My turn: Save water, save energy

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2008

Juneau residents should be proud of their efforts to conserve electricity in the wake of the Snettisham avalanches that cut off our main power source. Collectively, the community has reduced its energy use from 1,006 megawatt hours April 15 to 660 megawatt hours four weeks later, on May 13. That's a 34 percent decrease.

Thank you, and congratulations. But we can do even better - by conserving water.

It may sound odd that in a community as wet as Juneau anyone would ever need to think about conserving water use in our homes and businesses. Yet the truth is our water use is the single biggest community draw on electrical power.

It's all those pumps.

The city has invested heavily to make sure we have a modern, well-maintained areawide water system, delivering clean water to most every household and business in Juneau. Water must be pumped from our surface water source and primary well fields and lifted to nine water storage reservoirs to maintain the pressure we take for granted. The city utility division oversees more than 175 miles of water mains to collect and deliver the flow. This same system is our main source for firefighters, serving some 1,269 fire hydrants spread throughout the community.

Moving more than three million gallons of clean water every day takes a lot of energy.

But there is more. More pumps, more treatment and more electrical consumption.

In addition to moving water for drinking, cleaning, commerce and firefighting, wastewater from our workplaces and homes, as well as water from our storm drains, must be collected and treated.

The wastewater system consists of an additional 129 miles of mains, 2,400 manholes and 43 pump lift stations. Our wastewater utility division maintains three treatment facilities that together treat an average of five million gallons of wastewater a day.

The treatment plants are a sophisticated operation, requiring close monitoring of the composition of the wastewater and the aeration that is essential to breaking down the waste material. Treating the water consumes electricity, lots of electricity.

The higher electrical rates of the coming weeks will add about $15,000 a day to the cost of operating the city water and wastewater utilities. System operators have taken every measure they can to reduce the draw on energy without compromising the public's health.

But I know we can do better. And that's where you come in.

We can achieve additional savings in energy costs by reducing the amount of water that enters the system. Less pumping, less treatment, more electrical savings.

It's the water that's on call every time we turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, wash a car or pressure wash a building. If you don't need the water, shut off the faucet. If less will do, use less.

To be sure, we're not in a drought, and it's not likely we can make major reductions - our impacts will be incremental, but they will reduce the burden on our city-owned utilities and they will save money. And that's what everyone is trying to do these days.

• Bruce Botelho is mayor of Juneau.

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