In the News

Clothes washers are key to future conservation, Santa Cruz council told

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5/29/13

SANTA CRUZ -- High-efficiency clothes washers offer the greatest potential for additional water savings among residential customers.

That was a key finding of a recent survey of nearly 400 single-family, multifamily, business and institutional customers to determine the saturation of high-efficiency appliances and other conservation devices to inform the city's next long-term water savings plan.

The data, reviewed by the City Council on Tuesday, will also come into play as officials evaluate how much conservation is reasonably left among the city's 24,500 hookups ahead of a debate on a proposed desalination plant.

Only 62 percent of single-family customers surveyed have efficient clothes washers while 92 percent have efficient showerheads and 90 percent have efficient toilets. Multifamily dwellings had similar percentages of efficient showerheads and toilets but only 58 percent of those that have in-unit clothes washers were efficient, the survey found.

Conservation Manager Toby Goddard said efficient clothes washers came on the market only about 12-15 years ago.

"With clothes washers, we have made a lot of progress, but there is still opportunity to save water," Goddard said.

Before the survey, Goddard said he would have estimated efficiencies closer to state averages, and therefore overstated how much conservation was left.

Still, a 2011 report shows single-family homes in Santa Cruz exceed statewide averages for efficiency, including 30 percent for clothes washers and 60-70 percent of toilet efficiency.

Single-family and multifamily homes and businesses represent 83 percent city water use. Of the commercial and institutional sectors, survey takers visited schools, hospitals, hotels, retail stores, laundry businesses and restaurants.

Only 4 percent of public restroom faucets met current plumbing standards, and fewer than 20 percent of pre-rinse spray valves at restaurants met efficiency guidelines, the survey found. There is also a need to increase drip or automatic irrigation systems for outdoor use.

The city entered into a $197,000 contract with the Southern California firm WaterWise Consulting to conduct the survey. The material will be used in a yearlong undertaking to renew the city's overall conservation plan.

The data is also critical to weighing conservation-related alternatives to the controversial desal plant. Opponents have argued more aggressive initiatives to save water -- from increasing city investment in efficient devices to pushing for rainwater catchment and composting toilets -- will reduce the need for transforming ocean water into drinking water.

For the survey, toilets were considered efficient at 1.6 gallons per flush or less. Clothes washers were evaluated by age or model, not primarily by water use.

But Scott McGilvray, a Live Oak resident, pointed out that 1.28 gallons per flush will be the new state standard in January and toilets with 0.8 gallons per flush are available on the market. He also said the potential offered by the highest-efficiency clothes washers should be more closely reviewed.

"It's critical that this information get submitted" into an environmental impact report for the desalination plant in terms of potential conservation, McGilvary said.

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