Sensible switch?

How more watering days could equal more water saved

Truckee Meadows residents will switch from a two-day to a three-day watering schedule this year.

Truckee Meadows residents will switch from a two-day to a three-day watering schedule this year.

For more information about the switch from two-day to three-day watering, visit the Truckee Meadows Water Authority website,, where you can also download the 2010-2030 Water Resource Plan describing the new watering schedule and reasons for it.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s new switch from a two-day to three-day per week watering schedule sounds a bit counterintuitive for a desert state. After all, this is the same agency encouraging residents to xeriscape their yards and conserve water. However, if TMWA’s research is accurate, the switch may actually save water, or at least not use more of it.

Under the 1996 Conservation Agreement, a mandatory twice-per-week watering schedule was put in place for local residents until at least 90 percent of TMWA’s flat-rate services were metered. According to Lora Richards of TMWA, 98 percent are metered now. The official switch is to take place on Feb. 17, just after this issue of RN&R goes to press, when TMWA’s board of directors is expected to sign a resolution adopting the new rule.

“At first, my hackles went up: ‘They want us to use more water so they can make more money,’” Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada director Bob Fulkerson says he remembers thinking when he heard of the switch. “It seems like a good idea now. The research shows that people will actually use less water, and I think that’s the name of the game—using less water.”

That research includes TMWA data from a handful of recent summers and a comprehensive study conducted over eight warm weeks in 2008. The latter study found that, “Average daily water use during the peak week [July 7 to 13] showed that services that watered three or four times had a lower daily water use than the services that watered twice a week.”

Richards says the reason is economics: People with a metered system rather than a flat-rate system are less inclined to use more water, even when given the opportunity, because the more water they use, the more their water bill goes up. They may have an extra day of water each week, but they don’t want an extra day of a water bill. Richards says it’s less wasteful to water more frequently and less deeply, anyway, such as three 10-minute cycles rather than one 30-minute cycle.

“We don’t want you to use more water,” says Richards. “We want you to have the flexibility because you’ve been asking for it, and we’ve studied it thoroughly.”

Fulkerson applauds the agency, but says he’d like to see the region take it a step further by creating a toilet and shower retrofit program. He’d also like to see residents rethink their lawns, or at least plant vegetables in place of sod.

“Most of our water goes out to water these stupid little chemical factories we call lawns, and they send pollutants down the Truckee River to Pyramid Lake,” he says. “And you know what? I have a big-ass lawn, so I’m part of the problem, but we’re trying to take it out. I just think if we can reach a tipping point. Right now, the xeriscaped yard is the sore thumb that sticks out on the block. We need to flip that. It should be the lawn that looks out of place.”