Sep 28 2015Share

Schools: A Lesson About How To Save Water

By Kathleen Ferris

The people who keep school buildings operating have a big job, and data from the City of Phoenix show they're doing it while saving water. Numbers from the city indicate that the volume of water used by school districts dropped 18 percent between 1990 and 2012.

It isn't always easy keeping hundreds of teachers and students cool, bathrooms operating, cafeterias functioning, and landscaping healthy and attractive. It’s an endless chore of upgrades and remodels, particularly in districts where some buildings have been in operation since the 1950s and even earlier.

It’s more likely you’ll find water-saving changes taking place at public school districts than at high-rise downtown office buildings. School districts are helping to lead in water conservation for three main reasons:

1.     There is an urgent need to save money on utility bills so more can be spent on teachers and students.

2.     Schools are long-term, non-profit operations that have the ability and desire to invest in changes that will save money over decades, not necessarily within a few years. Some private sector building owners are not as motivated to look ahead for decades. They may be looking for quicker return on their investments or planning to sell the building.

3.     Changing to highly water efficient appliances and fixtures is a mechanism to finance loans. Schools often make water-saving changes as part of a long-term loan package with a private energy service company. An energy service company determines what changes can be made to lower energy and water costs within the district. The energy service company then makes the renovations and receives the money the district saves on utility costs as its monthly repayment with a small interest payment. The school district gets the money it needs for energy efficient upgrades, reaps the savings once the loan is paid off and helps to conserve energy and water.

Washington Elementary School District entered into a contract with an energy service company about 18 months ago. The contract will last 15 years and is expected to provide utility savings for many years beyond. Here are the water-saving changes the district made over the last two years.

·      Replaced 322 toilets that used from 2.5 to 1.6 gallons for each flush with toilets that use 1.28 to 1.1 gallon per flush.

·      Replaced 99 urinals that used 1 to .5 gallons each flush with urinals that use .1 gallons per flush.

·      Replaced 371 faucets that flowed at 2 to 3 gallons per minute with new faucets that flow at 1 to .5 gallons per minute.

·      Added smart irrigation controllers to irrigation systems that water about 180 acres of turf at 28 schools and one administration building. The smart controllers have soil sensors that measure the moisture in the soil and wirelessly send that message to the controller. The controller modifies the irrigation run times to match the moisture needed.

The changes made by the Washington Elementary School District reduced the district’s water bill by more than $200,000 during the 14-month period from April 2014 through June 2015, when compared to the same 14 months the year before. 

Do you know what the schools in your neighborhood are doing to save water? Advocating for more water-efficient fixtures and appliances in your schools is one way you can help to conserve water now so all students face a better future.

For 46 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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