UA Program Promotes Smart Water Use in Arizona and Beyond

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By Shelley Littin, University Relations - Communications August 13, 2014

The UA’s Conserve to Enhance program is helping people save millions of gallons of water across the desert Southwest.

Tucson residents put their hands together to help with community enhancement projects funded by grants from Conserve2Enhance in 2013. C2E is funding 3 sustainability projects in Tucson in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

Tucson residents put their hands together to help with community enhancement projects funded by grants from Conserve2Enhance in 2013. C2E is funding 3 sustainability projects in Tucson in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

C2E community enhancement projects enable residents to improve their neighborhoods by adding trees or installing storm water drainage and water recycling systems. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

C2E community enhancement projects enable residents to improve their neighborhoods by adding trees or installing storm water drainage and water recycling systems. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

A before (black and white) and after (color) image of Atturbury Wash, a Tucson Audubon site on the southeast side of town that received C2E funding in 2012. (Image courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

A before (black and white) and after (color) image of Atturbury Wash, a Tucson Audubon site on the southeast side of town that received C2E funding in 2012. (Image courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

Conserve to Enhance helps people to save water while enabling funds that would have been put toward a water bill to be used for community enhancement projects. (Image courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

Conserve to Enhance helps people to save water while enabling funds that would have been put toward a water bill to be used for community enhancement projects. (Image courtesy of Brittany Xiu)

Tucson residents have saved 3.6 million gallons of water while contributing to community enhancement projects through Conserve to Enhance, a program started at the University of Arizona.

And now the effort has expanded beyond state boundaries, looking to assist in Colorado and California with starting their own water conservation and community enhancement programs under the umbrella of the UA-based sustainability endeavor.

Known as C2E, Conserve to Enhance is a program within the Water Resources Research Center in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is run by UA employees who oversee outreach, manage the websites and provide guidance to startup C2E groups on other locations. It focuses on helping residents and businesses to conserve water by providing participants with access to an online dashboard that charts and tracks their water usage. Conservation tips and strategies also are provided.

Participants can choose to contribute to the program with donations comparable to the amount they saved through conservation techniques, and these donations in turn are used to fund community projects for sustainability and public-space enhancement.

The program is the brainchild of Distinguished Outreach Professor Sharon Megdal, director of the WRRC, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and director of the UA's Water Sustainability Program. She started C2E as a pilot project in 2010.

The success of the pilot project led C2E to become a full-scale program in 2012. Since then it has crossed state borders, leading the way and assisting in the startup of individual C2E programs in communities in northern Arizona and throughout the Colorado River Basin.

"The Tucson C2E program has the potential to conserve 250 million gallons annually with increased enrollment," said Brittany Xiu, outreach coordinator for the Water RAPIDS Program at the Water Resources Research Center. "We could conserve an impressive amount of water with a large community effort."

Tracking Water Use – Indoors and Out

C2E provides participants with access to an online dashboard that tracks their water usage over time. "We can automatically upload water use data for Tucson Water customers, track your historical and current water use and calculate for you just how much water you conserve by joining the program," Xiu explained.

The dashboard includes graphics that show how much water an individual is saving, as well as summary information that shows how many gallons they're saving per day, indoor versus outdoor water usage, and an icon that shows how an individual compares with other C2E participants in terms of conservation.

Participants also can choose to upload their own water data and track water use on their own.

"The online program compares your historical water use to current water use and provides you with a donation summary that is based on your water conservation," said Xiu.

Individuals can choose to donate their water savings to a local program or to a different C2E program, such as the regional C2E program Raise the River, an effort to restore flows to the Colorado River delta. Participants also can choose not to make a donation and just use the dashboard to track their water conservation.

"The dashboard software is free to use and contributions to C2E enhancement funds are voluntary," Xiu said. 

You don't even have to be in Arizona to join the water conservation endeavor. Individuals and businesses can enroll from anywhere and use the dashboard to boost their conservation efforts, or they can start a local C2E program in their own community.

Participating businesses are saving about 1,000 gallons of water each day as a result of simple updates to their systems, Xiu said.

One such update is the installation of faucet aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets. The aerators increase water pressure without increasing volume, so "people can conserve water in homes and businesses without even noticing it," said Xiu.

Other water conservation tactics include installing low-flow showerheads and making sure that yard sprinklers are set for evening or early morning before sunrise to minimize the amount of water lost by evaporation during hot daytime hours.

"Many people don't realize how much water they use throughout the day," Xiu said. "The C2E dashboard has great information on ways you can improve your water use efficiency both indoors and out." 

Reinvesting Savings to Support Conservation

"The more we're able to help people conserve water at home and at businesses, the more participants will be able and willing to commit to supporting these local conservation projects," Xiu added. "Three dollars a month can really add up when it's multiplied by the entire community."

C2E uses contributions from participants to fund community enhancement projects. "The Tucson C2E program formulated a community advisory board made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including experts in green infrastructure, who vote annually on which projects to fund through an application process," Xiu explained. "After three years of awarding funding, we're up to about $60,000 in grants that have been distributed to sites in Tucson."

This year a total of $13,000 will be awarded to three community enhancement and conservation projects in Tucson.

One project, submitted by the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, will capture storm water and reduce flooding along one of the neighborhood's streets with the installment of rainwater harvesting basins and tree plantings.

Another project, submitted by the Tucson Audubon Society in partnership with other entities, will restore native vegetation and wildlife habitat at Silverlake Park. 

The Palo Verde project, submitted by the Palo Verde Neighborhood Association working with Tucson Water, aims to enhance a Tucson Water well site, improving the aesthetics and building a raised pass and shaded area while also capturing storm water on site.

To date, Tucson C2E participants have conserved about 3.6 million gallons of water, with the average residential participant saving about 20,000 gallons each year.

"Tucson is an example of what a successful C2E program can become," said Xiu, a longtime Tucson resident who studied environmental science as an undergraduate at the UA and earned her master's at the UA in soil and water sciences. "It's an ever-growing labor of love."

To join Conserve to Enhance, enroll through the program website. You can also support C2E by donating to the Riparian Enhancement and Open space box on your Tucson Water bill. All contributions help ensure the C2E fund continues to grow and invest in the Tucson community. 

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