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AWE Research Shows Landscape Transformation Programs Can Stretch Community Water Supplies

As cities face growing challenges ensuring a safe, reliable, long-term water supply, new research from the Alliance for Water Efficiency proves that urban landscapes represent a promising source of untapped water savings that can help stretch existing water supplies and increase resiliency to potential shortages.

AWE’s Landscape Transformation study, the most expansive and diverse assessment to date of outdoor water efficiency programs, revealed that single family customers achieved average savings ranging from a 7 percent reduction in water use up to 39 percent after participating in a program. The research, conducted over a two year period, included 14 community-driven programs, including incentives for efficient irrigation technologies, free distribution of mulch, turf removal and water-wise re-landscaping, and customer site audits.

An accompanying survey of more than 3,000 North Americans revealed that homeowners are ready to embrace a new landscape ideal. With the support of well-designed programs, they achieve water-efficient landscapes that support homeowner goals, community water objectives, and healthy watersheds.

“We’ve made great strides in reducing indoor use over the past several decades, but communities are far from done with water conservation and efficiency,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “There are still significant water savings to be found by changing the way we look at our lawns. As communities consider their long-term supply options, they should look at landscape transformation programs to help their water utility avoid more costly infrastructure-based solutions.”

Urban Outdoor Water Use Offers a Solution to Water Availability Challenges  

The program analysis revealed that water savings were achieved in every community, regardless of the climate, program type, incentives for participation, available customer support, and requirements. Reducing water use in landscapes also helped reduce peak demand in participating communities, which determines system capacity needs. This helps delay or avoid investments in new water infrastructure and keeps costs down for customers. Additionally, these water savings proved to be persistent and increased with time, indicating that initial investment costs will be recouped. 

These are significant findings considering the savings opportunity presented by outdoor water use. According to the EPA, nearly nine billion gallons of water are used each day outdoors, mainly for landscape irrigation. In addition, as much as 50 percent of water used outdoors is wasted due to evaporation, inefficient or broken equipment, and overwatering.

“Communities from Sacramento to Fort Collins have been testing innovative approaches to help homeowners make their landscapes more sustainable. This research shows that these programs work,” said Thomas Chesnutt, Principal of A & N Technical Services, Inc. and Research Study Lead. “Even better, these are high-value savings that lower long-term costs for both water providers and customers. They’re also persistent water savings that grow as homeowners continue to improve their sustainable landscapes, making these programs a smart investment for communities.”

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