Frisco leads water efficiency charge, reduces municipal consumption by 30 percent
September 13, 2018
As Summit County continues to fight an extreme drought, Frisco has made impressive strides in the area of water conservation and efficiency, reducing their municipal water consumption by 30 percent over recent months as a result of the water efficiency plan adopted by the town council last year.
The dramatic drop in water consumption comes largely as a result of new metering systems installed on the town's irrigation systems, finally allowing the town to identify sources of unaccounted-for water consumption.
According to Jeff Goble, Frisco's public works director and water superintendent, the town has been struggling to find the source of unaccounted-for water for years. In other words, there was a significant discrepancy in the amount of water Frisco was producing — via both wells and the water plant — and the total amount of water billed out to customers.
"The biggest thing the water efficiency plan identified was the unaccounted-for water," said Goble. "We'd been noticing it for a couple years, but the water efficiency plan compiled 10 years of information for us. The unaccounted-for water kept growing over those 10 years. It was being used, but a lot of it is attributed to the fact that we didn't have any meters on our irrigation system."
Frisco retrofitted all of its irrigation systems with metering systems for the first time about two months ago, revealing that the lion's share of unaccounted-for water was coming from irrigation — the town's primary source of water consumption during the summer.
But it was another realization that spurred Goble and the town into action, the lowering of water levels at North Tenmile Creek, Frisco's surface water source.
Recommended Stories For You
"Our surface water source is North Tenmile Creek, and the creek was substantially dropping more than it has in the last few years," said Goble. "As I started seeing the creek drop, I said 'what can we do in town?' It's incredibly difficult to get the public to change their behavior. So I thought about it, and I asked Chris (Johnsen, Frisco's grounds foreman) to reduce watering over the next few weeks by 30 percent."
Frisco reduced it's watering on public grounds like parks, baseball fields and landscaping areas by 30 percent, and with metering in place, saw an immediate impact.
During peak summer months — July and August — Frisco produces about 1.5 million gallons of water a day. Water production is largely automated, Goble explained. When storage tank levels drop due to consumption by the town, residents and visitors, a mechanism is triggered and production automatically starts back up to fill the tanks. After Goble gave the order to reduce watering in public areas, daily production dropped to just over 1 million gallons a day just days later.
This is significant for a couple reasons. Not only was Frisco able to dramatically reduce its water usage, but the parks and public areas weren't negatively impacted by the reduction in watering, despite the reduction taking place in mid-July. This signified to Goble that reductions in irrigation could be a permanent solution and opens the door for even better watering practices in the future.
"When we reduced the water for irrigation and the landscape kept looking nice, that made us rethink our process," said Goble. "Maybe we've been using more water than we need. … I think it also goes to show how much water is actually used for irrigation. There's not a dry patch of grass anywhere in this town. So that's an eye-opening for how much water is used for keeping things pretty."
Goble noted that next summer the town plans to use the reduced rates they're currently using on public lands in an attempt to maintain the current rate of summer production and consumption. At the moment, there's only a couple months of water consumption data to rely on from this summer. But after more data is accumulated following next summer, even further steps could be taken.
For now, the name of the game remains metering. Goble said that one of the next steps the town will take is to install metering systems in their municipal buildings to further monitor the town's water usage, identify any potential wasted water and remedy it.
"At the moment we're focused on monitoring and reducing usage, that's the first step in the process," said Goble. "Over the years we haven't known how much water we're actually using. It's going to be a lot of data collection over the winter to see how our buildings compare to other buildings of the same size and uses."
Goble said that along with metering systems, the town is also considering other measures to help reduce water use, including potential changes to land use codes and the addition of more efficient water fixtures in town buildings. Next year, Frisco plans to install a fixed-based system that will read every meter in town every day, meaning the town will be able to quickly identify large areas of water consumption in real time and act accordingly. This will allow the town to respond much quicker to water leaks and other unnecessary consumptive events.
Perhaps the most important part of Frisco's success is the message it sends to individuals in the area, along with other municipalities focusing on water efficiency.
"It's pretty incredible to see Frisco taking these quantifiable steps to reduce consumption," said Rachel Zerowin, community program director for the High Country Conservation Center, which helped Frisco develop their water efficiency plan. "Frisco's results were huge, and this is proof that we can all take stock in our behaviors and make some adjustments."
Breckenridge, Dillon and the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metropolitan District all recently adopted new water efficiency plans to try to reduce their consumption, along with the development of a regional water plan meant to serve as a broader plan for municipalities in the area without their own plans, like Silverthorne.
While water providers are actively trying to be more efficient with their own water consumption, ongoing efforts are also being made to better educate the public about ways they can cut their water usage, and providing them with tools to do so. This summer High Country Conservation Center led an indoor water efficiency program, providing direct installations of water-saving fixtures in residential areas. In addition, HC3 performed 100 free outdoor irrigation assessments this summer for individual residents in cooperation with Resource Central. Next year, the groups will be providing the assessments at a 50 percent discount, though Goble noted that if the demand is high enough the town could pay for the service so that it remains free to Frisco's homeowners.
"I think it's a testament to the people, the providers and the stakeholders involved who are making the momentum behind this movement really rise," said Zerowin. "We can talk till we're blue in the face, but without partnerships there's no way we could move this forward by ourselves. There's more work ahead. That's the exciting part. Now that the providers and stakeholders are involved, we need the community to come along with us."