Conserving water and energy together saves twice

Western Colorado’s residents intuitively know water’s importance in our daily lives and the functioning of society. In a rural region like ours, water is essential to growing food, it enables some of our favorite recreational activities and it’s vital to our local economy. We all have an interest in making sure there is enough of it. 

As if that weren’t enough reasons to conserve water, here’s another: when we save water, we also save energy.

Water and energy are closely entwined in modern society, so much so that the Alliance to Save Energy coined the term ”watergy” to express this deep interconnectedness. Although this term refers specifically to municipal distribution systems, we can apply the concept more broadly to reveal a whole host of opportunities to save both water and energy.

By Zuleika Pevec
This column was originally published in the May 10, 2024 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Let’s start at home: think of the many ways we use water – drinking, bathing, clothes washing, dish washing, lawn and garden watering. If it comes out of a tap, hot or cold, from a municipal source or a well, it has already taken a significant amount of energy to get it there.

At each level of human interaction with water, energy is right there, putting the water where we need it. That’s because of the way water gets pumped from the source to the treatment facility, through the treatment process, and distributed across the municipal network. After the water gets used in homes, businesses and industry, much of it is sent to the wastewater treatment facility and then back to the source. Each of these steps is highly energy intensive. 

We use a lot of water, and we pay for both it and the energy used to move it. But the good news is that we’re in a win-win-win situation: when we reduce the amount of water we use, we win by saving water, energy and money!

There are important steps that households can take to make a big difference. Inside your home, hot water uses more energy than cold, so conserving it will increase your savings. Heat pump water heaters are much more efficient than standard electric or gas-powered ones, so you’ll spend less money heating the same amount of water. Wash your clothes on a cold cycle, and make sure your dishwasher is full before running it. 

Consider replacing high-flow appliances like toilets and washing machines with low-flow equivalents. For zero-dollar upgrades that will save money on water and energy, remember to turn off the faucet when you are not actively using the water (brushing your teeth, scrubbing the dishes, etc). 

Out in your yard, have a professional irrigation audit done to learn about how your system could be more efficient a good deal of water can be saved through the use of rotary nozzles, low-flow drip lines, rain sensors and the like. 

Finally, are you ready to reduce the amount of grass you irrigate? Consider replacing turf with water-smart landscaping. Now is a great time to take action as we spend more time enjoying our outdoor spaces.

The City of Glenwood Springs is a regional leader in helping its residents make water-saving choices. Last year the City started offering irrigated turf replacement and low-flow-fixture rebates to municipal water users as a fiscally responsible response to the increased cost of water treatment in their system. It’s also invested heavily in leak detection and repair in its water distribution system, which can account for a significant portion of lost watergy. 

In its inaugural year, the city paid out over $24,000 in irrigated turf replacement rebates to 18 residents. In 2024, they hope to rebate over $32,000 across their water sustainability program, and the town of Carbondale has now followed suit with a similar turf buyback program for its residents. Both municipalities are able to provide these programs partly through grants they received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. 

Watergy reflects the importance and interconnection between water and energy. In so many ways, when we talk about water, we are really talking about watergy. And the good news is that what we do to save money on our water and energy bills will help keep water in our rivers and reservoirs, supporting the innumerable species of plants and animals that depend on healthy waterways.