South Shore communities using less water

Rick Collins

Funny thing about all those water-saving efforts that public officials and conservationists have been plugging in recent years.

They appear to be working.

Water usage across the South Shore is down in general with many communities consuming less water in 2006 than they did four years earlier.

Hanson, for example, used 20 percent less water last year than in 2002, according to figures from the state. In Hingham and Hull, which share a private water distribution service, the drop has been 17 percent. And in Plymouth, water usage dropped 13 percent, despite the development boom in the town.

Experts credit a number of factors for the drop, including water restrictions during peak usage periods, the replacement of old, leaky pipes and a more environmentally friendly customer base.

‘‘All of these things, to a different degree, are why you’re seeing usage down in recent years,’’ said Dwayne Levangie, who heads the water management program in the state Department of Environmental Protection.

One of the likeliest causes behind the drop, say Levangie and others, is changes to the state’s construction codes, which now favor low-flow kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

For example, as homes are built or remodeled, old water-wasting toilets are being supplanted by newer versions that use a fraction of the water.

‘‘They don’t even manufacture toilets over five gallons per flush anymore,’’ said Robert Roland, director of operations at Aquarion Water Co., which provides water to Hingham and Hull.

The home design market also has an increasing variety of shower heads and kitchen faucets that either are low-flow or use aerators.

A large factor in the drop, at least over the past few years, has been the weather, as rainy springs and summers have reduced the amount of water needed to keep plants and gardens moist and lawns green.

‘‘Your water needs are going to be much higher on a day where it’s 90 degrees and sunny and windy than when it’s 73 and overcast,’’ said Jay Kugler, a member of the Weymouth Garden Club. ‘‘The weather plays a large role in reducing your water usage in the garden.’’

For example, the region recorded 28.75 inches of rain between March and August of 2005, and 34.15 inches over the same period in 2006, according to Patriot Ledger meteorologist Rob Gilman. The average rainfall for those months is about 22 inches.

‘‘In a hot summer, we’ll use about 5.1 (million to) 5.2 million gallons per day,’’ said Plymouth utilities superintendent Paul Wohler. ‘‘When it’s damp or cool, that will drop to about 4.8 million.’’

Wet and cool weather has the biggest impact on water usage rates in communities that generally don’t have strict conservation policies, said Levangie, of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

‘‘The (communities) who have really tightened the strings aren’t really impacted by the weather as (much as communities that) let people do what they want,’’ he said.

Wohler said Plymouth’s water usage rate is actually up this year over last year, because of the long stretches of hot and dry weather this summer.

But overall, Wohler chalked up some of the drop in his town to an effort to replace old water meters and leaky pipes. He said Plymouth has also given away 7,000 water conservation kits in recent years.

Roland, the Aquarion official, said the company has also replaced a number of water pipes in Hingham and Hull, a step that has helped reduced the amount of unaccounted-for water from about 20 percent to under 10 percent.

‘‘If we were pumping during the summer 5 million gallons per day and if 20 percent of that was due to leakage and we reduced that number down to 10 percent, there’s a half-million gallons saved on a daily basis,’’ he said.

A cut in water usage can also mean savings for the pocketbook.

Even though Pine duBois maintains about three-quarters of an acre of lawn and garden space at her Kingston home, her quarterly water bill is about $60, or 20 percent lower than the town’s average.

Among other water reduction efforts, duBois has installed low-flow fixtures throughout her house, shuns outdoor sprinkler systems, waters in the morning, has connected her sump pump to her fish pond and collects rain water in barrels.

‘‘We need to try to figure out how to use what we have without being wasteful,’’ she said. ‘‘This is all in context of trying to maintain a healthy environment.’’

Rick Collins of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.)  may be reached at rcollins@ledger.com.