Water Conservation 101: What HOA Board Members Need to Know
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For homeowners in Arizona, it’s important to realize that the state already holds the authority to regulate their water consumption. Jim Kauth, CLWM, CLIA, of Aqua Trac System, states, “To prioritize the availability of ground water in your area, every water district has implemented a set tariff. This means that the state can restrict homeowners from using excessive water for activities such as watering grass or washing cars if the ground water levels are insufficient.” Every water district sets a tariff that empowers authorities to take specific measures in case of water scarcity. For example, the Agua Fria water district has implemented a tariff that will restrict residents' water usage if there is a shortage of groundwater. Understanding that these restrictions can happen to you or your community at any time can help Arizonians prioritize water conservation and make more sustainable choices in their daily lives.
What do board members need to know about Arizona’s water laws?
Ensuring responsible water management involves a comprehensive approach. In Arizona, the state uses two key tactics to monitor and regulate water usage and to understand how much groundwater is remaining.
- Basin sweeps are conducted that involve hydrologists assessing water levels in all wells within a basin. By measuring the water levels, authorities can gauge the sustainability of water availability.
- Meticulous records are maintained each year to track the allocation and utilization of water. For instance, when a developer receives a 100-year assured water certificate, annual evaluations are conducted to evaluate if sufficient water is available for the remaining years.
Aside from the environmental implications that a diminished water supply will have, HOA board members should be concerned about the sustainability of existing turf and landscaping, and the potential challenges that may arise when water usage restrictions are imposed. Starting on January 1, 2025, the Arizona Department of Water Resources Fifth Management Plan will take effect. This plan will result in a 30-40% reduction in the amount of water available for landscaping for all facilities, including residential communities, across the state. Moreover, these reductions are expected to continue in the years ahead.
Why should HOA board members be concerned about water conservation?
Conflicts may arise with residents' reluctance to let go of turf, especially if they moved to the community for its lush landscaping or green grass. Kauth states, “It is not uncommon for problems to arise during the process of enforcing water preserving guidelines as some residents will be reluctant to give up the aesthetics turf provides.” To address this problem head-on, board members should begin openly communicating with residents about future challenges with current landscaping and water restrictions. They should also begin the process of gradually replacing turf with more water-efficient alternatives. Failure to do so will leave the community without water for their grass, resulting in its deterioration and a subsequent decline in property value. For the best outcome, board members should collaborate with water conservation experts to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce water usage within their community and ensure a sustainable future.
As a board member or resident in a community, it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences of declining water levels and the implementation of water tariffs. One concerning outcome is the possibility of needing to completely halt water usage, which would have devastating effects on the landscape. Not only would this impact the aesthetic appeal of the area, but it could also lead to a significant drop in property values within a community. It is crucial for community members to understand the implications of water scarcity and work towards sustainable solutions to maintain both the environment and property investments.
Turf. When it comes to excessive water usage in Arizona, one of the major culprits is the abundance of grass. The excessive water requirements of maintaining lush lawns become a pressing issue during times of limited water supply. In Maricopa County alone, which is home to 4.5 million people and 1.8 million homes, the annual water consumption for residential purposes amounts to a staggering 317,000-acre feet (92 billion gallons). Astonishingly, grass accounts for the highest groundwater usage in Arizona's Maricopa County, surpassing even businesses, individuals, and residential landscaping.
A couple of years ago, the state faced concerns regarding water levels when basin reports yielded inconclusive results. This prompted the governor of Arizona, Katie Hobbs, to take action and restrict the construction of additional homes in certain cities and areas such as Buckeye and Queen Creek. The underground water currently available is only sufficient to sustain the existing population, but any further growth would risk depleting the water supply. It is crucial for communities and policymakers to recognize water limitations and work towards sustainable management to ensure that supply does not run out in the future.
To sustain Arizona’s water supply effectively, experts suggest following the example set by Nevada. Under Assembly Bill 356 signed by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, nearly one-third of all grass in Southern Nevada will need to be removed by the end of 2026 and the Southern Nevada Water Authority will be prohibited from distributing water from the Colorado River to irrigate “nonfunctional turf” starting January 1, 2027. According to estimates, the new law will lead to the eventual removal of 3,900 to 4,000 acres of nonfunctional grass.
Taking action to remove just 50 thousand acres of turf in Maricopa County could lead to substantial water savings. In fact, the amount of water conserved would exceed the staggering 92 billion gallons currently used in the county. Eliminating turf would not only save water but also create opportunities for population growth and development. By freeing up land and water resources previously dedicated to landscaping, the state could potentially accommodate an additional 4.5 million people. Currently, the draining of aquifers to maintain grass landscapes restricts the state's ability to expand and meet the needs of its growing population. Prioritizing sustainable alternatives to turf is crucial for ensuring both water preservation and growth potential in Arizona.
Removing turf can bring significant cost saving benefits to both large and small communities. While it may require an upfront investment, typically taking about 3 years to recoup every dollar spent, the long-term gains are well worth it. For example, if a community has 2 acres of turf, it will cost approximately $87,000 or $1 per square foot to remove it. However, through water savings and reduced maintenance costs, the community would recoup the entire $87,000 within just 2 years and 10 months. This means that investing in water conservation and removing grass saves money for communities. These savings will continue to accumulate every year, providing financial gains over the long term.
In the 1970’s, the deputy director of HUD in the western states, Adele Kauth, made a significant decision regarding water usage in Arizona. She refused to approve any new planned unit developments unless the state could guarantee a water supply for the next hundred years. This decision was based on concerns that new developments would quickly deplete the available groundwater resources. Arizona responded by passing the Ground Water Act in 1980, which aimed to replenish groundwater by returning what is taken from it over time. The state achieved this by utilizing surface water, including sanitized sewage water.
Among the three states affected (Arizona, California, Nevada), Nevada was the only one to take bold steps towards resolving the water issue. They banned the use of turf and replaced it with desert landscaping or artificial grass, providing grant money to facilitate the transition. As a result, Nevada secured its future for growth by ensuring a sustainable water supply.
As water preservation continues to gain attention in Arizona, individuals and communities are recognizing the need to act. With a burgeoning population and limited water resources, the challenges faced by the state are unique and require proactive solutions. From enacting stringent water laws to encouraging responsible water usage, Arizona has already taken significant steps in preserving this invaluable resource. However, the journey towards sustaining a secure water supply is ongoing. It is essential for both individuals and communities to remain committed to effective water conservation measures to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for Arizona. By making conscious choices today, we can collectively safeguard our water resources for generations to come.
Jim Kauth is an Arizona landscape and irrigation contractor and founder of Aqua Trac System. With 25 years of experience, he is a certified Landscape Water Manager (CLWM) and a certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA) with the EPA and the Irrigation Association. There are only 95 people in the United States and 5 in Arizona who are certified as Water Managers. He is passionate about water conservation and his expertise in water management and landscaping allows him to help municipalities, board members, developers, facility managers, and communities effectively conserve water while sustaining their landscapes.
Jim Kauth, CLWM, CLIA – Aqua Trac System
Founded in 2007, Aqua Trac System manages irrigation water for some of the largest homeowners’ associations in Arizona. Dedicated to assisting HOAs conserve water and improve the health of their landscapes, Aqua Trac provides water conservation consulting, irrigation audits, water meter audits, equipment improvements, irrigation inspections, and turf reduction planning. Additionally, they help associations create and maintain an annual water conservation plan that is required by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.