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Experts discuss good water stewardship, money-saving tips

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 20, 2016

 Tips to save money and use water more effectively include watering lawns at night, fixing leaks, turning off faucets while brushing teeth and shaving, and using mulch around trees and other plants to slow the evaporation process.

Tips to save money and use water more effectively include watering lawns at night, fixing leaks, turning off faucets while brushing teeth and shaving, and using mulch around trees and other plants to slow the evaporation process.

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Water bills can add up quickly, especially with residents trying to keep their lawns verdant in the midst of drought-like weather conditions.

A local department of public works director and the chief operating officer of the Great Lakes Water Authority weighed in on what residents can do to save water costs and be good stewards of a finite natural resource.

Shelby Township DPW Director David Miller said the first thing his department requests is that, on hot summer days, residents with odd street numbers water their lawns on odd days and residents with even street numbers water on even days.

“One of the primary factors in our water rates is the peaking factor and, by doing this, we try to level out that peaking factor over a couple days so we don’t get hit all at one time,” Miller said.

Another thing Miller said his department asks of residents is to not water between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., which puts a high amount of demand on the township’s reservoir.

“What we ask is that (residents) water between midnight and 5 a.m. because, in our contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority, they won’t count that time toward our peak rates,” he said.

Miller explained that, with high demand, more energy is required to treat and store the water to deliver it.

“With great demand, everything costs more,” he said.

All water and sewer customers in the township pay the same rate, he said, but part of the wholesale cost is based on peaks, so Shelby Township gets charged more than other communities because it has very high peak demands.

“In the summer, often our peaks are three times higher than our normal average due to lawn irrigation,” he said. “But what we have noticed in the last five years is that brown is becoming the new green.”

Miller warranted a guess that residents, as the nation comes out of a recession, cut costs wherever they could, including lawn irrigation.

“Your grass goes dormant (and turns brown when you don’t water it), but, with the first rains coming back, it turns green again,” he said. “It doesn’t look as nice, unfortunately, because weeds can prosper when the grass is a little drier, since weeds are more hardy.”

Miller recommended that water and sewer customers purchase a second meter to measure lawn irrigation usage. Not all communities offer this option.

“This year is a lot different than past years. It has been extremely dry — we’re about 2 inches low on rain for the year — and warm,” he said. “Water usage is down probably 10 percent over the past two years.”

Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer of the GLWA, said that each community in the tri-county area serviced by the GLWA operates differently when it comes to peak times and restrictions.

“Water is very precious and deserves our stewardship and protection,” Porter said. “We only have one water, which is essential to human life — over 70 percent of (the human body is) water.”

Porter offered some surefire tips to conserve water.

A major way, she said, is to check for and repair leaks in homes and businesses.

“(You can) stop your usage of water and monitor your water meter for two hours. If it does not register the exact same, you have a leak in your home that needs to be investigated,” she said.

Porter also recommended installing water-saving faucets and appliances; making sure dishwashers and washing machines are full before using them; and changing behaviors.

“(We should) not allow the water to run while washing hands, shaving or even washing dishes or vegetables,” she said.

When irrigating lawns, she said, a light watering will simply evaporate, and a heavy watering could be wasteful.

Porter suggested using an empty tuna can as a gauge while watering lawns — once the can is full of water, she said, it is an indication that the grass roots are sufficiently saturated.

“You can also use mulch around trees and plants to slow down the evaporation process,” she said. “And, to support the overall benefit of the community, report any major leaks you see to the local (community’s DPW).”

For more information, visit or call (844) 445-GLWA.