Water use at 140 homes tops million gallons
BY GAVIN OFF World Data Editor
Sunday, February 07, 2010
2/08/10 at 9:16 AM
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Despite last year's heavy rains, 140 single-family homes in the Tulsa area used more than a million gallons of water, a Tulsa World investigation found.
The average single-family home used about 83,000 gallons during a one-year period.
The national average is even less, experts said.
"It doesn't matter whether it's going into a pool or out of your tap or onto your lawn," said Shanon Phillips, director of water quality for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. "Those numbers are excessive."
For most Oklahomans, water is cheap and plentiful.
The state has been in a wet cycle for the past 20 years, and its reservoirs capture enough water for residents to drink, shower and wash their cars without worry.
But that could change.
A 2005-08 drought parched much of the southeast and nearly wiped out Atlanta's water supply.
Some south Florida towns — usually flooded with rain — set tighter watering restrictions and increased rates for excessive users.
"The sooner that a community recognizes that water is a precious resource, that it's not inexhaustible, the better it is for the sustainability of that community," said Greg Kail, spokesman for the American Water Works Association.
Tulsa's 140 million-gallon single-family users consumed more than 2 percent of all water pumped to single-family homes, a World analysis found. Tulsa provides water to some 123,000 single-family customers.
Twenty-three homes used more than 2 million gallons. Six homes used more than 3 million gallons, and one home used more than 4 million gallons, city data show.
Anthony Lauinger was the area's top user. From November 2008 to November 2009, the city pumped nearly 4.1 million gallons of water to Lauinger's 2.5-acre property off East 47th Street.
Lauinger said that he doesn't have a pool or water fountain and waters his collection of spruce and cedar trees just enough to keep them alive.
City officials saw the high use and told Lauinger that the home might have a leak, said spokeswoman Mary Coley. They have yet to hear back from the family, she said.
"We're talking about 350,000 gallons a month," said Ken Hill, Tulsa's assistant public works director. "That's a lot. That's a heck of a lot."
The sections of town surrounding Lauinger's home also consume a lot of water, data show.
The area bordered by 21st Street to the north, 47th Street to the south, Utica Avenue to the west and Harvard Avenue to the east uses more water than almost any other part of town. On average, houses there use more than twice as much as other homes.
Properties south of 101st Street also double the local average water use, according to city data.
State officials said residents are likely pumping most of the excess water onto their lawns or into their pools.
"You can't drink that much," Phillips said. "You can't flush that much. You can't take that many showers."
Although Tulsa's mega water users are local industries and nearby towns — Jenks, Bixby, Owasso and other cities buy Tulsa water, for example — single-family homes still consume the most.
They're also the most unpredictable, said Charles Hardt, Tulsa's Public Works director.
Water flow to homes changes throughout the year and typically peaks during the summer, when the system is already stressed.
Last year, production at Tulsa's water plants spiked to nearly 170 million gallons a day in late July. The year's average was about 109 million gallons a day.
"(Residential users) are one of the reasons why plants are as big as they are," Hill said.
From late 2008 to late 2009, the city pumped nearly 3.1 million gallons of water to Jerry Dickman's 10-acre property off South Quebec Avenue.
Dickman said he had a water leak about a year and a half ago but thought he had fixed the problem.
He also said he irrigates five acres of his land and does it mostly during the heat of the summer.
If neighborhoods continue to inundate their lawns, it could eventually affect others, conservationists said.
"If we're treating the water to keep everybody's lawn nice and green, that's going to cost us more and more and more," Phillips said.
Hill said that he expects Tulsa to increase water rates for excessive users within the next decade. As of now, all Tulsa single-family customers pay $2.37 for each 1,000 gallons they use.
Increasing rates could help conserve water and prevent the city from having to expand its plants, which have the capacity to produce 220 million gallons of treated water a day.
But for now, Tulsa is willing to accept some high use. In fact, it might even help the city. Because of last year's heavy rains, Public Works officials expect less water-use revenue, Hill said.
And since the plants have the capacity, pumping a large amount of water to some single-family homes might help make up that shortfall.
"Big use is not bad," Hardt said. "We want good use of the water. There's a balance."
Advice on leak detection:
To identify water leaks, Tulsa officials
recommend customers track their monthly
water consumption. A dramatic change
without outside circumstances, such as
increased irrigation or additional company
at the home, could indicate a leak.
Additionally, the city also notifies
customers if their use suddenly increases
more than a normal fluctuation range.
If a customer requests it, the city will
send workers to check for a leak, said mike
Augustine, utility systems operations manager
for Public Works.
If a leak on private property is present,
it’s up to the homeowner to have it
Customers could then submit proof of
repair to Public Works. In some cases, the
customers could receive partial credit for
the excessive use.
Vickie Beyer, Tulsa’s utility service manager,
said the city would credit 50 percent
of up to two months’ water billing and 100
percent of up to two months’ sewer billing.
But to receive credit, the leak must have
been unknown to the customer.
Saving water inside:
- Check your toilet, faucet and pipes for
- Take shorter showers
- Install water-saving showerheads
- Turn off the water after you wet your
- Use the dishwasher and washing machine
only for full loads
Source: American Water Works Association
Saving water outside:
- Plant native or drought-resistant trees
- Water your lawn only when it needs it
- Water only during cool parts of the day
- Don’t run the hose while washing your
- Use a broom to clean sidewalks and
Source: American Water Works Association
Inside the data:
The City of Tulsa provided the World
with water-use data for more than 140,800
properties. The data include the property’s
zoning and how much water it used from
November 2008 to November 2009.
Some areas, such as owasso, Jenks and
Glenpool, fall outside city limits but still use
The World looked at single-family homes
only. It omitted multifamily homes because
some buildings have a single water meter.
The World used mapping software
to plot single-family water users. The
software successfully mapped 96 percent
of the area’s 123,000 single-family homes.
The World then found the average water
use for each block group — a small Census
geographic area — and laid that data over a
map of Tulsa County.
Gavin Off 732-8106
This home at 1923 E. 47th St. used the most water in Tulsa in 2008-09. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World