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Tempe officials say city is within goal range for water use but could do better

The city frequently collaborates with ASU to find best sustainable practices including water conservation

Tempe Water  0001.jpg
Tempe Town Lake is pictured on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tempe. In 2019, Tempe used enough water to fill Tempe Town Lake almost 16 times.

In 2019 the city of Tempe distributed enough water to fill Tempe Town Lake almost 16 times.

Braden Kay, the director of sustainability for the city of Tempe, said the amount of water used last year —15.5 billion gallons — is close to where Tempe should be, but there's still work to do.

“We’re at roughly 110 gallons per person per day,” Kay said. “Arizona’s average is about 140, I think that at some point Arizona should be closer to the national average.”

The national average is about 88 gallons per person per day according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Kay's job is closely affiliated to ASU in both funding and collaboration. Through his relatively new position within Tempe's government, Kay assisted ASU students with projects, then help integrate into Tempe’s sustainability program.

A large part of Kay’s job is finding ways to implement and promote sustainable practices, including water conservation.

In 2018 Tempe finished installing automated water meters throughout the city, these meters gauge a resident's water usage in real-time, said Tempe City Councilmember Lauren Kuby.

Kuby said these meters allow the city to charge residents for exactly how much water they use on a five-tier system.

According to Tempe's website, the rates start at $1.80 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons, and increase up to $5.10 per 1,000 gallons for households using over 40,000 gallons of water.

Kuby said the introduction of the fifth tier angered some residents, particularly in south Tempe, who have larger yards and higher irrigation costs.

The city implemented a program where residents could opt-in to learn more about being water conservative, and in exchange, they would be excluded from the fifth tier and only pay on the fourth tier, $4.61 per 1,000 gallons according to Tempe spokesperson Shannon Reed.

Tempe also offers a service called WaterSmart, in which residents can sign up with their utility billing account to view a breakdown of their water usage. 

Kay said that between 70-80% of a household's water usage is landscaping, and that indoor water usage is a small piece of the puzzle.

"Most of the water conservation has its biggest bang for a buck in the outdoors because that's where most water gets spent," Kay said.

Reed said the team now talks with residents via FaceTime and creates virtual classes to help educate residents on water conservation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(The water conservation team is) committed to getting out there and educating people in a safe way,” Reed said.

Because of his time at ASU, Kay said he has the advantage of knowing what the University's students and researchers are capable of.

“The idea is that if you want to get good sustainability outcomes, between city-University partnerships, you need to have someone who actually knows how to do those partnerships well,” Kay said.

Kay spent his Ph.D. working to develop a partnership with Tempe from the University side, and now he’s working on developing partnerships from the city side. He said his experience and connection to the University make these collaborations easier.

"When I see a problem that comes up, I'm able to figure out whether ASU can be part of helping solve that problem," Kay said.

Reach the reporter at or follow @agouldphotos on Twitter.

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Alex GouldPhoto Editor

Alex Gould is one of the editors of the photo desk. He is also currently working with The Arizona Republic as an intern photographer, Cronkite News as a visual journalist and working on assets for Arizona PBS.

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