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H2OSAV Program Is Evaluating Impacts of Water Conservation Programs

H2OSAV (Water Savings, Analytics, and Verification) is a UF/IFAS Extension program helping measurably save Florida water. The program is led by UF/IFAS State Specialized Extension Agent, Dr. Nick Taylor. The program works with local governments, utilities, companies, and individuals who are interested in saving Florida’s water.

The H2OSAV team cleanses, screens, and enriches water use data provided by their partners. Dr. Taylor’s team has developed tools that use this data to help their partners with conservation efforts. In addition, they analyze the data to look for actionable insights. They share these insights directly with partners and to a larger audience.

One focus of H2OSAV is the evaluation and comparison of individual water conservation programs. There are four main things to consider:

  1. Effectiveness: Does the program save water at all?
  2. Significance: Is the water saved a significant amount?
    • Not just statistical- is it meaningful?
  3. Reliability: Will all the participants in the program see water savings?
    • Think about a toilet retrofit program. There’s going to be much more water savings by changing the toilet in the main restroom than replacing the one on the second floor that no one uses.
  4. Persistence: Will the change in the consumption persist and for how long?

Dr. Taylor evaluated four water conservation programs in the Central Florida Water Initiative area (CFWI). Through irrigation audits and evaluations, 2,591 units saved 120 gallons of water per day, on average. Through installing a smart irrigation controller, 108 units saved 116 gallons of water per day. Irrigation restriction enforcement  saved 15,094 units 43 gallons per day. Toilet retrofits for 1,969 units saved 31 gallons of water a day.

After evaluating the programs, the next step is to increase the effectiveness of these programs. When breaking down the daily water savings, homes with a higher water use saved the most water from the conservation programs.

One of the utility partners, Toho Water Authority (TWA), is using this insight to install smart controllers at no cost to the homeowners.  For this program, they are focusing on homes with significantly high water use (1500 gallons per day). These homes have the opportunity for the greatest amount of water savings. H2OSAV is helping to identify those high-use homes.

To further demonstrate why H2OSAV recommends focusing on these high users, Dr. Taylor provides two scenarios.

  • Scenario 1: A home uses 1,475 gallons per day. Indoor water use is typically 150 gallons of water per household, per day. The typical irrigator in the TWA territory is using about 300 gallons a day outside. That means reducing this homes water use to the typical amount would save 1,025 gallons of water per day, per household. This would be a very significant program.
  • Scenario 2: A home uses 459 gallons per day. They use the typical 150 gallons indoors, and they use 309 gallons outdoors. This would be a potential savings of only 9 gallons per day, per household. Installing smart controllers for those home would not be very cost-effective ($ per 1000 gallons saved).

By focusing on the homes that use the most water, this is going to be one of TWA’s most cost-effective programs.

H2OSAV encourages their partners to focus on these high users for their water conservation programs. By doing this, “that’s when our [water] savings will be effective and significant and reliable and persistent.”

Written by Alex Giang, CLUE Communications Intern, and
Kaitlin Robb Price, H2OSAV Communications Specialist

Watch the recording (Dr. Taylor starts at 43:19).

Q&A Session

About your slide, “Effective, Significant, Reliable,” should a drop in water use following a significant acute spike count as savings, even if the post-spike use doesn’t drop below the baseline?

Dr. Taylor: Great question! It depends. Was the utility proactive? Are they the ones who helped contact the customer and helped get whatever that leak was fixed? One good example is Clay County Utilities. They have an AMI system, an automated meter infrastructure that reads meters automatically once every hour.That data goes to the utility. If your water use doesn’t go down to zero within about a 24 to48-hour period, they contact you immediately. They’ve had tremendous drops in water use. There is a debate about how long you can count those savings, but it really is about the productivity of the utilityWe can’t just count everybody who’s dropped from a spike, but if it’s the utility that instigates that then they do claim credit for it.

What is the largest consumption of water by residential consumers? Toilet, shower, dishwasher, clothes washer…?

Dr. Taylor: Irrigation! Irrigation! I could be wrong about this, but I do not think there’s a faster way to pump water out of the pipes then the irrigation systems. You have the distributed irrigation heads, and it uses a ton of water very quickly.

Here’s a bonus question for you and everyone else. What’s the largest indoor use of water? Toilet, dishwasher, sink…?

Moderator:  I actually have the answer in front of me…it’s toilets! Toilets are 27% of indoor use. Clothes washers 22%, 17% used for showering, 16% faucets…etc… 14% nationwide due to leaks! H2OSAV, right? You help identify leaks.

Targeting high water users for rebate programs is hard to explain to some citizens, as they perceive it as rewarding water wasters. Has anyone found good ways to frame this messaging?

Dr. Taylor: I understand where it’s coming from, but if our goal is to save water we have to go where the water is being used. We could spread it out, but we wouldn’t be as effective. Orange County Utilities has another great idea for a program that I am looking forward to. They’re just going to target these high users and  go help them reset their irrigation timer. That’s the whole idea for the program. Not going for the full evaluation, just go and help reset the timer – that’s it. Timer first, then look at the other stuff. A lot of what Toho is going to accomplish with smart controllers they’d like to accomplish by resetting the irrigation timer, but in order to get these folks to participate they’re going this other route with just smart controllers.

Moderator: Just to add on to that, one thing I wanted to ask the panel last week, but we ran out of time, is one thing that Adam Jones of Massey Services mentioned, and that is in general, in Florida, irrigation is not done very well. FNGLA has had a multiyear initiative to try and get that changed. There’s a voluntary licensed program but there’s no mandatory… in most municipalities there’s very little requirement to become an irrigation contractor, you just need a business license, and what we see is a lot of systems are not put in based on best practices; they’re just kind of doomed from the start to waste water. So, I don’t know if we can answer that, but I wonder why… and that’s kind of the root cause of a lot of our problems here.

Are you looking to onboard additional communities? If yes, what requirements or features would you be looking for in those possible communities?

Dr. Taylor: We are at a point right now where we would love to work with more communities, but we’re about at the limit for the staff that we have. I do look forward to growing the H2OSAV program to other counties or other municipalities. In the meantime, I would be glad to work with any communities to talk about the methods that we use, what we do, and how it might be implemented. That said, we do have St. Cloud coming on board in the very near future. But, yes, we’d love to talk more about that. There’s a get involved page at: https://h2osave.buildgreen.org. That has information about what we do, the data that we collect, and how to get that conversation started.

I’ve got a comment here about working with people in Marion County… telling a homeowner that has a home purchased after 1995 that they don’t qualify for a rebate, because they’re home was built after – so whatever program this is, is targeting older homes pre ’95.

Dr. Taylor: That would be toilet rebate programs. And that’s because the code changed in ’94 to require toilets to be more efficient. So if you really want savings, you focus on replacing the older toilets .

I would love to see an Extension-led program, such as the Toho project, perhaps use trained volunteers to support the human resource; imagine 100 high users in every county. Is there any conversation about this as a possibility?

Dr. Taylor: Yes, there is, and we would love to do that. There’s going to be more communication coming from the H2OSAV program. There’s going to  be more work with our Extension agents in the field.That’s part of the progress we’re hoping to see in the near future.

Have utilities considered adopting grey water technologies for irrigation?

Moderator: I think there’s a Department of Health thing with grey water.Other people on here probably know a lot more about it than I do, so feel free to comment. But I think there’s an issue of the grey water… in Florida, the way our laws are they’re not conducive to having that as a system, unfortunately.

Yilin Zhung (from the chat box): After March 1st 2009, the Florida building code was updated and specifies that grey water may only be used for flushing toilets and urinals, and any discharge from the building must be connected to a public sewer or an onsite sewage treatment disposal system in accordance with Chapter 64E-6 Florida Administrative Code. Landscape irrigation is no longer included as a permitted use of grey water in the Florida building code.

St. Augustine grass requires a lot of water. Drought tolerant ground covers would be better.

Moderator: It’s right plant, right place, right? St. Augustine can be managed; it doesn’t have to be a water hog. I think in a lot of places we’re putting it on poor soils; we heard a little bit about this last week, that companies like Massey Services are using compost. Coming up, some of our specialists are going to talk about the compost research that’s been done (Urban Landscape Summit Webinar 3/17/21)

How much effort is going towards reducing the amount of [irrigated] turfgrass in landscapes and increasing use of plants appropriate to the property?

Dr. Taylor: I know Stacey Greco is working on a program here in Alachua County (“Turf SWAP”), and I know other people do that in certain places. Certainly, the FFLTM program is working toward that,  as well as the Master Gardener Program.  We’re all on board with it, and we’re working towards it. I think some of the things that I’ve seen from utilities and municipalities are related to landscape ordinances, limiting some of the irrigation, and pushing towards Water Star. I know we talked a lot about Toho Water Authority, but they’re working with their builders and developers to incentivize them to reduce the lot size, reduce irrigation in the backyard, and diversify the plant palette. Essentially, they started with the Water Star Program and have  built on that over the years. They have a fairly progressive program that’s actually required for all new homes.

Moderator: Right, we heard about that a little bit last week as well, where in Toho and in On Top of the World (Marion County) they’re reducing the size of the irrigated landscape.

Among the high water users, to what extent  do pools or other non-irrigation uses of water contribute to high usage?

Dr. Taylor: Actually, not very much. People with pools do have higher water use, but not to the extent that you might think. Unless their pool has a leak, it actually requires very little water input other than rainwater. There’s certainly some spikes that we see with people who had issues with their pool and had to refill and things like that, but ongoing increased water use is somewhat minimal.

Moderator: Yeah, we’ve looked at that in the past in some of the work that we’ve done, and my N=1 anecdotal knowledge is, “I pump my pool out way more than I put water in it.” We just get a lot of rainfall. So, unless their automatic refill system (if they have one) is messed up, then it’s probably not as big of a problem as it is in say Arizona or Nevadawith the desert climates.

Based on the data presented during the first presentation, it seemed that enforcement of water conservation policies/ordinances resulted in good savings; however, enforcement is very limited in most places.  Have there been discussions about dedicating funds to increase counties’ ability to increase enforcement?

Dr. Taylor: We certainly talked about it a lot with the CFWI conservation team, and it’s now on their list of conservation practices as a target. It would be great to see increased funding for that. I don’t know of any place that is actively increasing the funding for it, though.

Are there aggressive water savings programs such as these in the Panhandle?

Moderator: Good question. H2OSAV is not in the Panhandle yet, right Nick?

Dr. Taylor: That is true. We’ve not been in the Panhandle. I have done some work with data from Tallahassee’s utility, but that was probably more related to energy. We’ve talked with them, but we’re not active in the community.

Moderator: I think it goes back to the future water demand issue; it’s just not as much there as it is in the peninsula, particularly CFWI.

With AMI it seems you can do irrigation enforcement from a desk.

Dr. Taylor: Yes, and Toho Water Authority does that. I know for a fact that OUC sent out mailers to high water users, and those were automated in the same way.They’re looking at short interval data and seeing, essentially, if you water this many times over the course of the week, you must be breaking the restrictions, no matter which side of the road you’re on.