Commercial Demand Management

Nov. 1, 2013

A 14-year drought in the Southwest has put immeasurable stress on the Colorado River Basin and its capability to deliver water to the 40 million people living in the seven states that receive the water. This population is expected to double by 2060, according to the US Bureau of Reclamation that manages the water supply in the basin.The Colorado River Basin provides water to Arizona, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The two lakes where the water is stored are currently less than 50% full. Lake Powell is at 45% capacity, and Lake Mead is at 47% capacity. The flow into Lake Powell in August, for example, was at 32% of the 30-year average.

The water agencies and purveyors in these states are facing diminishing water supplies and have active water conservation programs, recognizably the easiest means of ensuring a future water supply. And some utilities have created long-term water resource programs to manage their water demand. First on the list is conservation, but then comes development of ground- and surface-water sources, storage capability, and, in rare cases, desalination plants.

However, water agencies on the East Coast have different concerns such as impacts on aging infrastructure, and draw blanks when asked about plans for their long-term supply needs. For example, the Philadelphia Water Department’s concerns center around reducing the amount of stormwater emptying into overburdened sewers. It has designed water conservation programs to reduce that burden on sewers.

Lake Powell at low levels

The Midwest, on the other hand, faced drought in 2012, but in 2013 had to deal with massive flooding without the planning timeframe needed to create the storage opportunities that the flooding could have created.

Demand management, or water resource planning, is a strategy water purveyors in the West are using to plan for the long term. Four water utilities that have been living through droughts for reoccurring periods, or are witnessing diminishing supplies, have designed different strategies for developing long-term supplies, and they are previewed here. Two have created long-term water resource plans that are models for other purveyors.

Doug Macdonald, principal and vice president of Aqua Engineering Inc. based in Fort Collins, CO, says, “People are concerned, and they are looking to the future. They are talking about a water crisis with serious deficits as early as 2030.”

Aqua Engineering specializes in irrigation system design and engineering. Macdonald says a number of municipal water utilities are responding to seasonal supply deficits, ranging from imposing significant water restrictions to providing incentives for conservation, to subsidizing equipment like smart controllers.

Contractors Affected
Brent Mecham, industry development director at the Irrigation Association, says his member contractors have been impacted by the droughts. The drought in the Midwest last year hurt business. Cities started restricting water use.

“Contractors were beside themselves,” he says. This year, the area was hit with flooding, but the water agencies had not had enough time to prepare for that type of event, he explains.

On the positive side, corporate campuses, including commercial and industrial facilities, offer great opportunities for the irrigation industry business, he says. Campuses can take advantage of alternate water sources, such as stormwater and rooftop rain storage.

Conservation Key to New Supply
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) serves an estimated one million residential customers, plus industrial, commercial, and institutional water users in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay area. It receives its raw water supply principally from the Mokelumne River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and in non-drought years produces an average of 220 million gallons per day (MGD) of potable water.

EBMUD is emerging from a three-year drought. Abby Figueroa, a spokeswoman for the water district, says demand in the last fiscal year was 165 MGD.

“We’re now in recovery mode from the last drought.”

In looking out to year 2040, EBMUD’s water supply is not sufficient to meet customer demand during single- and multi-year drought periods, Figueroa says.

“Currently, water consumption within the EBMUD service area has dropped as a result of an economic downturn in the Bay Area and unusually cool weather.” Demand was further suppressed in response to the drought management program, she says.

To improve water supply, EBMUD developed the Water Supply Management Plan 2040. It pushes conservation and recycling to the maximum, with a total of 50 MGD of future supply being provided from those two component categories.

EBMUD established water goals designed to satisfy increased customer demand up to 2040. These goals include rationing up to 15%, conservation at 39 MGD, and recycling and raw water at 11 MGD. The combination of rationing, conservation, and raw and recycled water will satisfy increased customer demand through 2040 and take the pressure off the supplies from the river system, according to the WSMP 2040. Conservation alone is expected to account for 26% of projected demand not met by the Mokelumne River and other supplies.

The WSMP 2040 includes components such as water transfers up to 13 MGD from sources in northern California that began in 2010 that will continue as needed. It is also looking at future development of groundwater banking and exchange, and expanding or enlarging two reservoirs.

Commercial Conservation
EBMUD provides free water surveys and customized rebates for plumbing fixtures, commercial appliances, process and cooling equipment, and irrigation system upgrades. It also distributes water-saving devices and offers technical consultations, plan reviews, and life-cycle cost and savings estimates. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, it completed nearly 1,400 surveys for its commercial, industrial, and institutional customers and handed out over 1,200 conservation rebates, saving more than 200 million gallons annually.

Business customers reduced water use an average of 5 MGD during the three-year drought period, when compared to the pre-drought period of 2005 to 2007.

Water surveys consist of free onsite visits conducted by EBMUD staff. The staff identifies opportunities to increase water use efficiency and reduce wastewater discharge. Current and past water use efficiencies are reviewed, irrigation equipment is inspected onsite, tests are conducted for system leaks and sprinkler uniformity, landscape personnel are trained in efficient irrigation systems, and scheduling and improvements in irrigation system efficiency are recommended.

EBMUD targeted 5,000 irrigation accounts for water surveys where landscape irrigation comprises most or all of use at the site. It has an irrigation reduction information system called IRIS, based on a geographic information system-based program. It informs irrigation customers on how much water should have been used during a billing period, based on actual irrigated landscape areas and real-time weather data from local weather stations.

IRIS prints the water budget on every water bill that the customer receives after joining the program. This information helps customers improve management of their irrigation systems by reducing water use and increasing cost savings. In Fiscal Year 2010, more than 20,000 landscape water budgets were printed on water bills for more than 3,300 irrigation customers.

EBMUD published a comprehensive 242-page Water Smart Guidebook for 20 classes of commercial and industrial businesses, including schools and hospitals. The guidebook can be found on the agency’s website at

Figueroa says the Water Smart Guidebook has been a great tool for the district.

“We worked in the past fiscal year with more than 200 industrial and commercial customers doing water audits, helping them monitor usage, and checking for broken valves.” She says a beverage bottling company installed a more efficient reverse osmosis (RO) system after working with the district.

At another commercial customer’s facility, when the auditors looked for leaks, they found usage was going on at night and on weekends when the facility was closed. After monitoring the water meter, they discovered a large leak due to a broken valve.

“We’re now out of drought, but there is still a demand for water audits. We also did 200 audits for irrigation accounts,” says Figueroa.

A reservoir with a low water level

San Diego Targets CII Facilities
Chris Robbins, water conservation supervisor in the Public Utilities Department for the City of San Diego, says long-term water resource planning in the department is an ongoing process. Water conservation is the prime tool for maintaining water resources for the future. While rebates provide incentives for the residential sector to reduce water use, different processes are used to target the business and commercial industry sector, Robbins says.

“There is no generic standard on which to base a rebate that fits every business,” he says.

Furthermore, he adds, decision makers are usually far removed from the actual water users and are hard to find. San Diego’s largest water customers–like the San Diego Zoo, the Navy, and Kelco–have their own water conservation programs.

Robbins’ department is doing commercial landscape surveys and provides reports to customers to encourage them to make changes. For more sophisticated recommendations, the department is contracting with Proteus Consulting through its parent, Brown & Caldwell, to design an outreach program and work with businesses in the commercial sector.

Soma Bhadra is CEO of Proteus Consulting. She says the company will look at all water consumption in the commercial and industrial businesses and schools who sign up for the program. For example, it will examine their process, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, and any pure water needs.

The overarching question, says Bhadra, is “how can you apply good technology to better manage your water use?”

Proteus’s work with these customers will begin with a comprehensive water survey and audit of the facility. Data collection will include capturing and analyzing water consumption at the unit level, establishing a baseline water use profile, and listing the priority conservation projects and financial analysis.

Once a scope of work is created and a detailed implementation plan is written, a summary report is delivered within two to three weeks. Proteus is looking to develop a Web interface where the public utility department can review the reports along with the clients. The reports will provide a list of practical recommendations on smart water use–some recommendations may be as simple as closing a tap that is always left open, or as complex as applying a new technology for zero discharge cooling towers.

The company will match available rebates to the recommendations, where they apply and develop and maintain a database of how the facilities perform during and after the audit is performed.

Bhadra says her team will be assessing whole water usage at every facility–including central plants and steam generators, cooling towers, chillers, rooftop units, packaged systems, closed loops, RO systems, water softeners and de-mineralizers, autoclaves and sterilizers, and chemical water treatment programs on any of the above systems. Analysis will also include domestic water systems (toilets, faucets, sinks, showers, and urinals) and wastewater systems. Proteus will not be looking at landscape irrigation since the public utilities department already has a program devoted to irrigation.

Bhadra says cooling towers offer exceptionally good opportunities for water use reduction. The correct chemistry is not always maintained, and, often, the tops of the cooling towers are not closed allowing dirt and other foreign materials to change the composition of the water. These problems usually require constant fresh water circulation. But correcting those problems allows water to be recycled, she says.

Bhadra explains that water imported from northern California and from the Colorado River into southern California is impacted by soil and nutrient management in watersheds along the way. As water is transported above ground through channels, the water hardens through chemistry changes and increasing salinity.

The high salt content in the water precipitates into plants and compacts soil allowing irrigation water to run off and not filter down past plant roots. Furthermore, Bhadra explains if water softeners are used, the salt is concentrated and reaches water treatment plants through the sewers and then into estuaries.

Bhadra says a new technology could improve this issue. For example, the Aqua-PhyD water treatment system is a non-chemical water and soil treatment technology. Installed in a water main, it prevents salt accumulation in the root system, reduces effects of reclaimed poor quality water, reduces soil compaction, and increases nutrient availability. It also reduces water use. More details can be found at

Bhadra says this technology should work well on golf courses. If a golf course is using 100,000 gallons of water to irrigate the greens, but it is not soaking in, there is a great opportunity to improve irrigation and reduce water use, she adds.

Measuring the water level

Albuquerque Revamps Water Supply
Until recently, the sole source for Albuquerque, NM’s drinking water has been an underground aquifer. The need to preserve this aquifer for future generations, in response to the multi-year drought in the Southwest, means the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority must continue to explore alternative sources while conserving and making the most efficient use of what it already has.

The approach outlined in the water authority’s Water Resources Management Strategy, a long-range water supply plan for the metropolitan area originally written in 1997 and updated in 2007, outlines 13 policies, which include recycling, aquifer storage and recovery, non-potable water reclamation, and building the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project. Completed in 2008, this project taps into surface water transported from the Colorado River basin. The water management strategy is to balance demand with renewable supply by using San Juan-Chama water as the primary source of supply.

Other policies developed in the management strategy include establishing and maintaining a groundwater drought reserve, and updating and implementing the water conservation strategy.

Dave Morris, a spokesman for the water authority, says a pilot test program of aquifer storage and recovery demonstrating the viability of surface infiltration was successful. The test also included successful direct injection at one well site.

“We anticipate moving forward with one or both methods for a full-scale aquifer storage and recovery project as soon as necessary state permits are in place, and hopefully we can get started in 2014,” he says.

Another recommendation in the management strategy was to continue raising water rates and implement steeply increasing block rates to encourage water conservation. Morris says rates have been raised twice since 2007, about 5% each time and two more increases are planned between now and fiscal year 2018. Conservation surcharges now kick in at 200% of wintertime usage and a low-use discount is now 50% of the commodity charge for water. Per capita water usage has been lowered from more than 250 GPD in the mid-1990s, to less than 150 GPD today.

Oregon Utility Educates Customers
According to Jill Hoyenga, Water Management Specialist at the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), writing in “A Water Purveyors View of Smart Water Application Technology”, many utilities are looking for demand management solutions that can assure capacity just as building new infrastructure had in the past. The Irrigation Association published the article in 2007.

Hoyenga identifies several demand management solutions, including indoor water conservation hardware retrofits, conversion of landscaping from high water use turf to native plants, and innovative irrigation controller technology, all combined with aggressive customer education programs.

Hoyenga writes, “Since irrigation is often the largest contributor to the peaking factor (high water usage at certain times of the day) it is the greatest opportunity for peak water [demand] reduction.”

EWEB struggled with getting the message out to reduce peak hour irrigation. One of several upper levels of its system, which rely on continuously operating pumps, was particularly sensitive to peak demands. It was nearing pump station capacity during early morning hours on weekdays when irrigating was popular.

To avoid expensive upgrades much earlier than planned, conservation staff took a look at how customers could manage water use to change demand patterns. They determined that predicted building patterns had changed so that new homes had much more irrigated landscape than previously built homes in the area. Most of the irrigation controllers set on the same early morning schedules were threatening to exceed pumping capacity about 10 years earlier than expected for hourly pumping demands, totaling about 48 hours a year.

The conservation staff began to craft a message for these customers. Emergency door hangers during the summer watering season had no effect. EWEB then contacted local landscape contractors at association meetings and learned contractors set controllers throughout the city on the same days when water use peak hours occurred. However, following initial spring start-ups, most of their customers managed the controllers themselves.

EWEB conservation staff conducted focus groups with customers from the neighborhood served by the pumps nearing capacity and explained the problem. The participants were invited to help craft a cost-effective solution and told EWEB that they and their neighbors just needed solid information about the distribution system and their impact on it in order to make informed decisions about their water use patterns. These customers were adamant that they did not want prescriptive programs or water use restrictions. They were confident that, given proper information, they could manage the peaking problem to avoid costly emergency upgrades.

However, by the next summer, the same hourly peak demand problem reoccurred, and the pumping station was nearing capacity. This time, conservation staff created the “700-gallon per minute [GPM] Challenge.” At 700 GPM, only one of the pumps in the station would be needed, but water peaks had begun to consistently exceed 1,100 GPM and peaked as high as 1,350 GPM during the previous summer. For this reason, the EWEB conservation staff targeted the 700 GPM benchmark as the goal for minimizing those peaks.

Detailed Messaging Succeeds
Conservation staff created a newsletter explaining the situation and the potential to avoid costs if customers changed behavior. This was followed by weekly pump station “GPM report cards.” The response was immediate and marked. After the first weekly report card, the pump station GPM did not exceed the requested goal of 700 GPM for the rest of the summer. And after the second summer information campaign, only two pumping days exceeded the goal–720 GPM and 733 GPM, respectively.

The “700-GPM Challenge” has enabled customers to help EWEB manage the distribution system, along with the associated operations and upgrade costs. Even as some new construction continues in the area, EWEB staff believes this reduced peak hour pumping pattern can be sustained and will decrease pump maintenance costs, possibly manage electric costs, as well as avoid emergency upgrades.

Hoyenga says new irrigation technologies available today, such as smart controllers, have solid demand management potential, though they will not assure captured capacity alone. The will provide better tools for managing the total volume used, she wrote.

Technology must be used in combination with Best Management Practices (BMP) for the design, installation, and management of irrigation systems, Hoyenga writes. The Irrigation Association, as well as other professional organizations, has developed BMP guidelines. Furthermore, many water utility resource managers have realized that it is time to partner with the landscape and irrigation industries to help manage the distribution systems with mutual benefits.

Hoyenga says in an e-mail updating the 2007 article, “We continue to be fairly successful with managing peak-hour demands in localized areas of our service area with the program described [here].”

Peter Mayer, a water demand management consultant in Colorado, agrees with the need for demand management solutions. New water supplies are extremely expensive, he says.

“Managing the current supply is the most cost-effective thing you can do.” The whole process starts with where water is being used, he explains.

Then, determine how to improve and make water usage more efficient, and the new technologies are the key to finding things that are cost-effective.

New Technologies Invaluable
Ellen Beighley, president of Irrigation Management Systems in Portland, OR, says new technologies go along with long-term planning as they are developed. She cites Rain Bird’s Maxicom as “the premium central control system.” Her company manages irrigation for some of the largest commercial and industrial companies in Oregon and Washington, including setting schedules and working with clients on long-term planning for upgrades of up to five years.

The central control system in her IMS office means Beighley and her staff can manage the sites through the Internet or over phone lines. One client is managed through short-wave radio. She says the company typically installs rotors and sprays and can monitor and control all technologies through its central control system.

Beighley explains that as the cost of water goes up, clients become more receptive to the new technologies. This means we are able to go over the various types of delivery systems with them as they become available.

“We are able to keep costs down with upgrades as they reduce the costs of water. This is the driving force,” she says.

Anita Matlock, area specification manager for Rain Bird in southern California, says Maxicom, the central control system, manages multiple sites, multiple schedules, and multiple points of water connections–and can handle the complexities.

The IQ Central Control System is for smaller commercial and institutional sites, and can do multiple sites and schedules as well, she says. Both central control systems use weather information to determine when to water plants. A central control system can also control drip systems.

Matlock adds, “We spend a lot of time getting the word out about optimal pressurization.”

Optimizing the pressure on the irrigation system can optimize water use. When higher pressure is used than a 30-psi nozzle or 45-psi rotor is designed for you can cause misting, she says. Water droplets get smaller and winds blow them off course, and the water does not get to where it should go, increasing irrigation time and the chances more water will be used to compensate. The optimal and most efficient nozzles use large droplets, which are less affected by wind.

Matlock adds that another minimum system control requirement should be rain shutoff devices; even a homeowner can get one.

About the Author

Lyn Corum

Lyn Corum is a technical writer specializing in water and energy topics.

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