigators and can label them Water Wise Gilbert. The Water Wise Gilbert designation is dependent on meeting a few other key program stipulations – however, the LWBP is the key water saving feature of the program for any landscape water user. We honor them at a special Town Council ceremony, we promote them on our website and social media, and we give them yard signs to tout their achievements. Each year, our Water Wise Gilbert sites grow; in 2019 we honored 135 partners (up 59% from 2018).
What is the timeline for implementation of the program?
The timeline for bringing a site into our Landscape Water Budget Program varies depending on the size and complexity of the landscape. We must map out all of the outdoor water use features. For some sites, this mapping may take only a day, for others it may take 1-2 months to map and sort, especially if different types of water are used across the landscape (i.e., potable and nonpotable). Once mapped, we upload the site to our contracted platform and set up a meeting with the key water using stakeholders at the site to go over the historical water use at the site, compared to the water budget. From there we can assess next steps based on the water use. Then the key stakeholders receive monthly updates on their water use.
What is the service area for the program (i.e., population size and/or geographic area)?
This program serves all of the Town of Gilbert’s water service on a first come, first serve basis dependent on current annual budget to run the program.
What are the costs associated with the program?
The majority of the cost for the LWBP is staff time. This includes recruiting new sites, mapping the landscapes, uploading the information to the vendor and then regular monthly consumption uploads. During the recruitment phase a meeting is held with all of the stakeholders for the site, including the Owner or Manager, the landscape contractor, and in the case of HOA’s at least on member from the board. At this time the landscape water budget is reviewed and any potential for savings is analyzed. If there are issues with the irrigation system that prevent the landscape from being watered at the proper rate, we will perform a field survey to provide site specific recommendations to the stakeholders on how to improve the irrigation efficiency. Often we are asked to present at HOA board meetings about the program and the landscaper’s effectiveness in irrigating to the water budget. The main savings in staff time as been due to moving the delivery of the monthly water use updates to the online platform. Instead of manually updating the individual spreadsheets and emailing the updates to the individual sites, the consumption data is pulled automatically from the billing system and sent in one email to the contracted vendor. This has reduced the staff time for the maintenance of the program from about 60 hours a month to less than one hour per month.
With all of the program related task sin mind, the annual staff time is estimated to be approximately 200 hours per year, a yielding a cost of $10,000 annum. The annual vendor cost is currently about $18,000.