Cherry Creek Village HOA’s Water Conservation Case Study

Upon revamping CAP Management’s Sustainability Department in the Spring of 2019, one of the first projects we undertook was a water efficiency and conservation initiative at Cherry Creek Village HOA. 

As of August 2019, we have helped the association reduce the community’s monthly water usage by an average of 30%, saving 1.2 million gallons of water and $4,200 in utility costs!

We’re also on track to save 2.2 million gallons of potable water by the end of the irrigation season, yielding nearly $8,200 saved for the Cherry Creek Village home owners association. Here’s how we did it:

1. Conservation Follows Conversation

For irrigation efficiency initiatives, we recommend starting the conversation several months before the system is even turned on for the watering season. In collaboration with the board of directors at Cherry Creek Village, we began our discussions in late Winter, allowing ample time to understand the unique needs of the property and the desired results from the board of directors. 

Initial discussions revealed that the board of directors were certainly interested in addressing water conservation through irrigation efficiency, but they admittedly lacked a decision-making framework to undertake such a project. One board member pointed out that the association didn’t even have a map or schematic of the system. They had limited knowledge of how the irrigation system operated, although they suspected it was in poor operating condition.

2. Historical Water-Use Analysis

We at CAP Management also suspected that there was a great opportunity to help the Cherry Creek Village HOA  save money and water, but we needed an objective starting place. Before proposing a solution to Cherry Creek Village’s irrigation problems, we conducted a thorough analysis of the property’s past water consumption habits to establish a baseline consumption pattern. 

We found that like many HOAs serviced by Denver Water, this property does not have an irrigation submeter.  Cherry Creek Village has one account that provides water for the entire property, including water to each of the 220 units, as well as the entire irrigation system.

In order to understand how much water is actually used for landscaping, we used an industry-standard method of calculating Average Winter Consumption (AWC). The AWC includes the non-irrigation months of the year – in this case, we used November 2018 through to April 2019.  The difference between the consumption of the Summer months and Winter months gives a good estimation of how much water is being used for landscaping. 

The analysis estimated that 16% of all annual water use is for irrigation, costing an estimated $12,000 per year.

3. HOA Sustainability needs Collaboration

Successful sustainability projects always require effective collaboration among stakeholders. For irrigation efficiency projects at the HOA level, the most important stakeholders are the board of directors, the HOA management company, the water efficiency consultant, and the landscape contractor. 

The board of directors are the primary decision-makers and the HOA management company should provide oversight of the entire process. In this case, CAP Management’s Chief Sustainability Officer also acted as the water efficiency consultant. Lastly, good coordination with the landscape contractor will ensure that the recommendations are implemented and savings are achieved. 

At the time of this project, CAP Management’s in-house landscaping team had just taken over the landscaping contract at Cherry Creek Village. While this redundancy isn’t necessary for a project’s success, it was certainly advantageous, allowing us to work as an integrated team.

4. Our HOA Management Sustainability  Proposal

CAP Management’s proposal for involvement was intended to be both an actionable and guiding plan. One board member asserted that they were not interested in a “band-aid” solution, so we developed a sustainable plan that would be useful in both the long and short term. 

The findings of the consumption analysis and efficiency recommendations can be utilized to make strategic decisions on system improvements in the future. Other components of the assessment can be implemented immediately to start realizing savings right away. 

5. Irrigation Assessment

The Irrigation Assessment was the centerpiece of this project. During the irrigation assessment, we identified and documented all inefficiencies in the system, which ranged from urgent issues like leaks to minor things like misaligned sprinkler heads. 

During this phase, we found a huge opportunity to make efficiency improvements through maintenance. We provided a prioritized list of work orders for CAP’s landscaping team, who repaired the most common issues on the property like broken sprinkler heads, tilted heads, and overspray.  

Additionally, we found many sprinkler heads to be unnecessarily watering non-turf areas of either rocks, mulch, or bare dirt. Eliminating these unnecessary heads also yielded additional savings.

The second part of the Irrigation Assessment was to conduct efficiency tests on a sample of zones. The efficiency tests were conducted using the “catch-cup” method, which calculated two important metrics: distribution uniformity, which measures the evenness of the watering coverage, and the precipitation rate, which is how quickly the system emits water. We would later use these measurements to optimize each zone’s runtime. 

6. Implementation of the Cherry Creek Village Sustainability Plan

Much of the savings at Cherry Creek Village can be attributed to both efficiency maintenance and optimized scheduling.  The efficiency maintenance is a foundational strategy for water conservation. Subsequent conservation measures are less effective without a properly operating system.

The work performed by CAP’s landscaping team was not a complete overhaul or redesign of the system. However, we thoughtfully worked with the existing system and made the most effective efficiency adjustments.  

Using the precipitation rate, we calculated optimal runtimes for each sprinkler zone, using the “evapotranspiration” (or ET) method. We also implemented a “cycle and soak” schedule which breaks up watering times into multiple cycles, promoting deep root growth while reducing excess run-off.  With clay-heavy soils in Colorado, the ground is likely to reach saturation before the runtime is finished. So, instead of running a zone for 16 consecutive minutes, we program the controller to run 2 cycles of 8 minutes each (with an hour’s break in between).

7. Forward Thinking

As requested by the board of directors, we also provided decision-making tools and guiding recommendations for future water conservation endeavours. 

During the Irrigation Assessment, we also created a Zone Map, which locates and describes the extent of each zone in the system. This has already proven to be an effective communication and decision-making tool. 

For example, if a broken sprinkler head or leak is reported, the landscaper can document the repair by zone number. This creates a sense of accountability, which is important for maintenance communication. 

We provided 2 additional strategic recommendations that can be used to guide water conservation discussions in the future. 

We recommended upgrading the irrigation system’s controller to a “smart” controller. Taking advantage of the latest irrigation controller technology will allow for enhanced management of the entire system. Newer irrigation controllers can achieve significant savings by creating customized watering schedules based on the local weather and environmental factors, as well as detecting leaks and automatically shutting off the system in such events. 

Lastly, we also suggested the board of directors consider ways in which they can reduce the overall water demand of the landscape. Currently, the property is primarily landscaped with turfgrass, which requires a substantial amount of water to maintain in Colorado’s dry climate – up to 20 gallons per sq ft per year. There are many water-wise landscaping alternatives, like xeriscape gardens, that provide aesthetic designs while not requiring an excessive amount of supplemental irrigation. 

Final Thoughts

The work CAP Management performed at Cherry Creek Village wasn’t technically complicated. We didn’t deploy some new water saving technology, nor did we design an entirely new, water-wise landscape. Rather, we met the board of directors where they were at and gave them the best first step that agreed with their budget. In doing so, we strategically applied industry-identified best management practices to achieve significant savings – 2.2 million gallons! That’s enough water to fill more than 3 olympic-sized swimming pools, or to supply over 127,000 showers. 

If there is a silver bullet for solving problems in irrigation efficiency, perhaps it is to simply bring more attention to the matter. With a trained eye, an irrigation system can easily be demystified and savings opportunities will become more apparent. The water conservation project at Cherry Creek Village is a testament that millions and millions of gallons of water are waiting to be saved!

At CAP Management, we care about water. We are an industry leader in community-scale sustainability. We utilize HOA Management as a tool for sustainability, providing resources, strategic analysis, planning, and project management to achieve community-wide savings through conservation initiatives.