By Mark Waite
Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada filed a water conservation plan with the Public Utilities Commission this month that calls for a carrot and stick approach.
People who install water efficient toilets and washing machines, or tear up salt cedars, will receive rebates. Those who waste water will be punished with higher costs.
Larger utilities are required to update a water conservation plan every five years. The plan states the board of county commissioners shall adopt ordinances necessary to carry out the conservation plan.
“A key objective of this plan is to increase public awareness for all customers: residential, commercial, governmental and industrial of the limited supply of water in Nevada and the need to conserve water. A successful educational program provides information to the public which helps to motivate water users in their efforts to conserve water,” UICN states.
The company will attempt to provide public outreach at four community events per year.
The company developed a home water audit, where UICN personnel will advise customers how to complete the survey. Also, it will be provided to all customers who request a leak detection inspection.
A new billing system will convey the billing in both water consumption and dollars for a 13-month period, in an attempt to allow customers to see a relationship between their monthly water usage and the cost, along with the tiered consumption rates.
UICN also proposes instructions to customers on how to read their own meter, another step the company hopes can find and fix leaks.
UICN already reads a meter again if it indicates high consumption, to check the meter and the leak indicator, a device that spins when water is moving through the meter.
The utility company hopes to reach out to the school district to promote water conservation. Nye County Water District board member Donna Lamm has promoted teaching water conservation in the classroom as well.
Residents will be encouraged to plant xeriscaping, or desert plants, as average consumption in August is two and a half times more than January, the company states, due to increased outdoor watering. That doesn’t mean no lawn, but less lawn, the company states. UICN plants to give out a list of shrubs, trees and plants to make people conscious about what plants use the least amount of water.
Fines of $25 per day for the first offense up to $250 per day for the fourth offense, are proposed for using water without dedicated water rights or an active application for service; unmetered water consumption; construction consumption without applying for temporary service; connection or reconnection of service without utility authorization and preventing a meter from accurate readings through a blockade or hazard.
UICN states it is saving an average of over 600,000 gallons per day by using recycled effluent from sewer plant No. 3 on the old Willow Creek golf course and at Mountain Falls golf course.
The last UICN rate increase, approved in 2010, raised the residential rates for the first tier of water use from 99 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.21 per 1,000 and lowered that rate from the first 8,000 gallons to the first 6,000 gallons. Above that, rates rose from $1.67 per 1,000 gallons to $2.04 per 1,000 gallons for usage of up to 30,000 gallons, Above that, customers pay $3.11 per 1,000 gallons instead of $2.54.
UICN believes water users will respond to higher rates by reducing car washing or showering time in the short run. In the long term, customers may reduce lawn sizes, install efficient applicants or other conservation practices. The company estimates the new rates save approximately 365 million gallons of water per year.
A homeowner who installs a WaterSense toilet is eligible for a bill credit of $50 per toilet or half the cost of the toilet only. WaterSense toilets use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush on average. UICN says replacing pre-1994 toilets, that use 3.5 gallons per flush will save 10,000 gallons of water per year, replacing post-1994 toilets that are required to use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, will save about 1,400 gallons of water per year.
“Leaking toilets are one of the biggest culprits of indoor water waste which can be relatively easy and inexpensive to fix on the user’s side,” the UICN plan states. UICN provides instruction on how to check for leaks with flood coloring or dye tablets. Toilets use up to 40 percent of the water consumed inside the home.
UICN proposes a $75 bill credit, not to exceed the cost of the washing machine, for people who install a washing machine listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Energy Star machine. It means appliances must have a modified energy factor of 2.0 or greater, that use 40 percent less water than traditional washing machine, savings of 7,770 to 9,400 gallons of water per year.
After toilets, UICN says washing machines are the second greatest water users in the typical household, accounting for 22 percent of indoor water use. High efficiency washers use approximately 25 gallons per load, older machine can use twice that much.
“The utility will provide the added financial incentive to retrofit existing structures with plumbing fixtures designed to conserve the use of water,” the plan states.
These credits are available to single family homes or multifamily buildings with four or less units.
UICN is offering a $75 credit for each salt cedar tree removed, with a maximum credit of $300 for each premises. Salt cedars are very drought-tolerant plants that send deep roots, up to 30 feet deep, that exploit groundwater and kill most native plants. Local landscapers would contract and give advice on their removal. Studies in New Mexico and Utah show salt cedars use four to 13 acre feet of water per year, much more water than native trees and shrubs, the plan states.
UICN doesn’t expect a lot of customers will take advantage of the rebates, according to their conservation plan. They estimate it will cost them $1,100 in credits for the ultra-low flush toilets, assuming customers purchase 20 toilets per year; and $1,120 for the high efficiency washers, assuming 14 washers are purchased. The company expects to spend $3,050 in credits for salt cedar removal.
UICN is drafting new rules on water conservation and water rights to incorporate incentives. The utility company wants to provide definitions of “water waste” in its next tariff applications and provide warnings.
UICN along with Pahrump Utilities and Desert Utilities filed a letter with the Nevada Division of Water Resources asking to incorporate water conservation landscaping into water rights dedication required for new residential developments.