Resident and Staff Education Help California Apartments Stay Ahead of the Drought

The California drought is getting down to finger pointing. Watchdogs are tattling on offenders of mandates and restrictions to conserve the public water supply via social media. Or on those who just appear to be wasting what has become a precious resource.

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency as the four-year drought intensified, ordering state officials to prepare for water shortages.

What has followed are more efforts to put policies, mandates and restrictions in place to conserve. In June, there was an emergency adoption of building codes to conserve water, as well as new water efficiency requirements for landscaping in nonresidential construction and school construction. Additionally, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities must now limit potable water use for outdoor irrigation.

Think again before washing down that walkway. Because the list goes on, and some say it may resort to more widely charging higher water rates beyond allocated amounts.

Some apartments are trying to do their fair share to conserve water used indoors and outdoors by staff and residents, and it’s coming from the top of organizations and filtering down. Money for water-saving fixtures, changes in irrigation practices – even yanking out grass – are showing up in capital budgets. Rewards and prizes are being given to employees who identify leaks and find ways to conserve.

Leaders recently exchanged ideas at the Crittenden Multifamily West conference in San Francisco on how they are working with staff and residents to reduce water usage, and they’ll be back at it later this month at the National Apartment Association (NAA) Education Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. They agree that there is no letting up, especially as drought conditions have worsened up and down the West Coast.

“Regardless if you’re in bad drought or not, if you want to have a strong water conservation program it takes constant effort,” said Kelly Vickers, a LEED Green Associate and the National Director of Sustainability for Alliance Residential Co. “There are so many things that our associates are focused on and so it just takes constant communication, reiterating why it’s important, constantly checking for new programs, new incentives, and keeping on it all the time.”

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Constant communication and education of water-saving practices are key

Persistent communication and resident education is the key to creating a water-conscious community, says Jeff Bosshard, CPM, who is president of multifamily operations for Woodmont Real Estate Services (WRES).

WRES uses traditional and new-age ways to get the message out. Print materials, including door hangers, and social media posts encourage residents and prospects to keep water conservation top of mind. On a trip to the leasing office, you’ll most likely see a flyer on the table.

Move-in gifts even come with a special message to conserve. Tent cards, similar to those that hotels place in rooms suggesting that towels and sheets be used more than once, are situated next to the gift in soon-to-be-occupied units.

“The way I think about it, there’s not one simple fix to this,” said Bosshard. “This is a complex problem. This requires joint effort between our residents and management. The majority of water is used inside the apartments, not by operators. We are really trying to partner with residents and educate them about what they can do inside their apartments to conserve.”

Because many Californians are environmentally conscious, educating has been easier, says Bosshard. WRES has given many residents a head start by outfitting all of the 12,000 apartments it manages in northern California with low-flow devices. However, that doesn’t always prevent residents from making changes when the water pressure is not to their satisfaction. So maintenance teams are always on the lookout for units that need attention.

“Residents won’t change out toilets, but they will change out showerheads if they don’t like the water pressure,” Bosshard said. “When we’re in there doing service calls, when we’re turning over an apartment, any opportunity that we have, were trying to check to make sure these water-saving devices are in place.”

In addition, WRES is going through its properties and eliminating car washes and water features, and reducing the amount of colorful flower beds and pots that require additional watering. Many are being limited to monument areas or at the front of the property. It’s the socially responsible thing to do, Bosshard says.

Alliance Residential, one of the largest private U.S. multifamily companies with properties that stretch in drought-stricken states and regions from Southern California to Texas, has been diligent about sharing water-conservation with residents, as well as employees.

A single-page Guide to Water Conservation encourages residents to report water leaks or drippy faucets, and offers tips for saving water in the kitchen and bathroom and while doing laundry or providing water for the family pet. A double-sided flyer promotes the company’s Leak Detective program, and rotating messages on utility bills encourage residents to use less water.

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Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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