Monday, October 18, 2010

Water Conservation in Denver

I've not posted any prior recommendations about water usage, primarily because I'm an energy engineer, not a water engineer.  However, I was reading something the other day that said Denver's water usually beats out bottled water in taste tests.  Elsewhere, I read that 60% of our water usage is for landscaping.  WOW.  We residents are thoughtlessly spraying the best drinking water in the WORLD on our lawns.

Then the announcement came that our water rates may increase sharply , so I figured it was time for a post about water and a long-term experiment of mine.

For fun and profit, I invest in Denver real estate, so water costs and landscape maintenance costs are very important to me.  Therefore in 2005 when we acquired a house with a dead front yard, we decided to till out the weeds, place down weed barrier, and cover it with mulch.   For the whole front yard, this cost $450 including mulch, and took one day with two laborers.  In recent years, free mulch from recycled trees has become common.

This simple project saves about $140/year in water, and $200/year for mowing and maintenance.   This particular yard doesn't look nice, but there are no weeds at all:

  A dirt yard doesn't look any good either, but you still have to mow the weeds that sprout it if you have a rainy spell, and you get a lot more mud tracked into the house:

We've also experimented with a few drought tolerant plants, and found cactus can be grown without a drip watering system.  Pea gravel makes for a better play area and lasts longer, but it is more expensive than free mulch.

History Lesson:
During the drought of 2003, Denver Water (DW) begged us to reduce water usage, and invoked  watering restrictions that we followed successfully enough to reduce overall usage by over 40%.   DW promptly rewarded our diligent efforts with a sharp rate increase.   See, when the number of gallons of usage goes down, the infrastructure and management costs of water distribution must go up on a per gallon basis.   Gee thanks, DW.


  1. Re : History Lesson

    You'd better get used to this.

    Infrastructure costs for new technologies will be higher than those for current utilities. Simply, this is because the current utilities use the lowest-cost technologies they can get away with, irrespective of the environmental damage they may cause.

    Infrastructure costs are paid by the customer and are usually apportioned on the basis of how much of the utility the customer consumes.

    The logical outcome is that to minimize your utility bills it is not only necessary to reduce your own consumption but also to discourage others from reducing theirs...

    Such a course of action is, of course, financially unarguable but environmentally catastrophic.

  2. If everyone increased their usage then everyone's bill would go up, as water is a dwindling resource. Colorado is a semi arid desert with people bent of having sprawl and grass, it's inevitable.

  3. Water is not a dwindling resource. In fact, global warming is increasing the liquid water supply in the world.

    But whenever water gets used, it comes back.

    Water use by people is growing, and like you say, some of these unnecessary uses can be curtailed in order for all people to have enough water for the necessary uses.