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How can new housing assist with California’s water crisis?

How can new housing assist with California’s water crisis?

The question was a major topic of discussion during the 17th annual Southern California Water Conference hosted by the Building Industry Association of Southern California earlier this month.

The half-day conference, held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario, kicked off with balancing California’s water supply with its housing needs. Experts and dignitaries, including National CORE’s Robert Noeth, took part of a panel discussion exploring the role housing density can play in solving California’s housing crisis while also addressing the extreme swings the state sees in water supply availability.

“Because we’re building conservation-efficient properties, we’re paving the way for future developments, so there’s enough of this natural resource to go around,” said Robert Noeth, Vice President of Maintenance and Capital Improvements for National CORE.

Since 2016, National CORE, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, has saved an estimated 450 million gallons of water through several conservation programs such as removal of non-functional turf, installation of high-efficiency sprinkler heads, low-flow toilets and high-efficiency washing machines and installing drought-tolerant landscaping with drip irrigation systems.

These programs not only conserve water, they also keep water usage costs down at a time when water affordability is becoming an issue.

“We are not a market-rate developer, so we cannot raise rents when water costs rise,” North said. “Keeping water costs down means we can invest in our communities in other ways, ensuring high levels of property maintenance and service to our residents.”

However, installing water smart devices only gets you so far.

“We educate the residents in our communities how to be water-wise and created a contest among the communities,” North said. “Those incentives helped us keep water usage down and was a fun way to help residents build stronger water conservation habits.”

National CORE uses a suite of innovative technologies and services to monitor and help reduce water usage.  One of those technologies is an online platform called WegoWise. The technology provides electronic access to all of National CORE’s utility and water bills at the properties it owns and manages, and that access is used to track usage.

“So, we can have a snapshot on the dashboard of what properties are the biggest users or wasters of, whether it’s water, electricity or gas,” Noeth said. “This data enables us to pick out those buildings or units from our portfolio of properties and focus on those that are using the most resources.”

The intelligence provided by WegoWise also enables National CORE to benchmark certain activities, such as a major turf removal project, and track the water savings over time.

WegoWise also helps with the Company’s AB 802 reporting. (The Building Energy Benchmarking Program requires owners of large commercial and multifamily buildings to report energy use to the California Energy Commission by June 1 annually.)

“To have a portfolio of our size and to track all of the utility usage throughout that portfolio is a huge task,” Noeth said. “It would take a team of people to be able to receive every single utility bill, document that usage and track it. So, we leverage WegoWise to do all of that.”

Another tool, called a Moen Flow device is installed at the water supply inlet for each apartment. Not only does it track the water usage within that unit, but it also will shut off the water when exceeds preset parameters.

“For example, if you’re a single person living in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit, the parameters set on that Moen Flow device will be much lower than if it was installed in a three-bedroom unit with two bathrooms that might have a family of six or eight people living in it,” Noeth said.

The devices have effectively stopped several potential disasters, including one recently where a resident turned on the bathtub faucet, forgot about it and left the apartment. The device shut off the water before the apartment could flood, preventing a mess and costly insurance claim.

Finally, a low-tech device called the Water Mizer solves a common problem – the leaky toilet tank. The Water Mizer is a mechanical device that replaces the toilet valve within a toilet tank.

“The standard valve only has one float and, as the water rises in the tank, the float goes up and the valve stops,” Noeth said. “But if you have a leak, or let’s say the tank is cracked and that water’s flowing into that tank, that float is never going to rise to turn that valve off, so the water’s going to continue to run and waste water.  With this tool, a secondary float within this valve also rises as the water goes into that tank, and if those two floats don’t rise in conjunction, boom, the water shuts off, stopping the water flow.”

Noeth concluded his presentation at the conference by sharing how National CORE is using every strategy it can to be sustainable.

“I can’t emphasize how important these tools can be: a leaking toilet can waste 700 gallons per day,” Noeth said. “But we haven’t stopped there. We are continually looking for tools to help us prevent waste and ensure efficient use of water.”

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