School of Water

The Phoenix suburb of Peoria invites residents to study the value of water, how to conserve it, and how to use it to beautify desert landscapes.
School of Water
Robin Bain

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Officials in the fast-growing Phoenix suburb of Peoria have a water conservation philosophy they care enough about to have trademarked: Peoria has enough water to use, but we never have enough to waste.

That philosophy drives the water conservation education program, recently expanded to become the cornerstone of the city’s Sustainable University. Water conservation classes have attracted 300 to 400 students per session and are the core curriculum in a program that now addresses a variety of environmental concerns.

Peoria, in Arizona’s Sonoran desert, has grown from 15,000 residents in the 1980s to more than 160,000. The city receives an average of 7 to 9 inches of rainfall each year, and that scarcity is the reason the city relies on both technology and public outreach to conserve water.

Promoting diversity

The city developed diverse water sources, including surface water rights from the Colorado River (through the Central Arizona Project) and  from the Salt River Project. The city also pumps groundwater from the Agua Fria aquifer, but now deposits more reclaimed water into the ground than it pumps out each year.

All reclaimed water produced by Peoria’s wastewater treatment system is reused for irrigation or to replenish groundwater that was being depleted as the Phoenix metropolitan area grew. On the customer side, the city has refined and expanded its education and outreach ever since Arizona lawmakers adopted the Groundwater Management Act in 1980. It makes cities responsible for drawing down the state’s aquifers to develop long-range plans to replenish them.

Robin Bain, Peoria environmental resources manager, says outreach has always been a key part of the city’s plan to meet those requirements. The city began with public information campaigns and workshops to demonstrate ways to save water, but as the city grew and the need for conservation became more acute, public works officials sought a more formal approach.

The city launched a coordinated water conservation education program more than 10 years ago, and recently the approach has became even more focused with Peoria Sustainable University (PSU), a 2012 initiative that educates on topics from water and energy consumption to recycling and clean air.

Multiple courses

Susan Daluddung, deputy city manager for development and community services, conceived PSU as part of a Sustainability Action Plan adopted in 2009. Although it adds classes such as Going Solar 101, Ready-To-Ride Bicycle Workshop and the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Workshop, the program still focus heavily on water use and conservation and remains under the Environmental Resources Division, headed by Bain.

Bain, who joined the city in January 2009, has worked in the water industry for more than 33 years. She is also a board-certified environmental engineer and was honored as the WateReuse Association’s 2012 Person of the Year.

The classes are popular, and people are eager to enroll. “When we open registration, sometimes people will call and say, ‘Sign us up for every class,’” says Bain. “One of the first times I went to a lawn irrigation class here, I think there were as many as 100 people.”

During spring 2013, Bain taught a new class in Sustainable Water Supplies: The Life Cycle of Urban Water, which tells where the city’s water comes from, how it is treated and distributed, how wastewater is cleaned, and how residents can become better water stewards.

Smart landscaping

Mike Buettner, environmental resources supervisor, says, “With Sustainable U, we tried to take what we do in water conservation and expand it to cover other areas like recycling and energy consumption. We are doing a fall and a spring session, and we typically do about 10 classes each year.”

Buettner came to Peoria as a park supervisor in 2007, worked on several sustainability projects, and eventually moved into his current role. He taught Landscape Watering 101 in spring 2013. While that class focused on individual irrigation systems, the city also offers HOA (Homeowner Association) Irrigation Management 101. In many Peoria housing projects, homeowner associations do most of the landscape maintenance, and “There’s a real need to educate those folks,” Buettner says. Other classes include:

  • Xeriscape: Desert Fusion Garden Lecture and Walking Tour
  • Vegetable Gardening in the Sonoran Desert
  • Compost Happens:  Complete Guide to Backyard Composting
  • Landscaping for Color
  • Homeowner’s Tree Care Workshop
  • Edible Landscapes & Design

Some classes are offered as four-hour sessions on Saturday mornings, and others as two-hour sessions on weeknights. The fall and spring class lineups are generally the same, although some classes are modified to fit the seasons.


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