The Link Between How and Where We Use Water
By AMWUA Staff
With people taking extra precautions and proactively washing their hands more, some may wonder what impact it is having on our water and wastewater. That question does not have a simple answer because water demand is influenced by many factors. It’s also important to note that the water we are using for handwashing does not go to waste.
Overall water usage in the Valley is driven by outdoor water consumption more than indoor, as it’s estimated that anywhere from 50-70 percent of a household’s water use is outside the home. Any fluctuation in that overall usage by residents is also dependent on factors such as how much precipitation we receive in the winter and of course our soaring desert temperatures in the summer. With such a significant amount of our water being used outside the home, it once again highlights the importance of being efficient with our outdoor water use.
It’s also important to understand what happens to the water we use indoors. While we are all spending additional time at home washing dishes, doing laundry, taking a shower, flushing the toilet, and of course washing our hands multiple times a day, we are creating wastewater that will be reused. That water leaves our homes and enters our city’s collection system and flows to a treatment plant where it becomes anything but a waste. All AMWUA cities clean and re-use their wastewater - nearly 100 percent of it is treated by the cities and put to beneficial use.
That treated reclaimed water is used to irrigate sports fields, golf courses, commercial landscapes, and has environmental impacts as it's used to create or restore riparian habitats across the Valley and beyond. It is also put to an inventive use with the treated effluent from the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant, owned by the SROG cities, being sent to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station where electricity is generated for four million people in four states and is the only nuclear plant in the world to be cooled by treated reclaimed water. But recycled water use does not end there, as the AMWUA cities are continually using innovation to ensure reclaimed water is put to full use as part of our water resources.
Scottsdale, for example, operates their Advanced Water Treatment Facility, one of the most advanced water recycling plants in the world, where they treat water collected from homes and businesses to standards that exceed even bottled water quality. Due primarily to that facility, Scottsdale has recharged over 70 billion gallons of ultrapure water into regional aquifers since 1988, helping ensure the city’s long-term water supplies. In 2019, Scottsdale’s Advanced Water Treatment Facility became the first city in Arizona – and only the third in the nation – permitted to treat recycled water for direct potable water use, meaning the recycled water from their facility is so pure, it can legally be served as drinking water.
While the cities continue to reuse the water you are using indoors, remember that the water you use outside can never be treated and recycled, which should give us all more motivation to use it efficiently and effectively especially considering how much water use is outdoors. It’s one of the reasons cities work hard to help residents design, select, plant, and efficiently water drought-tolerant landscapes, highlighting yet another reason to improve our outdoor water efficiency. Things such as irrigation systems, pools, and undetected leaks can quickly add up. And transitioning your yard to xeriscape landscaping and incorporating more desert-adapted plants, can decrease your outdoor water use positively impacting your overall water footprint and of course decreasing the amount of your water bill. Also, once your water-efficient landscape is established it will save you time on maintenance which is a bonus.
Together the AMWUA cities and additional regional partners have built shared conservation resources and programs available to residents, businesses, and landscape professionals with outdoor water efficiency. Conservation is collectively embedded in our long-term management strategies and continues today. It has made a regional impact as it changed the culture of our landscapes, achieved conservation objectives, and has made our communities more resilient but that work is not done.
So, in conclusion, keep washing those hands because the water that goes down your drain is put to good use. And it’s important to remember, especially now as temperatures are on the rise that outdoor water efficiency is key to our water conservation efforts. That reality means that for us to continue to be sustainable for the long term, conservation matters, and it does make a difference. Each city has dedicated conservation staff, as well as rebates, resources, and programs tailored specifically to assist their residents and businesses. These conservation programs have ensured residents and business owners have the tools and knowledge to be efficient with water use and they have embraced a desert-adapted lifestyle, indoors and out.
For over 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org
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