Green kit: Is a $1.2 million reservoir in the bag?
While Charlottesville leaders continue to bicker over whether to dredge their reservoir or build a new one, a Waynesboro non-profit has unveiled a new idea in water conservation. In a late-December press conference, officials with Vector Industries unveiled a set of kitchen and bathroom devices they claim will reduce household water use by 34 percent–- a savings that some see as a sort of reservoir-in-a-bag.
"It's just the right thing to do," said Vector's Peggy Moore. "It's just common sense."
Dubbed the "Green Kit," the $25 bag includes a low-flow showerhead plus three sink aerators, two kinds of toilet water reducers, a pair of leak detectors, and a roll of teflon tape for installation.
Vector operations manager David Tanner noted that thanks to the kit, long showers by his teenage daughter no longer deplete his home's 30-gallon hot water heater. And Vector's development manager Ginger Quillen–- who, like many of Vector's workers/clients, is confined to a wheelchair–- said she had no trouble installing all the components. "There's nothing to it," said Quillen.
More to the conservation point, Quillen noted that despite the presence of houseguests, the Kit gave her home a 31 percent drop in water usage. That was particularly helpful financial news because, on the same day the Green Kit was unveiled, Waynesboro City Council unveiled some news of its own: a 35.2 percent spike in water rates.
Meanwhile, back in Charlottesville, officials with the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority have done a lot of rate spiking of their own. Average rates climbed over five percent in fiscal 2008, with future increases on the way.
"It might make sense for the RWSA to buy thousands of these and give them away free," said Rich Collins, a press conference attendee and an elected Soil & Water official from Charlottesville who has been critical of RWSA's insistence on reservoir-building.
Indeed, when asked this same day, at the conclusion of his monthly board meeting if such a conservation strategy might make sense, RWSA chair Mike Gaffney dismissed the idea.
"I don't think it's the Authority's responsibility to get into the retail end of the business," said Gaffney. "We have two customers, and they don't want us to mess with their customers."
Yet the numbers, if Vector is correct, might entice the City–- one of the two customers of which Gaffney speaks–- to get involved. Vector says the kits, which its disabled clients assemble from components purchased from Niagara Conservation, will pay for themselves in less than three months.
That last factor could also help explain why the RWSA might not rush to embrace such devices. At its December board meeting, the Authority board received the final financial report from 2008 fiscal year that ended in June. Despite–- or perhaps because of–- the rate hikes, water revenue was up only 2.9 percent. In fact, total metered water flows declined by 8.2 percent.
For every gallon conserved, RWSA makes less money. But that's more money in the pockets of consumers, and that's one of the reasons Vector got involved.
"With the economy the way it is," said Vector's Moore, "a few dollars makes a big difference."
Over the course of a year under Waynesboro's rates, Moore says, the kits could save a typical homeowner 35,000 gallons and $380 in cash. And that's a shot that's been heard over the mountain.
"If they can do it for $25 a pop, that says to me that we're not going far enough," says Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris, who has recently stood up to his county counterparts by demanding a new look at conservation. His actions have included halting construction work on the proposed new dam. Already, the new dam has cost water users about $5 million and appears headed toward an ultimate cost of over $200 million.
By contrast, even without any volume discount, it would cost just $1.2 million to buy a Green Kit for all 47,000 Charlottesville/Albemarle households on public water, and Norris admits he's intrigued.
"If it's true that with a $25 kit we can all reduce our water usage 34 percent," says Norris, "it begs the questions a) Have we tried hard enough and b) Why is that not reflected in our water supply plan?"
Since early 2008, the water supply plan has been roiled in debate, most recently December 18 when the RWSA's other customer, the Albemarle County Service Authority, fretted over the City's stance. Service Authority Board member John Martin, who has been trying to block or delay dredging the existing reservoir, blasted City leaders in general and Norris in particular for their November 3 "unilaterial decision" to block the dam.
"That declaration was the most discourteous thing I've ever seen a governmental body do," said Martin. "He doesn't completely understand what water supply planning is all about," said fellow board member Liz Palmer. "There is a certain Pollyanna character to it," agreed Martin, as the board, as heard in a podcast, erupted in laughter.
Mayor Norris, however, is undeterred by the insults. He points out that the 50-year water plan's goal for conservation is just 5 percent, about one-seventh of the 34 percent claimed by just one little bag of gizmos.
"If Waynesboro can figure out, at 25 dollars a pop, how to be seven times smarter," says Norris, "that's pretty sad."