Feb 02 2015Share

Saving Water: A Global Goal With A Very Local Application

By Kathleen Ferris

Cities in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area are willing to give you money and free experts to make water-saving changes in your home or business. But each city creates a different package of water-saving offers. Why? Because it's smart conservation planning.

A city creates a water conservation program based on its customers' demands and its infrastructure. A city must consider its demographics, budget, age and size, and the age and size of its houses and businesses. What works for a city with manufacturing and old neighborhoods, isn’t necessarily going to work for a city with resorts and newer planned communities.

The 10 AMWUA member cities implement more than 300 conservation measures among them.

Many are similar with slight variations. Others are distinct to a city’s particular needs. Here are a few examples:

  • Tempe is an older city, and during the 1970s growing grass between the sidewalk and the street was a popular design for many commercial buildings. It’s difficult to irrigate these narrow strips of turf without water pooling on the sidewalk and street. Aside from the waste, the constant spillover degrades street curbs and increases the city’s street maintenance costs. So among its many conservation measures, starting in July Tempe plans to offer a commercial development $1 for every linear foot of sidewalk grass it removes and replaces with water-thrifty plants.
  • Scottsdale wants to decrease the amount of salt in the city’s wastewater. Less salt decreases the cost of treating the wastewater for reuse. Treated wastewater (also known as reclaimed water) is often used to irrigate turf. If the salt content is too high, it also takes more fertilizer and more water to keep the grass green. Traditional water softeners dump excess salt into the wastewater. Data shows nearly half the city’s homes have water softeners and account for about 30 percent of salt in the city’s wastewater. So it makes sense for Scottsdale to experiment with three different rebates for homeowners who replace or remove water softeners. The program began last year.
  • Last year Gilbert’s budget allowed it to revive a successful program that helped Homeowners Associations reduce their water use. The city has the staff and technology to analyze the composition of each HOA’s landscaping and determine the volume of water it needs to flourish. So for Gilbert it makes sense to offer expert assistance to HOAs that use more water than needed. That usually means creating a more efficient irrigation system, such as adding pressure sensitive drip line emitters or moving to more efficient sprinkler heads.
  • Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the country, was the first Valley city to adopt a water conservation program in the 1980s, but it offers no rebates. It doesn’t need them. Phoenix has seen a 25 percent decline in per capita gallons used daily since 1994, despite a 30 percent increase in population. The city credits its education programs, a shift toward desert-adapted landscaping, and federal mandates that began in 1994 requiring more efficient household fixtures. Efficient appliances and fixtures can save so much water that it makes sense for Phoenix to help about 300 low-income families each year to replace old toilets, faucets, and shower heads with more water-efficient fixtures.

Glendale is one of many Valley cities that has a desert-adapted demonstration  garden.

Glendale is one of many Valley cities that has a desert-adapted demonstration garden.

The cities’ commitment to conservation and efficient water use is not new and their conservation programs are not stagnant. Since 1982, while working through AMWUA, the cities have participated in a regional conservation program to reduce water use. The conservation professionals of AMWUA’s ten member cities meet regularly to share data and ideas, learn from one another’s programs, and to build resources and materials for homeowners and businesses.

Most cities offer or support water science and conservation education programs used in schools throughout the Valley, helping to foster a generation sensitive to water use. Cities offer free adult classes on topics such as irrigation efficiency, how to maintain landscapes that will thrive in the desert, and how to find and fix leaks. Many cities have informative videos on their websites and handouts you can get just by calling their offices. To better understand how you can implement water saving measures that work best for your area, click on the following links to your city’s conservation program:

For 45 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

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