Making sense of water consumption (Water Wednesday)

WaterSense-labeled irrigation controllers will be able to receive local weather data, cutting down on unnecessary watering.

The Energy Star label has become an iconic way to help people identify the most energy-efficient electronics gadgets, appliances and other technologies. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is turning up a similar labeling effort for its WaterSense program.

The first outdoor technologies to be labeled under the effort will be irrigation controllers, which control the frequency and volume of the water that goes into keeping up lawns and landscaping. The EPA figures that residential outdoor watering uses up to 7 billion gallons of water on a daily basis. Most people tend to adjust the settings for these devices once per year and then forget about them. WaterSense-blessed irrigation controllers will be tied into local weather data, so that plants and grass will be watered only when conditions call for it. (And not when it is raining; that is one of my pet peeves, seeing someone's sprinklers on during a rainy period.)

The new irrigation controllers could hit the market by spring 2012, just in time for next year's landscaping season. The EPA figures that the new technologies could help save up to 110 billion gallons of wasted water annually, along with about $410 million in utility bills.

Since WaterSense was started in 2006, the EPA believes that it has helped consumers save up to 125 billion gallons of water and more than $2 billion in water and energy bills. Up until now, it has been focused on indoor technologies including faucets, showerheads, toilets and urinals.

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