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Here's how you can help Chapel Hill win the water conservation challenge

Water Challenge graphic

Carrboro and Chapel Hill are battling it out in their first-ever water conservation challenge.

It launched on World Water Day on March 22 and will continue throughout April, and the winner will receive a Golden Faucet award. 

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger challenged Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle in this friendly competition between the two towns. Orange Water and Sewer Authority is facilitating the challenge and will declare a winner on Friday, May 3. To participate, residents must take a pledge to save water in a variety of suggested ways. Whichever town has the highest percentage of residents take the pledge between now and April 30 will be declared the winner.

Mary Tiger, sustainability manager at OWASA, said the idea for the challenge came last year when Hemminger suggested holding a community-wide water conservation challenge.

“We were excited about it,” she said. 

Tiger said, despite the two community’s strong belief in water conservation and stewardship, everybody needs a reminder from time to time. 

“This is a great time to have it because, as we head into the warmer months, that’s generally when water use increases,” she said. “It’s a good time to remind everybody.”

Hemminger said the challenge was adapted from others across the country. 

“We thought we’d try our own to raise awareness for folks about drinking water and how expensive it is to clean up the water and all the energy that’s involved in creating the water,” she said. “In asking people to conserve, you actually help them figure out why and have them pay attention to how much water they’re using.”

Change is going to come from transitioning behaviors of residents and business, Hemminger said, and Chapel Hill itself is a very small piece of the puzzle.

“When people voluntarily want to do something and get behind it, it’s much more effective than just having a policy regulation,” she said. 

Hemminger said small communities like Chapel Hill often band together as role models for large communities through initiatives like the challenge, but they also learn from larger ones. 

“We’re all trying to figure this out, so if we can come up with a solution so someone else doesn’t have to recreate the wheel – that they can borrow – then we’re happy to be that instigator or leader in that capacity, especially on environmental issues,” she said. “We care a lot in our community about the whole planet, not just our own community.”

Along with the challenge, OWASA has released a new online portal called Agua Vista, which will allow customers to track their water use and identify leaks online. The features include hourly water use, customizable notifications for high use or leaks and a series of water conservation tips that align with their water use.

“We’re really excited about this, first and foremost, for leak notifications,” Tiger said. “We were reading meters once a month before this system rolled out, so if someone had a leak, they had to wait a month, sometimes more, for leak notifications.”

Tiger said upgraded water meters across the community allowed for the creation of this system and, with them, leaks can be identified within days. 

“That can prevent a lot of unwanted water waste, high bills and, in some cases, prevent serious property damage,” she said. 

Hemminger said reducing water usage is helpful for everyone, "not just the planet."

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