News Feature | January 5, 2017

New Jersey Utilities Already Prepping For Summer Water Use

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

nj drought reg new

It’s still scarf and mitten season in New Jersey, but water utilities are already preparing for a difficult challenge on the horizon: the summer months.

That’s because water use peaks in the summer, and the state is facing a difficult drought. Nearly 70 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The state Environmental Protection Department put much of North Jersey under a drought warning in October, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

With some utilities already rationing water, water managers are planning ahead for the spike in summer water use. “Water experts say the region’s suburban areas see spikes in use each summer that can be more than double wintertime use, as residents irrigate their thirsty lawns and landscaping,” The Record reported.

Here are some of the ideas New Jersey utilities are considering for reining in summer water spikes, according to the report:

  • Among the options are more routine rationing. Ridgewood Water’s Richard Calbi said the utility will look at making two-day-a-week watering limits permanent.
  • Educating residents on how to conserve and use drought-tolerant plants in their landscapes is another approach. Calbi said he wants to get more information to residents who have automatic sprinkler systems about installing sensors in the ground that can detect moisture levels and only turn the system on when the lawn actually needs watering.
  • Some systems also use weather reports to prevent watering before expected rainstorms, he said. Referring to a sprinkler system’s automatic timer, Calbi said residents often just “set it and forget it.”
  • Another option, sometimes used in the West, is to employ peak pricing, which increases the price each time a user reaches the next level of water use. For instance, the first 5,000 gallons used in a month would cost one price, then the next 5,000 gallons used would be charged at a higher rate, and so on.

Calbi, director of operations at Ridgewood Water, said water use is rising in general. He said his system’s customers drew 2.8 billion in 2010, 2.8 billion in 2015, and 3 billion in 2016, per the report.

“We believe that’s being driven by outdoor water use,” Calbi said. “Homeowners put in new landscaping and then want to protect their investment. More people are putting in irrigation systems and not using those systems in a sustainable way.”

For Ridgewood Water customers, summer is water consumption season.

“In summer growing months, water use spikes by as much as three times winter use rates, Calbi said. In winter, Ridgewood Water customers use a combined 5 million to 6 million gallons a day. In summer, the number can spike to as much as 15 million gallons a day. One day last summer, use hit nearly 18 million gallons,” the report said, citing Calbi.

Experts say New Jersey reservoirs are dropping to troubling lows. Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, provided an update.

“The storage capacity in many of our major reservoir systems is now about 50 percent capacity or less. The situation is becoming more critical and we need customers of water supply companies to do their part and conserve water wherever possible,” he said, per New Jersey 101.5.

To read more about how utilities are dealing with drought visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Pulsating," Nicholas A. Tonelli © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/