Story and Photo By Cat Robertson – Staff Writer
Use of a simple device could have prevented the loss of two million gallons of water last winter in Green Valley Lake (GVL). It’s called a stop-and-waste valve, and shutting off the valve when you’re away from home for an extended period of time could mean the difference between a typical water bill and one that could leave you tapped out of thousands of dollars.
A stop-and-waste valve is a fitting that attaches to your outdoor plumbing. It prevents water from freezing in the lines. They are left open for the duration of the year and are only shut off when you want them to be closed – for instance, when you’ll be away from your home for an extended period of time.
Emily Nohr, office manager of Green Valley Mutual Water Company (GVMWC), spoke at the Green Valley Lake Summer Faire on July 22 about water conservation. She couldn’t stress enough that correctly using this valve will prevent the loss of millions of gallons of water.
“The biggest, number-one thing everyone should be doing is using your stop-and-waste valve when you leave your cabin,” Nohr said. “It shouldn’t matter if it’s winter or summer; you should always use your valves if you aren’t there for an extended period of time.”
Nohr said some of the older cabins might have a different system. “You might have two valves – a stop valve and a waste valve. But typically, I think this (a stop-and-waste valve) is standard.”
One of the most common ways to have a leak, Nohr explained, is when people aren’t using this valve properly. If the valve isn’t all the way closed or is mistakenly left open, water can leak into the ground and you wouldn’t even know it until you received an astronomical bill. Some local residents have been shocked to learn they owe thousands of dollars.
“For people who have both a stop valve and a waste valve, they sometimes mean to turn off the stop valve but open the waste valve instead,” Nohr said. “It’s like having a spigot just going for however long they’re gone. We find a lot of leaks like that.
“This winter,” she continued, “because a lot of people don’t use this valve or know about the valve, we had two million gallons of water lost – for just this winter. Some of the leaks in peoples’ homes were over 500,000 gallons of water, giving them a $9,000 water bill.”
Lori Hudson, a member of the audience, asked if there’s a way to check the meter remotely to see if too much water is being used. Nohr said, no, there isn’t because they use analog, not digital, meters.
Hudson commented that she’d reported a leak before. “Call us,” Nohr said. “We take it seriously and will come out quickly to turn it off.”
Hudson went on to ask Nohr if it was unusual to lose two million gallons of water. Nohr said it was, and wondered if it was, perhaps, newer homeowners who aren’t familiar with mountain plumbing and having to use a stop-and-waste valve.
“We’ve never lost that much before,” she noted. “And that was in a short amount of time. On top of that, we had a main break, so it was a very stressful February and March.”
A gentleman asked if one should always call if they see running water. Nohr said it’s always worth taking a look at. She said that after winter there are some areas in town where there is always running water and they will get calls about it.
“We’ll always go out to double- and triple-check,” she replied.
Nohr commented that 99 to 100 percent of the two million gallons of water that was lost last winter would have been saved if people had simply shut off their stop-and-waste valve.
“Another thing is – are there any short-term rental owners here? We get a lot of people saying their tenants don’t know how to use the valve. Then you should find someone local who can turn off the valve for you. Quite a few of those leaks this winter were because of that.”
Another way GVMWC tried to conserve water last year was implementing a Tier Three water rate. Very few people reach Tier Three. One percent of the shareholders were using 10 percent of the water, Nohr noted. That was primarily due to landscaping and watering yards. The water district sent a letter to all of them, telling them their water bills were going to triple and they cut their water usage in half.
“That was a big effort we made,” Nohr said, “and it worked very well. Unfortunately, those people that had those water leaks were charged that Tier Three rate.”
Some of the people with leaks of 400,000 or 500,00 gallons thought their meter was wrong because they didn’t see any water damage. That is because sometimes the water seeps into the ground and you won’t see it.
Besides using a stop-and-waste valve, Nohr said the second-biggest thing a person can do is use native plants, or don’t plant anything at all.
“You shouldn’t have to water anything at all after it’s established,” she explained. “I really recommend using local nurseries. There are good ones in Big Bear and one in Rimforest, too. The plants are acclimated to our zone. They just grow and you don’t have to worry about watering them.”
Nohr said the area’s gardening zone is 7B; residents should remember they do live in the desert. “I’m a huge proponent of going to Heaps Peak Arboretum. Twice a year, usually around Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, they have native plant sales.”
It’s GVMWC policy to use a stop-and-waste valve whenever you have to tap in. If you have irrigation, you are not using your stop-and-waste valve because you have to leave your irrigation on.
“We see a lot of leaks that way because little caps pop off and flood yards. It could freeze and burst. You’ll have an iced-over front yard. We see that, too. I’d say don’t use irrigation, especially if you’re not there to monitor it.”
Another big problem is toilet leaks. Nohr said they’ve seen a lot of them this year. One property used over 100,000 gallons of water. “The only thing we could think of was a leaking toilet,” Nohr said. “That really adds up a lot.”
“But how could you know about that?” Hudson asked. “Sometimes you don’t know you have a leaking toilet.”
“In this case, the customer did know. They thought they had fixed it, but they didn’t. So, the only way you would know is when you get your water bill,” Nohr answered.
A lot of people call when their water bill is high. “We can go out and check,” Nohr continued. “Most meters have a leak detector. When we go out to read meters, sometimes we’ll find leaks because the leak detector is spinning.”
Recently, another cabin, which had irrigation, didn’t use their stop-and-waste valve. They had a toilet that leaked three gallons per minute and wasted 26,000 gallons of water. Some people have a small leak and they think it’s nothing because it’s just a small leak, but those leaks add up.
“Another big thing,” Nohr concluded, “is in fall, or cold weather, a lot of people leave their hoses hooked up. That creates a vacuum effect. Moisture can get into your hose, freeze and burst. Always disconnect it. Don’t leave it connected to the bib.”
The water company offers seasonal turn-off for customers. With this no-cost service they will turn off your water in fall and turn it back on in spring. This free service, along with the use of a stop-and-waste valve, could save you thousands of dollars.
For more information, or to report a leak, call the Green Valley Mutual Water Company at (909)867-2912 or visit www.gvmwc.org.