BTG’s WaterWorks! program (2012-2013) was created to educate residents of Kansas City, MO on the importance of water conservation, to increase awareness of the water-energy nexus, and to help them reduce their water usage and lower their water and utility bills. Designed with a focus on maximizing gallons of water saved per dollar spent, Bridging The Gap structured its WaterWorks! program around five core elements: professionally installed water ecokits, Do-It-Yourself water ecokits, toilet rebates, rainbarrels/downspout disconnects, and rain gardens.
Over the course of 19 months, the WaterWorks! program promoted water conservation in low income neighborhoods by providing:
- 1600 water-saving ecokits (a high-efficiency showerhead, a kitchen faucet aerator, two bathroom faucet aerators, and a toilet tank bank, installed by a professional at no charge to the resident)
- 5,106 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) versions of the water ecokits, to be installed by the resident
- 1,459 rebates for up to $100 for the purchase of a high-efficiency toilet (WaterSense™ certified) with 1.28 gallons per flush or less
- 375 rain barrels
- 27 downspout disconnects
- 12 model rain gardens and 2 model native gardens
For the three components targeting indoor water usage — DIY ecokits, installed ecokits and toilet rebates — we were able to conduct some data analysis of before and after effects from citizens’ water bills. Downspouts, rain barrels, rain gardens and native gardens were geared toward outdoor water conservation measures, and we did not attempt data analysis. Though downspout disconnects were originally projected to be a leading component of the program because of high gallons conserved for dollars invested, their paucity in the targeted neighborhoods and citizen resistance to disconnecting them caused us to shift our focus to more successful elements fairly early in the project.
WaterWorks! overall proved to be a highly successful initiative, both in terms of its educational outreach and in the sheer number of water-saving units provided to Kansas City residents. The program was so well-received by the public (especially ecokits and rain barrels) that water conservation inventory was depleted well before the grant period expired. Ultimately, over 6,800 citizens participated in WaterWorks!, a high proportion of them in the six low-income neighborhoods originally targeted by EnergyWorks KC, but ultimately widely dispersed across the city.
We estimate an annual savings of approximately $150 per household — significant to the low-income households we were serving.
50 million gallons averted across all program elements
The program had the potential (if all DIY ecokits were installed) to save 106 million gallons of water a year, approximately .3% of the city’s total volume. If only 25% of DIY kits were installed, the figure drops to roughly 50 million, which we believe is conservative.
24,809,188,400 BTUs conserved!
From Niagra, the company from which ecokits were purchased, we learned that each installed kit would save approximately 2,124 kilowatt hours annually for an electric water heater, or 117 therms if a gas heater is used. We double-checked their figures with EPA experts, who felt some figures were understated and others overstated, so we counted on these balancing each other out. When translated into BTU/hrs and averaged between gas and electric, each kit represents 8,500,000 BTU (hrs or ths) annually. If 25% of DIY kits were installed, plus those installed by professional plumbers, 2,876 kits altogether would save 24,446,000,000 BTUs. To this figure, we add KCMO Water Services’ annual kilowatt hours used to process water (2,662 kwh/MG). At minimum, we estimate the city’s savings to be 106,440 kilowatt hours, or 363,188,400 BTUs. The grand total from both city and citizen is a minimum of 24,809,188,400 BTUs, if the total water diverted is 40 million gallons, the conservative end of our figures.
Total economic impact
If all water ecokits were installed, the collective potential annual savings to citizens of Kansas City, based on the estimated annual savings of $150 per average 2.7 person household, would reach over $1 million annually for ecokits alone—truly a remarkable payback on the roughly $850,000 for the entire WaterWorks! program invested by the City and DOE. Of all the stories to be told about the program, this overall figure is the best story, we think, illustrating the powerful economic impact of energy efficiency. The eco-kits installed by citizens themselves recover their own costs in the first month after installation—the best payback period of any energy efficiency measure Bridging The Gap has worked on across many programs and years. We highly recommend that the City and the U.S. Department of Energy make these kits the centerpiece of future water conservation programs, confirm their installation, and have alternative sizes of aerators and showerheads available, as the kits did not universally fit every toilet.
Professionally installed ecokits were a highly successful component of the WaterWorks! program. The contract objective of 1600 installs was completed in May 2013. Bridging The Gap contracted with America on the Go Plumbing to install the 1600 ecokits. Leonard Washington, CEO of America on the Go, proved to be an excellent ambassador for WaterWorks! Dependable and personable, Mr. Washington engaged residents in WaterWorks! by explaining how the ecokit would save them both water and money. He also took the time to educate residents about other opportunities to save water in their home. One resident commented, “…he let me know that, although the faucets that I have, like in one of the downstairs bathrooms and in the kitchen, are beautiful to look at, they are using too much water. The one in the kitchen is using about 2 1/2 gallons of water each time we turn it on. What a lesson! …This man was worth his weight in gold!” As a result of his work with WaterWorks!, Leonard Washington was able to grow his small company into a sustainable entity. WaterWorks! personnel was able to help the company establish more professional operating procedures and management. The company added a full-time office manager and is now poised for continued growth.
Installed ecokits were a very successful component of the WaterWorks! program because they ensured that all distributed ecokits were actually installed. While not all components of each ecokit were installed at each residence, WaterWorks! was able to verify that installation of the appropriate components occurred. The contract requirement of Davis Bacon wage rates reduced the gallons saved per dollar spent figure for this program component. While the ecokit itself was only $7.00 (the professional plumbers used the unpackaged, cheaper version of the kit), Davis Bacon wages brought the cost of each professionally installed ecokit to $102, causing this program component to be the least cost-effective measure of WaterWorks!—though still providing the same significant water conservation value to the city and its residents.
The Do-It-Yourself water ecokit proved to be the star of the WaterWorks! program. At a per unit cost of $11.42 (higher than the professionally-installed version because of the house-shaped box) and an estimated savings of 13,500 gallons of water per year, DIY ecokits were the most cost-effective component of WaterWorks!, with an impressive 1,182 gallons saved per dollar spent. Free to residents, easy to install and marketed in distinctive house-shaped packaging, demand for the DIY ecokits was high! Ultimately, WaterWorks! distributed 5,106 ecokits.
Downspout Disconnects/Rain Barrel Installations
The downspout disconnect program launched in April, 2012 with the distribution of marketing materials to more than 5,000 households in six targeted low-income neighborhoods. In spite of that marketing initiative, only 126 homes requested a downspout assessment. Subsequently, Bridging The Gap modified its marketing strategy and sent a canvassing field supervisor out to identify connected downspouts in the targeted neighborhoods. After canvassing 2500 homes, only 64 buildings were identified as having connected downspouts; 15 were ineligible due to vacancy or posted as No Trespassing. Only two residents contacted WaterWorks! to request a downspout disconnect. In June 2012, Bridging The Gap strengthened the incentive by including a free professional installation of its water ecokit along with the free disconnect. Interest remained very low and, in December 2012, WaterWorks! partnered with Kansas City Water Services Department to offer the installation of a rain barrel as an incentive to disconnect residents’ downspouts. Water Services contributed 375 rain barrels to the WaterWorks! program. Ultimately, WaterWorks! assessed 109 connected downspouts and disconnected only 27; however, rain barrels proved very popular with the public and 375 rain barrels were installed, thereby supporting the original intent of redirecting rain water effectively.
Rebates for High Efficiency Toilets
WaterWorks! distributed 1,459 toilet rebates over the course of the program and learned that the most effective channel of distribution for toilet rebates was multi-unit buildings. Many multi-unit buildings have pre-1980 toilets installed in their units. High water bills provide property managers with significant incentive to replace those old toilets with high-efficiency models. Program operating efficiencies improve when, with one contact, WaterWorks! can ensure large numbers of old toilets are replaced with high-efficiency models.
The Toilet Rebate component of WaterWorks! experienced a high installation rate, as residents had to put forth considerable effort to receive the rebate. Residents had to purchase the new toilet and complete a significant amount of paperwork in order to apply for the rebate. This up-front investment in both time and money assured follow through with these water-savings measures. The relatively high cost of the toilet rebate, $100, resulted in approximately 108 gallons annually saved for every dollar spent.
Community Outreach and Education
WaterWorks! spent a significant amount of time and energy providing outreach and education. The program hosted six Water Fairs, which were designed to engage community residents in water conservation education. The water fairs included six educational stations (including a popular “blinged” toilet), games, and a visual rain garden display to interact with the public. Guests were encouraged to visit each of the educational stations and have their WaterWorks! passport stamped while learning about water and energy conservation. Once passports were completed, the guest could turn it in for a free DIY ecokit. The water fairs enabled the WaterWorks! team to engage with citizens more deeply on water and energy conservation education. Through its outreach initiatives, program management estimates WaterWorks! was able to touch an estimated 10,000 people in its water conservation education efforts.
Bridging The Gap was able to directly employ 4.1 full-time people throughout the 20 months of the WaterWorks! grant, while subcontracting a plumber full time for 15 months, who in turn hired 1 FTE office administrator and 7 more plumbers for some jobs. In addition, BTG offered casual labor opportunities to crews of 4-6 each installing rain gardens, and two people seasonally employed to deliver and install rain barrels. Bridging The Gap also conducted a financial literacy program for its plumbers. We significantly exceeded the City’s required Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) requirements, and met our Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) goals as well. Bridging The Gap, as an agency, stretched and expanded its capacity through managing this complex program. With this experience under our belts, we are confident of being able to manage more large, citizen-interface-based projects of this kind, and hiring more people to run them. We have gained credibility as local experts on water, and valuable experience in hiring and managing relatively unskilled people for shorter-term projects as well as program management.
Benefits of conserving water
- Reduce your water and sewer bills
- Reduce the amount of energy needed to treat and distribute water
- Have fewer sewage system failures caused from excess water overwhelming the system.
- Have healthy, natural pollution filters such as downstream wetlands.
- Reduce water contamination caused by polluted runoff from over-irrigating agricultural and urban lands.
- Reduce the need to construct additional dams and reservoirs, retaining the value of stream and river systems as wildlife habitats and recreational areas.
- Reduce the need to construct additional water and wastewater treatment facilities.
Tips for Saving Water
- Purchase aerators for all faucets.
- Check faucets throughout your home for leaks. A small drip can waste 4-5 gallons of water a day! Repair leaky faucets promptly
- Wash only when you have a full load, or set the water level to “low” or “medium” when washing smaller loads\
- When using an automatic dishwasher, wash only full loads.
- If you must rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, use cold water and don’t let it run continuously.
- Put water in the kitchen sink to wash and rinse dishes by hand.
- Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Compost vegetable food waste instead and save gallons every time.
- Install low flow shower heads in all showers. This can save 2,300-7,000 gallons of water a year.
- Install toilet dams in all toilets. You can purchase one at your local hardware store, or make your own by filling a 16 ounce soda bottle with sand or water and putting it in your toilet tank.
- Turn off the water after you wet your toothbrush, and fill a glass of for water rinsing.
- Take showers rather than baths, but limit your showering time to save energy. It takes about 30 gallons of water to fill the average tub. A shower with a flow of 3 gallons of water per minute uses only 15 gallons in 5 minutes.Rinse your razor in the sink filled with water. This rinses your blade just as well and saves water.
- Check your toilet for a water leak. Place a little food coloring in your toilet tank. If the color begins to appear in the bowl, there is a leak.
- If your toilet flapper doesn’t close after flushing, replace it.
- If you’re renovating, purchase a high efficiency toilet.
- If your downspout connects directly to a sewer pipe, disconnect it and redirect the flow of water to a grassy area, a garden or a rain barrel.
- Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways and sidewalks.
- Install a rain barrel. You’ll get free, high quality water that you can use in your garden.
- Plant a rain garden. A rain garden’s shallow depression and deep-rooted native plant allow rain and snowmelt to seep naturally into the ground, helping to recharge the groundwater supply and preventing polluted runoff.
- Plant native plants in your yard that need minimal watering.
- Adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
- Water your lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.
- Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants retains moisture and saves water, time and money.
Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, www.wateruseitwisely.com