Surviving the Drought

By on Feb 25, 2014 in News

Rain and snow in California have been so scarce over the last 20140204_usdmthree years that about 95 percent of the state is in drought. Along environmental challenges, the ongoing drought has led to a stressed water system which menaces everything from local economies to agriculture and day-to-day living.

And although there’s been a slight improvement with the heavy rains in Northern California this month, the state’s water supplies have dipped to alarming levels. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is the major source of water and a significant source of electric power generation in California, is approximately 20 percent of the normal average for this date, according to official statements. California’s major river systems, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, have significantly reduced surface water flows; and groundwater levels throughout the state have dropped significantly.

Governor Jerry Brown Jr. urged all Californians last month to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent. “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” said Governor Brown. “I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”

Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County, Willits in Mendocino County, the small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as several other rural communities in the area may face severe water shortages in the next 60 to 100 days due to excessive drought conditions, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

President Obama has recently travelled to drought-stricken California to offer support and pledged to provide approximately $183 million in drought relief funds; the money will go toward things such as livestock disaster assistance for producers, conservation and helping rural communities with vulnerable water systems.

“California’s message to the President today is loud and clear: we need to work together and take immediate action to respond to this drought”, said Ann Notthoff, director of California advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Californians overwhelming agree that investing in irrigation technologies, water conservation and recycling and local water resiliency are among the strategies that will reduce the effects of this drought and will also make California more drought resilient in the future.”

“A federal climate resilience fund will help us meet those goals.  State and local funding and planning will also be critical. We look forward to the President and Governor Brown working together to ensure we’re helping Californians get through the drought today while becoming better prepared for a drier future to come,” Notthoff added.

While state and local officials continue to work on long-term solutions to water challenges around the country, it’s imperative that we all take an active stand on the matter. By promoting responsible water consumption among community residents, property managers can significantly contribute to stretching the nation’s water supplies.

Water-saving efforts have done wonders for Southern Nevada for example, where practically all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who reportedly visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead, The New York Times reports. Since 2002 when the drought response plan was first developed, Southern Nevada has reduced its water demand from about 314 gallons per person per day to about 219 GPCD (gallons per capita per day) in 2012.

There are tons of easy ways to conserve water both indoors and outdoors. The Save Our Water program, a partnership between the California Department of Water Resources and the Association of California Water Agencies, brings forth an array of tools and resources to help consumers reduce their water use, regardless of whether California is in a drought.

Start with taking care of the outdoors. Outdoor landscaping, which plays a big role in enhancing a property’s curb appeal and overall value, is responsible for 50 percent or more of the amount of water we use each day. Water is indeed essential for a beautiful lawn or a healthy garden, but it is also true that we can act smart about it and create a water-wise oasis. Did you know you can save 25 gallons each time you water if you do it early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler? Additionally, you can plant drought-resistant trees and greenery; install a water-efficient irrigation system such as drip irrigation for trees, shrubs, and flowers; and put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool. That will allow you to save 20-30 gallons every time you water approximately 1,000 square feet. Organic mulch is extremely beneficial for the soil as well and it prevents weeds. Implementing such policies and making sure maintenance staff follows eco-friendly guidelines on regular basis will help you make conservation a reality across your properties.

Prevention is key. Leaseholders don’t always report minor leaks in their faucets so the responsibility of checking dripping faucets and running toilets falls directly on the property manager or landlord. The average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry, EPA records show. Performing regular maintenance on your property can help nip the problem in the bud and save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars a year in operating costs.

Or, you could always resort to sub-metering the water and bill out to each tenant. When residents realize they are the ones paying for all the drips and leaks, they will become more conscientious about their water consumption habits. Moreover, sub-metering removes utility costs from the rent equation so your property remains more competitive.   

Choose energy-efficient appliances. Energy-efficiency often times translates into cost-efficiency in the long run so investing in smart appliances for your multifamily property can prove a very productive idea. WaterSense products, for example, perform well, reduce strain on water resources and infrastructure, and encourage innovation in manufacturing. In 2012, WaterSense updated its new homes program to include multi-family units. Just like the more than 200 families living in WaterSense labeled single-family homes, apartment and condominium dwellers can save up to 50,000 gallons of water per year and up to $600 annually on utility bills compared to a traditional residence. WaterSense-labeled products include bathroom sink faucets and accessories, showerheads, toilets, landscape irrigation controllers as well as urinals and commercial pre-rinse spray valves.

Ask all the residents to do their fair share. Use any means possible, social media campaigns, community programs or social events, to inform tenants about the options they have at their disposal to slash water consumption in their own homes. Cutting back on water use at home will have a positive effect on both the environment and their wallets, so it’s a win-win situation. Simple steps such as installing low-flow showerheads, taking short showers instead of long baths, turning water off when brushing teeth or shaving, as well as washing dark clothes in cold water, can make all the difference in terms of sustainable living.

What is your property management company doing to reduce water consumption and foster sustainable behavior among community members? We would love to hear your innovative ideas.