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The Role of Household Water Audits

by Doug Pushard

How much water can I save? Where is the easiest and least expensive place to save? Should I look inside or out? These are just a few of the questions that can be answered by a irrigation water audit.

A water audit provides a thorough inventory of where water is being used, both indoors and outdoors. A comprehensive professional water audit will offer this and a variety of recommendations on how to reduce water use.

If you want to investigate indoor-only water savings yourself, there are a host of websites offering interactive tools and suggestions on how to save water. Two of these are:

Many of these tools will recommend indoor water upgrades that will save you water. But they will not help you spot leaks or give you an idea of costs. This is where a professional water audit can really help.

The City of Santa Fe, NM has published a manual on irrigation design and efficiency – Landscape Irrigation Design Standard (LIDS). This manual although a little dated but provides a great deal of information on how to design and properly install an efficient irrigation system. It can be found at: LIDS Manual.

If you are interested in knowing more about efficient irrigation systems, it is a great place to start.

Two nationally recognized outdoor water audit programs for professionals include: the Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) and the Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS) program. These programs differ in scope but both provide a comprehensive outdoor audit.

QWEL is an EPA WaterSense labeled certification program for irrigation system audits. The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership is the parent of the QWEL program. Water utilities and other agencies license the QWEL program from them. QWEL is currently offered by water agencies, schools and colleges in a variety of location, including:

  • Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose, CA;
  • WaterNow Alliance in San Francisco;
  • Zone 7 Water Agency in Livermore, CA;
  • Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership in Santa Rosa, CA;
  • Regional Water Authority in Citrus Heights, California
  • Water Efficiency Partnership in Sacramento, CA;
  • Mammoth Community Water District in Mammoth Lakes, CA;
  • California Community Colleges Agriculture, Water, and Environmental Technology Sector in Reedley, CA;
  • Chino Basin Water Conservation District in Montclair, CA;
  • San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District in Redlands, CA;
  • San Diego County Water Authority in San Diego, CA;
  • Municipal Water District of Orange County in Fountain Valley, CA;
  • University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Reno, NV;
  • New Mexico Water Conservation Alliance ;
  • City of Santa Fe, NM;
  • City of Aspen, CO;
  • Utah State University Cooperative Extension in Logan, UT;
  • College of Western Idaho in Boise, ID.

A QWEL audit reviews the entire irrigation system, from beginning to end. It provides a complete report of any problems found with the irrigation system as well as recommendations on how to improve the system. Among other things a QWEL audit includes is testing for leaks, testing the distribution uniformity of the existing irrigation system, and a map of the layout of the existing system.

Training courses are held around the southwest, year around and in both English and Spanish. This course teaches and certifies professionals to audit, design, and improve irrigation systems. More about the QWEL program can be found at: QWEL

Certified QWEL landscapers can be found at: Certified QWEL Professionals

The WERS program was developed in Santa Fe and is now in use in several other areas around the country. The most recent being Santa Barbara, CA where they adopted the tool for multi-family dwellings.

The City of Santa Fe requires a WERS audit and a score of 70 or below for every new single-family home. The closer the score is to zero, the more efficient the water use. WERS is both an indoor and outdoor water audit.

Outdoors it provides a water budget and then compares your outdoor use to your current landscape or landscape plan. As part of the outdoor water audit it categorizes all your landscaping into high, medium and low water use planting areas. The WERS report provide you a detailed look at the water use of your landscape by area as well as a map of your current system. It is unique in water auditing programs because it includes alternative water sources (i.e. rainwater, greywater, blackwater) in the audit process.

More about the WERS program can be found at: WERS

A list of certified WERS professionals can be found at: WERS Verifiers

A self administered water audit is a great place to start if you are interested in reducing your water footprint, helping the environment, and saving money. For a professional water audit, hire a QWEL or WERS water auditor. The cost will range from approximately $200-$750 dollars depending on the size of your system and scope of the audit. With growing water rates, it pays to save. Get an audit done, and start saving today!

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