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Meters or no meters, Bellingham residents show signs of being water-conscious

Rick Dubrow and Cindi Landreth of Bellingham are misers when it comes to water, and they and the city both think that's fine.

The city likes people who save on water because it puts less demand on the public water system.

Dubrow and Landreth like it because it keeps their water bill low, and because it's part of their mindset to live in a way that treads lightly on the Earth.

With the region's recent string of hot days - with more toasty weather in the forecast - water consumption comes to the forefront for people who pay for their water and for agencies that supply it.

The challenge for Bellingham is that most residents' bills aren't based on how much water they use. About 11,000 single-family households in the city still pay a flat rate for water. That number is shrinking, though, as more households are fitted with water meters, part of a state-ordered program to have the entire city metered by January 2017.

Nearly 5,000 single-family households now have water meters, including Dubrow and Landreth, who voluntarily had one installed when they built their house a decade ago.

Dubrow and Landreth are president and vice president, respectively, of A-1 Builders Inc. and Adaptations Design Studio. At work, their businesses focus on smart, green design, so it's natural that their house - with one bedroom, one bathroom and 1,350 square feet of space - was designed to go light on water, energy and materials.

Inside, their home has water-efficient kitchen, bathroom and laundry fixtures, an approach that's mainstream these days.

Outside, there's no lawn to water. Instead, their mulched property is busy with trees - including live Christmas trees planted years ago by the property's previous owner - and with native plants that cope well in dry weather. A mini-orchard with plum and apple trees occupies one corner, but doesn't require heavy watering.

In the back, Landreth keeps a watchful eye on her kiwis, currants, fig trees and berry bushes, plus herbs and vegetables, including cabbage, squash, artichokes and broccoli.

Drip and soaker hoses are often recommended for water-wise gardeners, but Landreth prefers a standard hose with a spray nozzle so she can blast away plant pests. Spraying by hand also gives her extra time to pay close attention to her plants.

"I watch the plants better," she said. "I know them better."

Even with sprinkler in hand, Dubrow and Landreth consume only 600 cubic feet of water (or 4,488 gallons) over the two months on their water bill, and that's in the summer. Other times they consume from 300 to 500 cubic feet of water every two months.

Their summertime use is half of the average amount used by metered homes in the city last year, according to Anitra Accetturo, the city's water conservation program coordinator.

Accetturo said it's difficult to precisely gauge the impact of metering until all homes are metered. Still, it appears that residents are smart about water even though many still pay a flat rate for it.

Accetturo attributes that to a strong environmental ethos in the city, with people volunteering for meters, using rain barrels, putting in native plants and installing water-saving fixtures.

"Our community is quite good at conserving water," she said. "Even though we're growing in customers, our consumption is going down."

Another good measure is the "peak demand" for water each summer. In 2009, when the city imposed mandatory water restrictions, the peak demand was nearly 18 million gallons a day.

Last summer, the peak was 14.5 million gallons. The peak this July was 12.8 million gallons.

While residents are mindful of their water, switching to meters will be a "big teaching moment" when they receive their first bills that detail their water use, Accetturo said.

She said reducing water use falls into two categories: "Fixtures," such as low-flow shower heads and aerated faucets; and "behavior," such as letting your lawn turn brown and taking shorter showers.

"If you don't want to change your behaviors," she said, "at least change your fixtures."

MORE DETAILS

For details about Bellingham's water metering program, and for ways to reduce and estimate your water consumption, go to cob.org and search for "water conservation."

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