Curbing outdoor water use can help the region maintain our long-term supplies well into the future. CMAP recommends four strategies that communities can use:
Create common guidelines across communities
Prepare for the next drought
Target high outdoor water users
Encourage water-saving landscapes
Join forces with common guidelines
Communities must educate residents and businesses about watering guidelines and the importance of conservation. Research by the Alliance for Water Efficiency has shown that communication and messaging strategies are essential to reduce outdoor water use.
By setting common guidelines across the region, communities can simplify communication since a single message can apply broadly. When the Northwest Water Planning Alliance began drafting its model ordinance, the alliance recognized the value of communicating uniform watering hours and drought status criteria across a wide area. By collaborating and using the same set of guidelines, water utilities can reinforce each other’s messages through municipal websites, water bills, newspapers, and social media.
Be prepared for droughts or other water shortages
Having a municipal drought action plan is essential, especially in a changing climate. Illinois’ Drought Preparedness and Response Plan identifies a number of shallow groundwater-dependent communities in the Chicago region as particularly vulnerable to drought conditions.
Several organizations provide guidance on drought planning, including the American Waterworks Association and the U.S. Drought Portal. The year round-drought provisions in the NWPA lawn watering ordinance also are a great way to start. Although Lake Michigan communities are significantly less susceptible to drought conditions, their methods and communication can reinforce the messaging for nearby communities dependent on groundwater and promote wise water use.
Target high outdoor water users
Widespread enforcement of lawn watering restrictions rarely will be a municipality’s priority. Working directly with subdivisions, office parks, churches, and other large landowners can be an effective strategy for reducing outdoor water use. The city of Aurora’s Public Works department found it more effective to directly communicate watering restrictions in areas with large subdivisions, especially those with large shared landscaped areas, to ensure they were following lawn watering restrictions. Identifying higher outdoor water-using customers has been a common practice in other areas of the country, especially those facing dire water supply challenges.
Utility rebate programs that support upgrading inefficient irrigation systems to more efficient WaterSense products also are common. Utilities in the Chicago region already are familiar with such strategies. The city of Joliet is offering a low-flow toilet, as well as a rain barrel rebate program, through its Rethink Joliet Water campaign. Utilities have found upfront water conservation improvements can avoid or delay expensive infrastructure expansions in the future.
Design water saving landscapes
Planning and development decisions, such as subdivision, zoning, and landscaping provisions, also can influence water use. Development guidelines that retain natural areas and features, use native and drought tolerant plants, and limit the amount of thirsty turf grass not only help conserve water, they create beautiful yards.
In fact, landowner preferences are changing. A recent national survey on landscaping revealed 70 percent of respondents believe their yard could look attractive with landscaping that uses less water and over 50 percent expressed a desire to decrease the amount of water they use outdoors. Municipalities can share a number of resources with homeowners to help them transition to a water-efficient yard, including the U.S. EPA WaterSense outdoor program and the region-specific resources developed for the Northwest Water Planning Alliance.
Wondering how to follow these recommendations? Start by checking your municipality’s existing outdoor water use guidelines and communication strategies, and refer to the NWPA lawn watering resources for ideas on how to encourage more water conservation.
 Peter Mayer, P.E., Paul Lander, Ph.D., and Diana Glenn, M.S., 2015, “Outdoor Water Savings Research Initiative, Phase 1 Analysis of published research,” Alliance for Water Efficiency, https://www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/sites/www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/files/highlight_documents/AWE-OWSRI-Phase-1-Final-Report-01-2015.pdf