Cindy Moe is an industrial water conservation engineer with Denver Water (www.denverwater.org). Her mission is to encourage business and residential consumers to reduce their water consumption. She’s an expert in spotting opportunities for saving water and enjoys explaining how she can often tell how much water a toilet uses per flush by its color. “If you have a blue or pink toilet,” she says, “it’s time to get a new one!” In itself, that’s an interesting comment on the fickleness of our tastes.
Denver Water has recognized that it will face potentially serious water shortages in the coming decades as Colorado’s population grows, and conservation is part of a three-pronged approach to meet future demands; the other two approaches are recycling water and finding a new supply (I think our electric utilities might want to add a little more weight to their conservation efforts for the same reason).
With that in mind, Denver Water has residential and commercial programs that encourage water conservation. On the residential side, rebates are offered on clothes washers, toilets and certain outdoor water-saving devices. Toilet flushing is typically the largest consumer of water in most homes, and Denver Water will offer a rebate of $75 on up to three replacement high efficiency toilets (1.28 gallons per flush) per home. These things cost about $75 so if you’re a halfway handy do-it-yourselfer who can install them, you start saving money from the first flush. Infinite return on investment — not a bad deal, eh? Even if you have to pay a plumber to install the new toilets, payback is typically less than one year. Cindy Moe says this program has really taken off in recent years. Here’s where to learn about Denver Water’s residential rebate programs (www.denverwater.org/Conservation/Rebates/2011ResidentialRebates).
Similar rebates (www.denverwater.org/Conservation/Rebates/2011IndoorCommercialRebates) for low flush toilets, waterless urinals and other equipment apply to commercial organizations. In addition, Denver Water offers free audits (www.denverwater.org/Conservation/Audits) to all customers to help identify opportunities for reducing water consumption. As part of an incentive program, Denver Water will pay companies that make a long-term commitment to reduce consumption by means of process changes and installation of water-saving equipment (behavioral changes only do not qualify for these incentives).
The way it works is that Denver Water will establish a consumption baseline prior to the changes and will then monitor usage for a 12-month period after the changes have been completed, taking into account variations caused by changes in the production or activity level of the business. Denver Water will then pay the company $18.50 for each verified 1,000 gallons of water saved annually (minimum of 100,000 gallons must be saved) up to a maximum of 50 percent of the project cost or $40,000, whichever is lower. This payment, of course, adds to the financial benefit accruing to the company from the lower volume of water it now purchases from the utility, a double benefit. In fact, companies that invest in water conservation through this program will most likely see even further cost reductions from other sources — reduced chemical treatment costs and lower sewage charges for wastewater processing. Here’s an impressive example (www.water.denver.co.gov/Conservation/IncentivePrograms/IndoorCommercial/SmartWaterUse/Kaiser) from the most recent edition of Denver Water’s Smart Water newsletter.
Depending on the nature of the process and/or equipment changes required, Cindy says that a two-year payback is occasionally possible including the incentive payments, but it’s generally longer than this. Companies often say they’d rather invest available funds in their core business activities, to which this writer responds: “How often can you get a two-, or even three-, year payback in an investment in your core business? Heck, a three-year payback is a 26 percent IRR!”
We all take water as a God-given right. The reality, of course, is that it costs a great deal of money to provide clean, high-quality water. It’s a limited resource, yet it’s priced so low (much less than monthly internet or cell phone service) that we don’t have much incentive to use it as wisely as we should. This situation is likely to change in the coming decades as populations grow worldwide while the total amount of fresh water remains constant. Probably time to get ahead of the rising price curve and make some money by ditching that 25-year old primrose yellow water-guzzling toilet. You can reach Cindy Moe at email@example.com or at 303-628-6009.