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Water Conservation News and Tips
from Please Conserve

The Dangers Lurking on Your Driveway

The millions of Americans who have driveways may not realize the environmental hazards those driveways can produce. Don’t be surprised if your community or homeowners’ association introduces rules in the future regarding driveway runoff.

Most property is in a watershed and drains to a nearby waterway, even when that property is not located close to a lake or river. Analyses in heavily populated counties indicate that 17 percent of a typical suburban watershed is made up of driveways, according to the Conservation Foundation.

So what’s the problem with our driveways? They direct rainwater runoff into stormwater systems, where it is then directed, usually untreated, to our waterways.

Auto and household hazardous waste tends to accumulate on driveways, and some environmental experts think they are a more dangerous source of pollution than roofs or lawns. In the summer, the elevated heat of asphalt driveways creates a higher temperature of runoff that could potentially harm certain fish species. The coal tar used to seal asphalt driveways on a regular basis produces dangerous levels of hydrocarbons that have been linked to mutations in fish.

So what could potential ordinances or covenants look like regarding our driveways? Shorter front yard setbacks would create shorter driveways. Limits could be placed on the length and width of driveways. The crown and pitch of a driveway could be sloped to direct runoff to porous areas and not to the street.

The future may see more “ribbon” driveways, which basically are two paved strips for a safe driving surface, with the rest of the area being short grass or a native grass. Another option could be the use of more permeable pavers as a driveway surface.

Experts also suggest that you sweep your driveway clean, rather than hose it and create even more runoff into the local waterways.

Rain barrels and the creation of rain gardens on your property are becoming popular alternatives to having gutter spouts pouring onto a driveway surface.

Here’s something to consider about your driveway: If you had a 1,250-square-foot driveway, it is estimated that in a climate that generally produces 34 inches of rain per year, your driveway would potentially contribute up to 26,500 gallons of runoff per year.

California, Oregon Governors Agree to Klamath River Restoration Effort

After years of negotiations, an agreement has been reached to move forward on a restoration effort on the Klamath River in the Pacific Northwest. Conservation organization American Rivers joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in signing the historic pact.

The endeavor will represent the world’s largest dam removal project, restoring access to more than 350 miles of salmon habitat, resolve decades-long disputes over water in the basin and provide greater economic security for fishing, tribal and agricultural communities.

“The road to recovery begins for the Klamath River and its tribes, fishermen and farmers. River communities around the country will find inspiration in the collaborative solutions forged on the Klamath. It marks a significant new chapter in our country’s environmental history,” says American Rivers President Rebecca Wodder.

American Rivers conducted the first study on the potential removal of Klamath River dams in 2004 and continually insisted that removal of the dams be part of a more comprehensive basin-wide solution that these two settlements represent. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement settles many disputes concerning water and fisheries resources, while the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement calls for the removal of PacifiCorp’s lower four Klamath River dams. The next step is passage of federal legislation to implement the two agreements.

The four dams produce a nominal amount of power, which can be replaced using renewable energy sources and efficiency measures, without contributing to climate change. A study by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior found that removing the dams and replacing their power would save PacifiCorp customers up to $285 million over 30 years.

Saving Water While Keeping Our Golf Courses Beautiful

Golfers know a nice golf course when they see one, and they appreciate one that is kept in top-rate condition. But they may not realize the effort and the science that golf course superintendents employ to put good conservation techniques to work. Perhaps the most significant is the current trend toward conserving water use when trying to keep the fairways and greens pristine.

The United States Golf Association’s “Green Section Record” has provided information to golf course superintendents for decades, dating back to 1973 when it forwarded the latest research of the times in “Environmental Concerns for the Golf Course Superintendent.”

The messages of more than 30 years ago remain relevant today, but the nation’s dwindling water supplies have made it more urgent than ever to consider methods of proper water usage.

The use of recycled water has been a key advancement, though the salt content of recycled water can be difficult for certain types of turf grasses to tolerate.

“Golf courses do conserve the use of well water by using community waste water or effluent water,” says Peter Leuzinger, a golf course superintendent for 30 years before retiring to teach horticulture and turf grass studies at Kishwaukee College in DeKalb, Ill.

“We did it at Ivanhoe golf course and for 170 homes in the community,” Leuzinger said. “We had our own waste water treatment lagoons and fed our irrigation system with that water.”

Leuzinger said many golf courses throughout northern Illinois do the same thing today, which goes a long way toward saving water, particularly during periods of drought when water usage restrictions are in place.

“The sodium (salt) issue comes mainly from water softeners discharging into the sewer system,” Leuzinger explained.  “Often the pH of this ‘grey water’ is very high at 8.4 and is treated with acid to get it close to neutral (7.0).

“Sodium build up in the soil should not be allowed. It can be treated with gypsum or sulfur and watered in. This replaces the nitrogen on the exchange sites of the soil and it flushes out with heavy rain water as it restores the soils’ fertility level and structure.”

Leuzinger said that winter snow and spring rains also help reduce salt levels in the soils in the Midwest, but in western states the golf course superintendents have to flush their greens and tees “by watering very heavily, from time to time, taking the salt out through the drainage system to reduce the concentration to an acceptable level for fine turf.”

Golf course superintendents understand what works and what doesn’t in their particular environment. “Some turf species are more tolerant of sodium than others, but might not be good grasses to use in the Midwest for golf course turf,” Leuzinger said.

The USGA researches turf grasses and their tolerance to weather conditions, and the organization is finding more requests for grasses that can tolerate less intense management and care. This calls for turfs that need less water or can handle recycled water on a regular basis.

It is not uncommon to see desert golf courses use very limited areas of grass because water usage is heavily limited, but others are seeking turfs that can go nearly dormant, but still be playable.

Which introduces a new reality for golf course pros and superintendents – they will have to lower the expectations of the players at their courses who are used to brilliantly green fairways, while explaining that the playing conditions are the same.They may be able to start with this pitch – saving water will save money and quite likely help keep greens’ fees lower.

On the Road to More “Green” Buildings

It’s becoming a more common question. And, at the same time, a more common practice. “What is a green building?”

The official definition of that would be “the construction of a sustainable or high-performance building.” Translated, it means a building that takes into account all aspects of energy and water conservation, as well as reducing waste before, during and after the building is built. It also is a building that takes into account its occupants’ health and safety.

With far more attention being given to “going green” in all walks of life, it is becoming quite common that building and home developers, as well as buyers, are taking into account all aspects of this environmental initiative.

Several tools and guides have been created to heighten “green awareness” and help manufacturers and consumers make decisions about their current buildings and homes, or future projects.

One such site is the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “green building” site at www.epa.gov/greenhomes.

The site has extensive information about “green building” with various graphs and informational categories.

For reducing energy use, the website offers a “Home Energy Yardstick” in which consumers can gauge their own energy use and compare it with others. It also recommends various home improvements that can be completed to reduce energy costs.

Water conservation is a key factor, and the site explains and encourages use of water-efficient appliances. It also reveals that there are products now that save water when the tap is on.

Showers represent 17 percent of residential indoor water use, the site reports, and that results in 1.2 trillion gallons of water usage each year. A high-efficiency showerhead fixture can save up to 25 to 60 percent of the water used during showers in the home, so the site recommends installation of a showerhead with flow rates of less than 2.5 gallons per minute. Most showerheads made prior to 1995 flow at more than 5 gallons per minute.

When building a home, there is an array of recycled products available, from drywall and insulation to plastic lumber and carpet padding.

The site also shares several ideas on reducing waste when involved in a remodeling, demolition or new construction project.

In addition, the site reminds us of the impact that building and development can have on our natural resources, including:

*According to surveys conducted in 2002, 107.3 million acres of the 1.983 billion acres of total land area in the U.S. is developed, which represents an increase of 24 percent in developed land over the past 10 years.

*In terms of energy, buildings accounted for 39.4 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and 67.9 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2002.

*Building occupants use 12.2 percent of the total water consumed in the U.S. per day.

*Buildings, and the transportation infrastructure that serves them, replace natural surfaces with impermeable materials, creating runoff that washes pollutants and sediments into surface waters. Urban runoff constitutes a major threat to water resources, as it has been identified as the fourth leading source of impairment in rivers, third in lakes, and second on estuaries.

Wind For Water

We often take for granted that, in the U.S. and most developed nations, we can turn on a faucet and immediately produce hot or cold water, clean enough for drinking. We forget that there are places in the world so remote that running water is just a myth and not a reality. Places where drinking water comes straight from the same river where people bathe, wash their clothes and let their animals drink. Places where hauling water in buckets replaces twisting a knob on the kitchen sink. In some remote locations, even finding water can be a struggle. Regions lack the technology to redirect water sources and struggle to maintain a supply big enough to survive. However, an emerging technology may be the answer to this problem.

Eole Water SAS, has helped develop a solution for water-deprived areas. The French company has produced a wind turbine device that can extract water from the air. (The atmosphere is charged with moisture and is the world’s second largest water reserve.) The device, called the Water Eole, uses wind energy to liquefy water vapor. Basically, the wind turbine sucks in air; the electricity produced by the turbine is then used to cool the air and condense the water vapor.

The Water Eole can be installed in about one hour and can produce up to 800 liters of water per day. The costs depend on the model but range from 9,000-25,000 Euros. So far, the company’s focus is distributing to humanitarian organizations, but there’s no reason the rest of the world couldn’t benefit from this technology. It is a sustainable process using clean technology to produce green water – wind is the only fuel needed and no CO2 is released. Plus, the Water Eole reminds us that water is difficult to extract and, therefore, is important to conserve.

Water Cops

Major droughts have, historically, affected regions across the United States. Most recently, drought-stricken areas such as Los Angeles and San Antonio have implemented new procedures to help fight water shortages. From restricted water usage laws to higher water prices, local governments have experimented with options to encourage citizens to monitor their consumption. More drastic measures, it seems, are needed, so, Los Angeles and San Antonio have called on the “water cops” to police their neighborhoods.

Los Angeles is now riding out its third straight year of drought. Beginning with smaller restrictions like mandating that not offer water to guests automatically and limiting sprinkler use to only two days a week, the local government attempted to reduce water consumption. But, it seems that people were not exactly obedient of these laws so, now, the city has hired a team of 15 wandering water cops, formally known as the Water Conservation Team.

The Los Angeles water cops receive tips from an anonymous hotline and patrol neighborhoods trying to catch water code violators. First offenders are given a warning and repeat offenders face a $100 fine.

Repeat offenders are not easy to find, however. Since June, the Water Conservation Team has more than 4,600 incidents, resulting in 834 warnings. Only 23 repeat offenders have been fined. The goal, said the Department of Water and Power, is to reduce water usage, not to raise money.

Similarly, San Antonio  has instated its own team of water cops. Their “Water Wasters” hotline receives more than 200 calls per day notifying them of water violations. In fact, over 1,800 water-violation citations have been handed out since April. Fines, in San Antonio, range from $50 to $100. It seems to be working because aquifer levels there are increasing despite record temperatures and a two-year drought.

Los Angeles has also seen results. In June, numbers indicated that city water usage dropped 12.7% from June 2008. These levels are the lowest overall consumption numbers in 32 years! Although the paranoia of being watched by patrolling water cops and prying eyes of neighbors is bothersome, the initiative seems objectively effective.

Even after the drought ends in Los Angeles, its not likely that all water restrictions will end, too. The city’s goal is to reduce water consumption by %15 and it must meet a state-mandated water reduction target of 20% by 2020.


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