Ensuring our supply of fresh water will be one of the major challenges for municipalities across the country in the coming decades. Water conservation has become a national priority and many levels of government have enacted legislation to encourage and promote water conservation. One of the easiest and most effective methods of conserving water is to educate residents about the importance of water conservation by modifying how we think about water and how, as consumers, we use it.
Water conservation is associated with the following advantages:
- Retention of the water in its primary watershed, instead of transporting it into another basin: This can help maintain stream flows, wetlands, fisheries and can provide water for agriculture and wildlife.
- Reduction in energy use: Conservation can save costs related to the treatment and delivery of potable water, and reduced air pollution.
- Reduced water bills: Savings are realized at all levels of the water supply chain, from the initial supplier to the end user and consumer.
Achieving water conservation practices can be difficult due to:
- Reluctance to change usage habits: The effectiveness of water conservation practices relies on convincing water users to change established habits, particularly in a domestic environment.
- Efforts to promote and advertise water conservation practices can be difficult: Because we are all water users, efforts to promote conservation should be broad based and should use all forms of media, and should also be on-going so that the message is introduced to the younger members of the municipality and is reinforced in its older members.
- Expensive media coverage: Promoting water conservation practices in the media can be expensive to initiate and maintain, even if the message is considered to be a community service.
How To Use This Tool
Comprehensive plans: Implementation of a water conservation program should be based on adopted policy within the resource conservation goals expressed in a municipal comprehensive plan or in a similar policy statement. As noted above, the topic of water conservation has become a matter of national importance, which is reflected by the enactment of federal legislation specifically addressing water conservation measures. Many government, utility and conservation organizations have active water conservation programs and conservation plans, and also include tips and practices that can be included or referenced regarding water conservation efforts.
Building codes: Conservation practices can include the identification and modification of personal water usage habits related to bathing and food preparation, maintenance of existing plumbing to eliminate leaks in faucets and toilets, installation of low flush volume toilets and low flow shower heads, installation of efficient dishwashers and clothes washers.
Stormwater management: Outdoor water use represents areas where more significant water conservation results can be achieved. These could be related to gardening, car washing and outdoor cleaning. The use of rain barrels to capture stormwater from roofs is becoming increasingly popular. Other stormwater conservation practices include the use of rain gardens and micro-grading yards to direct stormwater flows to vegetable or flower gardens or even to wooded areas. Automated irrigation systems can be designed to provide the correct amount of water application and can prevent wasteful overwatering.
The use of stormwater recharge and infiltration systems can help recharge the groundwater table by directing stormwater into manmade basins that allow water to percolate into the ground rather than being allowed to run off downstream, and potentially cause erosion. Such systems are increasingly used in commercial applications in Chester County, and are effective although they require periodic maintenance.
Automated irrigation systems are designed to provide the correct amount of water for ordinary situations, but they rarely have the capacity to shut off if it does rain. Gardeners that are considering such systems should include automated shut-off controls to prevent overwatering.
There are various designs and practices that can conserve water, including:
- Rain Gardens: A feature that allows runoff from paved areas to flow into a shallow basin containing plants that absorb nutrients and remove pollutants. Rain gardens also help reduce the overall volume of stormwater runoff and associated erosion, while recharging groundwater supplies.
- Green Roofs: Green roofs are vegetated areas on the tops of buildings that absorb stormwater, reducing the amount of water that flows across impervious surfaces and into storm sewers. Green roofs improve the quality of any water not fully absorbed or recycled by them, and are known to increase the lifespan of roofing materials, stabilize indoor temperatures, and reduce the heat island effect often found in the built environment.
- Rain Barrels: Rain barrels collect water from downspouts during rain events, allowing for future use and irrigation. Otherwise the rain could flow across surfaces, picking up pollutants, before flowing into storm drains.
- Green Construction/Building Codes/Low Flow Requirements: Construction codes can require the use of reduced or low flow fixtures such as toilets or shower heads. Reducing the amount of water a household uses results in reduced demand on water supplies, reduced wastewater requiring treatment, and lower costs to homeowners.
- Low Maintenance Lawns/Drought Resistant Plants: The use of low maintenance lawns, including drought resistant plants, native grasses, and, where possible, allowing lawns to revert back to a meadow, reduces the demand for watering, reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizers and herbicides, and reduces the potential for contaminated runoff to enter streams.
Chester County municipalities that require water conservation practices or fixtures include:
- Charlestown Township Code of Ordinances — Chapter 26
- Franklin Township Code of Ordinances — Chapter 26
- East Whiteland Township Code of Ordinances — Chapter 198
- North Coventry Township Code of Ordinances — Chapter 355
Also, municipalities in Chester County with Stormwater Management provisions that require recharge basins also include water conservation ordinances:
- East Bradford Township Natural Features Protection Standards
- East Bradford Township Stormwater Management Ordinance (scroll down to Stormwater Management)
- Greening EPA
- WaterSense — An EPA Partnership Program
- Water Use it Wisely
- American Water Works Association
- Household Water Conservation
- Water Conservation in the Garden
- Water Conservation Tips
- Water Conservation Facts and Tips
- Castle Rock Water Wiser
- Green Roofs
- Stormwater Facility Operation and Maintenance
- Riparian Buffers
- Natural Resource Protection Ordinance
- Stormwater Management: Best Management Practices
This tool is related to all the topics addressed in Landscapes2, but specifically to the goals and objectives in Chapter 5, Natural Resources, Chapter 10, Housing and Chapter 11 Utilities and Infrastructure.
Watersheds, An Integrated Water Resources Plan for Chester County, Pennsylvania and its Watersheds, 2002, is the adopted Water Resources Element of the 1996 Chester County Comprehensive Plan, Landscapes. The Landscapes2 Water Resources Objective is to "Protect, sustain, and enhance the quality and quantity of all water resources as described in Watersheds." This tool is also supported in Watersheds.