Conserve and Control

Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District controls costs by investing in conservation programs that reduce infrastructure maintenance expenses.
Conserve and Control
Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District lead maintenance worker Leonard Mascher washes out the inside of the 8-million-gallon water reservoir in Taylorsville. (Photos by Chris Detrick)

Despite being located in one of the driest states in the country, Salt Lake County, Utah, enjoys high-quality water sourced from snow pack in the pristine Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. To conserve water in that area while controlling operating costs, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District has adopted an aggressive conservation program.

Created under the Water Conservancy Act in 1951, Jordan Valley Water is a drinking water wholesaler that serves nine member cities, five member districts, and three other member agencies in bedroom communities south of Salt Lake City. In addition, about 10 percent of water deliveries are for direct retail service to 8,500 homes and businesses in unincorporated areas.

To serve a population of 600,000, Jordan Valley Water relies primarily on water stored in two reservoirs located in the mountains. Water from these reservoirs is conveyed to two Jordan Valley Water treatment plants for conventional treatment before being distributed. The wholesaler also operates 31 wells, which produce high-quality water requiring no additional treatment. The water is delivered to 150 meter stations where the member agencies take the water to store or distribute to their own customers. In total, Jordan Valley Water distributes approximately 90,000 acre-feet per year, which averages about 80 mgd.

Pipeline maintenance

A big challenge for Jordan Valley Water is serving the steadily growing population. By 2050, Salt Lake County's population is ex-pected to double.

"We've got a lot of work to do to keep up with that kind of growth. Our goal is to make sure we have adequate water supply for the service area," says Alan Packard, assistant general manager and chief engineer. "We want to support the well-being of the community through an excellent drinking water supply."

Providing water to so many communities involves 286 miles of pipeline, varying in diameter from 6 to 78 inches. Jordan Valley Water employs 135 full-time employees, including 70 people responsible for the operations and maintenance of the pipeline and distribution system. The district's annual budget is $70 million for operation and maintenance expenses and capital improvements.

Ongoing maintenance keeps an aging pipeline in working order and allows Jordan Valley Water to make necessary additions to meet future capacity needs. Projects to repair or upgrade pipes, reservoirs and vaults are always in progress.

One recent project involved installing 4 miles of 36-inch steel pipe to replace a deteriorating 16- inch pipeline. In addition, the project included the installation of 1,600 feet of 60-inch pipe, a large flow control vault, two mainline valve vaults, and three new meter stations. Jordan Valley Water uses the traditional design/bid/build project delivery method. The project, which cost $10.3 million, took 12 months to design and 18 months to construct using typical open-cut trench excavation methods in roadways.

Outside contractors are hired for most major repair and construction projects, but Jordan Valley Water's team leases backhoes, a mini-excavator and a mini-loader for performing smaller jobs. The district also owns a backhoe, two 10-wheel dump trucks, a smaller dump truck, and a vacuum truck for potholing.

Conserving water and costs

In 2000, the Governor's Water Conversation Team, comprised of water providers throughout Utah, began a conservation campaign with the goal of reducing per capita water consumption by 25 percent by 2050. Jordan Valley Water took that goal one step further.

"Our board of trustees wanted a more aggressive goal, so our district's goal is to reduce per capita consumption by 20 percent by 2025, in half the time of the state's goal," Packard says. "It will help our members by stretching our existing supplies further."

Through comprehensive conservation programs, Jordan Valley has already reached a 20 percent reduction in water use. In 2000, the per capita water use in Jordan Valley Water's service area was 225 gpd; in 2011, it was 204 gpd.

Water conservation measures have been instrumental in lowering capital investments. "Because of lower consumption, there are projects we haven't had to implement," says Courtney Brown, conservation programs manager. "When people conserve water, it enables us to defer costly new water development projects. That's a primary reason we are interested in water conservation."

So far, reduced water consumption has saved the district millions of dollars in postponed water supply projects that would have otherwise been necessary. For example, 20 years ago, Jordan Valley Water projected a demand increase due to population growth that would require an expansion on its largest treatment plant by 2015. Despite the continued population growth, the reduced per capita consumption has allowed Jordan Valley Water to postpone the plant expansion until 2025, saving the district approximately $100 million.

Conservation garden

Jordan Valley Water has a multi-faceted conservation program that provides education, funding and support targeted at three audiences: homeowners, children and landscape professionals. The centerpiece of the program is the 6.5-acre Conservation Garden Park. In 2000, the garden began as a place to feature a variety of finished landscape themes with different water requirements. Traditional landscapes were set next to landscapes that require no supplemental watering, helping homeowners understand landscape water use and compare available options. A few years later, the garden evolved to a second phase.

"We found that we were giving homeowners ideas on how to save water but we weren't educating them on how to do it on their own," Brown says. "There was interest in that, so we expanded the garden with 24 exhibits that teach the principles of water-wise landscaping, such as drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, planting techniques, composting and mulch. In those exhibits, people can see and touch things, and they can learn the principles."

In an effort to drive visitation to the garden, the district created the Environmental Encounters program, which invites school groups for a one-hour tour. To make the trip more appealing for teachers, the tour can be customized to cover topics specific to the teacher's own curriculum, and bus costs are reimbursed by Jordan Valley Water.

Jordan Valley Water has partnered with the Utah Master Garden program, part of the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, to lead the Environmental Encounter tours and get additional volunteer support in the garden. Master gardeners get their required volunteer hours for the program and the district gets volunteer assistance.

A third phase to the Conservation Garden Park, adding a 9,400- square-foot education center, was completed in December 2011. The center has three classrooms for hosting events and classes, which cover a variety of topics such as landscape design, types of plants, and how to choose and install an irrigation system. The goal of the classes is to cultivate customers who make smart choices about water usage.

"People are attending the classes to learn about what they can do to make their landscapes better," Brown says. "We want to help them save water by making changes in their landscapes. They can water their lawn correctly and save water, and we want to teach them how to do that. If they plant and irrigate correctly, they will save water."

Professional landscapers are an important audience for contributing to water conservation, so Jordan Valley Water began the Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) program. Originally started in Sonoma County, Calif., Jordan Valley Water adopted the program in September 2012 to give landscapers in Utah a place to get certification in water-efficient design and irrigation. "It has been a challenge to get landscape professionals to come to classes and visit the garden," Brown says. "QWEL certification makes landscapers more marketable."

The 24 hours of classroom instruction are provided by Utah State University professors, and certification is through the Utah Nursery and Landscape Association. Jordan Valley Water expects to expand the QWEL program to more locations throughout the state in the future.

Additional conservation programs

The "Slow the Flow" program, originally started by Jordan Valley Water in 2000, later was adopted by the Governor's Water Conservation Team as a statewide initiative that still operates today. It includes television advertising that stresses smart water usage for outdoor and in-home use.

All water providers have experienced the occasional call from homeowners wanting to know why a water bill was especially high one month. The Water Check program helps address those calls by providing free irrigation system audits to homeowners and businesses in the Jordan Valley Water service area. Conducted by horticulture and landscape design students from Utah State University, auditors evaluate infiltration rates, irrigation system precipitation rates, uniformity and pressure, and root depth. Based on that information, a customized irrigation schedule is provided.

Jordan Valley Water also offers a Member Agency Assistance program to encourage water conservation among its members. The program provides grants to members for initiatives such as rebates for high-efficiency toilets, rebates for smart irrigation system controllers, educational programs, and demonstration gardens. One member agency received a grant to upgrade its own public park irrigation.

"New irrigation controllers im-prove efficiency in watering," Brown says. "It can allow for the sprinkler system to turn off during a rain event, for example." There are two basic types of smart controllers: weather-based and sensor-based. Weather-based controllers use real-time weather information such as temperature, humidity and wind, to automatically adjust the amount of water applied to a landscape. Sensor-based controllers make watering adjustments based on the soil moisture level in the landscape, which is provided by soil moisture sensors. In short, smart controllers save water by making frequent adjustments automatically to the watering schedule set by the user.

To conserve water in the district's own pipeline, Jordan Valley Water monitors meters to identify discrepancies and to help locate potential meter problems or leaks.

Investing in conservation

Funding for the conservation programs comes primarily from Jordan Valley Water's operating budget. In addition, the Jordan Valley Conservation Garden Foundation was established in 2005 to cover costs specifically for the garden. The foundation conducts fundraising events, solicits donations and reaches out to the community for financial support.

Two full-time staff (a garden manager and lead horticulturalist) and six seasonal staff are employed to keep the Conservation Garden Park an attractive showcase of water-wise landscaping. A lot of volunteers from schools, scouting groups, corporations, the university and the Master Garden program also provide free help.

Long-term sustainability

Water rates alone have not motivated citizens to reduce their consumption because water in the Jordan Valley district is fairly inexpensive. Therefore, education has been the most important ammunition for driving conservation.

Brown feels that future conservation education messages may change as water prices inevitably increase due to climate change and population growth. "It takes a lot of energy to deliver and treat water, so one of the messages we will try to get out there is that when people save water, they are also saving energy," he says. "It's another motivation for conservation."


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