Council earns national award for water conservation collaborations

Date: Friday, October 8, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has honored Metropolitan Council Environmental Services with a 2021 WaterSense Excellence Award. The award recognizes our agency’s dedication to helping consumers and businesses save water, despite the challenges and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Environmental Services provides wastewater collection and treatment services, and water supply and water quality planning, for the seven-county Twin Cities region.

Brian Davis, Met Council senior engineer, and Shane Evans, University of Minnesota lawn and water conservation educator, collaborated to create a mobile trailer for consumer education on smart lawn irrigation practices.

WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program the EPA sponsors and is both a label for water-efficient products and homes, and a resource for helping consumers learn ways to save water. The program honored Environmental Services as a 2021 Excellence Award winner for strategic collaboration.

“We are pleased to be able to partner with the WaterSense program to help our customers learn the many ways they can save water and energy, as well as provide grants to help make important environmental investments and improvements,” said Leisa Thompson, general manager of Environmental Services. “These efforts help us in our mission to ensure sustainable water quality and water supply for the Twin Cities region.”

Collaboration is key to water program successes

Two of the collaborative programs housed in the Environmental Services water supply planning group that are recognized by this award:

Smart lawn irrigation controller attached to a house.2019-2022 Water Efficiency Grant Program: The program provides grants to 38 metro-area communities to fund the replacement of toilets, irrigation controllers, and spray sprinkler bodies with WaterSense-labeled products. Also funded are irrigation audits by WaterSense-certified auditors and clothes washers with Energy Star devices, as designated by the federal Department of Energy. To date, the program is saving 100 million gallons of water annually.

Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment supports the program with funds totaling $787,100. Met Council grants cover 75% of the program cost; each participating municipality provides the remaining 25% as a match. Once local matching funds of $262,510 are added, a total of $1,049,610 is available for water efficiency efforts.

Turfgrass Irrigation Efficiency Project: In cooperation with the University of Minnesota Turfgrass Science Program, we are funding a multi-year project to increase the efficiency of water use for home lawns and landscapes. This includes site assessments, research, and demonstration projects focused on smart irrigation practices.

Lawn irrigation system assessments were conducted at approximately 60 homes across the metro area, creating a “baseline” of irrigation system performance. The project team also conducted a homeowner survey of landscape irrigation practices.

The project team built an irrigation research station at the University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus, where they operate a prototype of a typical irrigation system, along with five additional high-efficiency irrigation systems. The system allows staff to calculate differences in water efficiencies. A “rainout shelter” at the site helps to conduct 60-day drought trials of 29 different common grass seed mixtures. A growth chamber and field experiments help determine how the composition of grass seed mixture species changes during droughts.

Staff further conducted education and outreach at the Minnesota State Fair, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and via a mobile educational trailer to showcase efficient irrigation technologies. These collaborative efforts help to put water efficient practices into effect and WaterSense-labeled products in the field.

Education is key component to successful water conservation programs

Since the program began in 2006, WaterSense-labeled products have helped consumers and businesses save 5.3 trillion gallons of water — enough water to supply all households in the United States with water for 200 days.

In addition to water savings, WaterSense has helped reduce the amount of energy needed to heat, pump, and treat water by 603 billion kilowatt hours and save $108 billion in water and energy bills.

“In 2020, our WaterSense partners continued to make saving water possible by educating consumers and businesses about WaterSense and water-efficient behaviors,” said Veronica Blette, the WaterSense program manager. “Our award winners’ creative and committed approaches to water conservation helped consumers save water, energy, and money on their utility bills at a time when they needed it most.”

The EPA recognized the Met Council’s 2020 water efficiency successes at the Oct. 7 WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas.

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Posted In: Wastewater & Water

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