Pasadena Water & Power - Water Conservation Rebates
Pasadena Water & Power (PWP) is not a utility that needed prodding to get serious about water conservation. By the time I started working with one of their subcontractors in 2007, PWP had already been offering rebates and training in water efficiency since 2003.
This article introduces three of their rebate projects, while serving as a heads up for readers to check on similar rebate programs offered by their own water supplier. First, some history.
Pasadena Water & Power (PWP)
PWP is a community owned utility company that started providing electricity over 105 years ago (1906) and water 100 years ago (1912), after buying out three private water companies for $1.2 million. In 1967 they merged to form one entity.
In the late 1920s, Pasadena nearly lost its independence, when the City of Los Angeles made annexation a condition of receiving water from the new Owens Valley Aqueduct. Pasadena refused to relinquish its autonomy, and instead developed a plan with neighboring cities to divide water rights to the Raymond Aquafir. This set a precedent in California for responsible, fair division of water rights.
"Pasadena Water & Power is committed to providing safe and reliable water and power with superior customer service at reasonable rates."
- Mission statement on PWP website.
In 1927 Pasadena gathered 12 other cities to form the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which was incorporated by the state. In 1933 MWD built another aqueduct to bring supplemental water from the Colorado River to the Los Angeles area.
In 1960 California voters approved a bond measure to build a third aqueduct, this one from the Bay Delta in Northern California. Both of these aqueducts benefited the burgeoning city of Pasadena, as well as most of the rest of Southern California.
For the last several years, Pasadena has drawn 60% of its supplies from MWD and 40% from the local aquifer. Due to California's current six year drought, however, the city has determined to change that balance to become more self-sufficient, starting with water conservation.
PWP's Water Conservation Program
PWP's water conservation program offers rebates for commercial buildings, multi-family residences (HOAs and apartment buildings), and single family residences to purchase supplies and services that permanently reduce their use of water. Many of the rebates they offer are the same as those of the Metropolitan Water District, which can also be claimed through PWP's website.
How to Program Your Sprinkler Controller
However, PWP also offers supplemental funding to increase rebates on some items: Toilets, clothes washers, irrigation system controllers, and rotating sprinkler nozzles. And PWP gives workshops on topics like:
How to remove and replace your lawn with native plants.
Gardening with native plants.
How to select plants
The basics of irrigation systems
Some of the workshops are taught in person and some online. PWP provides videos online for how to save water inside the home, and a landscape guide book you can download. Their site also provides a virtual house tour to give you an idea of what a water efficient house looks like. All of these services are free of charge.
Water Conservation Projects
PWP supports local citizens in water conservation efforts citywide, which includes stretching current practices to enable use of new technologies:
- They are willing to modify or create friendly regulations on greywater use to accommodate new projects that don't compromise public health.
- They provide assistance with funding and advice for developing rainwater capture projects and reducing urban runoff.
- They are supporting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in cleanup of contaminated wells on their property in Northwest Pasadena.
Although the state assigned a goal of a 20% reduction in water use by 2020, PWP actually achieved the goal ten years earlier (2010). Meanwhile, a new study (publ. by the American Geophysical Union's journal) showed that the last three years of California's drought have been the worst in 1,200 years.
This year, when Governor Brown discovered there was no snow pack in the mountains, he intensified the call for water conservation by mandating that the state (and its cities) reduce water use by 25% by the end of 2015. Pasadena is well on its way.
I have been personally associated with three conservation projects that PWP supported in the last year: Rainwater capture, irrigation maintenance training, and turf removal. All three are described below, along with the essential role that PWP played.
Water Catchment System - Neighborhood UU Church
I first came across Neighborhood UU Church in 2008 when they called asking for a PWP-sponsored water use survey. The church had just finished adding native plants to their landscape, revamping the irrigation system, and upgrading all of their toilets. This reduced water use by nearly 33%, in spite of an increase of people using the facility.
In 2011 they decided to set up a rainwater capture system to ameliorate flooding of a large grass/dirt patch where children played. Working with a building committee and advisor, they designed a system that would direct rainwater from the roofs of surrounding buildings into culverts in the ground, then channel the water to an infiltration system in front of the church that would hold it underground in dry wells, until it could soak into the earth.
Over the culverts they installed a mosaic courtyard. Around the edges they placed four concrete benches and arbors planted with vines to cover them. PWP helped with costs by providing a rebate for turf removal, and also featured the project in their May 2012 Conduit newsletter.
Dry Well Infiltration System
Sprinkler System Repair - John Muir High School
At about the same time that the Neighborhood crew was planning their courtyard, another group of volunteers set up a 1.5 acre school garden for low income John Muir High School.
Out of that school garden grew an irrigation installation and repair training program for high school students and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. As part of the training, the students repaired the irrigation system for the entire high school, saving the school an estimated 695,000 gallons of water per year.
When the students indicated an interest in continuing this work during the summer (if they could be paid for it) the Pasadena Unified School District's facilities manager approached PWP asking about their internship program. PWP is now paying these student interns to repair the sprinkler systems of all 28 schools in the district.
PWP's involvement resulted in benefits in 2013 such as:
Eight low income students with jobs and the pride that goes with them.
The students have greater confidence and skills, and some are determined to go on to college.
The high school is saving nearly 695,000 gallons of water/year, due to repairs already made. The school district anticipates similar savings from other schools.
The amount of water schools take from PWP is going down, while PWP is giving students practical experience in the work world.
Reviews on Yelp! Website
"Don't trust your water to anyone else."
"Word up, homies!!! Like Chris, I just got 2 free energy saving bulbs, and a voucher for $75 towards some more bulbs!!! Hell, I don't think I'll need to light up the crib for another 10 years! Not to mention my bill will see a decrease considering I already had energy saving light bulbs to begin with--I'll be keepin' it goin' full steam! I love Pasadena, Pasadena's rich!"
"I personally have had support of Nancy Long and her office for my own home lawn removal. The program is simple to comply with. State and City funds are used to help citizens make the change to decrease water consumption." - Therese Brummel, NELA Transition
Learning Garden - Throop UU Church
Also about the same time, the North East Los Angeles (NELA) Transition group approached Throop UU Church with an offer of help to get rid of their bermuda grass lawns. Together the two organizations smothered the lawns with cardboard and mulch (called lasagna layering). Then they designed and installed a low water use demonstration garden, which includes:
Drip irrigation, microsprays, and swales
Native plants and trees
Fruit trees and raised organic vegetable beds
A variety of hardscape elements with reused materials
Rain permeability throughout
This garden is located on a busy corner in the city. Last week the garden was officially dedicated by Pasadena's mayor, the local council member and other dignitaries, and PWP's water conservation manager. They all committed to further projects of this type all over the city. PWP contributed $5,000 to complete this project.
In addition to water conservation, PWP has an energy conservation program. Online, they receive 4.5 out of 5 stars from the Yelp website. To the right are a couple of the reviews shown.
Reflective of the attitude that Pasadena Water & Power has of their customers is a statement made by Phyllis Currie, the utility's General Manager, when she accepted the Board Chairship of the American Public Power Association:
"Pasadena is an amazing community, a beautiful city. As a utility, we’ve been able to enjoy a positive relationship with our customers because they realize we are working to keep the city a great place to live. . . . We put a lot of effort into nurturing this relationship through education and different utility programs. We make sure they know they aren’t just customers, they are stakeholders.”
Now is the time to utilize the great attitude and services PWP provides for citizens of Pasadena. Their rebates won't last forever, but the water savings homeowners, businesses, and nonprofits could realize will.
- Working Locally, Leading Nationally | Public Power Magazine
Phyllis Currie has spent her career working for public power in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Now she chairs the APPA board.
- PWP Web : Water Conservation Resources & FAQ's