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Austin embraces water conservation programs

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by Austin Monitor

City of Austin water conservation programs are catching on with the public, resulting in calculated savings of more than 312,000 gallons of water a day in the first half of fiscal year 2009, according to the Austin Water Utility.


Expanded public education and marketing have helped the water utility see big increases in public participation in its conservation programs, including irrigation audits and water-efficient toilet replacement, said Sonja Stefaniw, water conservation division manager. 


This, in turn, has resulted in 2.5 times the calculated water savings the first six months of fiscal year 2009, compared to the same period last year, she said in a presentation to the Water and Wastewater Commission last week. 


“We are making a significant effort to reach the public with information and marketing materials and by going out into the communities with public events,” she said. “It is paying off.”


From October 2008 through March, water utility staff specialists conducted 275 free audits of residential sprinkler systems, compared to 87 for the same period last year, Stefaniw said. In addition, they conducted 43 audits of commercial facilities, compared to 8 during the same period last year.


The residential audits, which include checking the sprinkler system equipment and settings, typically find that people overwater their landscape, she said. “The auditors can find substantial savings from the simple evaluations.”


Another area of substantial savings is water-efficient toilets. Under the city’s toilet replacement program, eligible residents can get a voucher from the city and pick up a free high-efficiency toilet from a local vender or they can buy and install the toilets and apply to the city for a rebate of up to $200. 


From October 2008 through March, the water utility distributed 5,458 vouchers for water-efficient toilets, compared to 1,559 during the same period last year, according to Stefaniw.  At the same time, the utility issued 9,181 rebates for water-efficient toilets the past six months, compared to 2,293 last year.


Besides the marketing efforts, Stefaniw attributed increased public participation in the toilet replacement program to efficiency improvements within her department. Those improvements have reduced processing time for vouchers and rebates from 36 days to two days, using fewer staff, she said.


In addition, she said the department has eliminated inspections to verify that toilets that get rebates have been installed properly because inspectors were not turning up any problems. Eliminating the inspections will save $138,000 a year by shifting inspection staff to other duties.

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