Justice for creation: Water usage at St. Anselm’s, Lafayette

In August/September 2012, the average gallons of water used per day at St. Anselm’s, Lafayette, more than doubled from 1500 to 3500. After noting this spike, the office administrator asked Doug Merrill, a member of the congregation’s property commission and an engineer by training, to evaluate what went wrong.

When asked about the spike, Merrill said, “I’m an engineer by training, and that means I like data. The first thing I did to find where all that water was going was learn to read our water meter!” Merrill eventually decided that the cause for that month’s spike was an unattended water hose, but his research about the congregation’s water usage inspired him to wonder just how much water was needed to maintain the physical plant at St. Anselm’s.

St. Anselm’s has six large gardens, and the biggest use of water is for irrigation.  In response to the drought, however, St. Anselm’s has cut its water usage to between one-half and one-third of what it was in 2012. Merrill and the Rev. John Sutton, rector at St. Anselm’s, agree that the biggest factor in the reduction has been exercising mindfulness about water usage.

Merrill noted that the drought came and was staying, and the congregation at St. Anselm’s were collectively noticing media pressure to reduce water usage. Although Merrill had a lot of data from trying to find the leak from August/September 2012, he also wondered what could be done to really reduce water usage — and he found out through experimentation. 

“One of the most successful ways of cutting our water usage,” he said, “has been to throttle back what we use, and to then water incrementally. Instead of watering 20 minutes at a time, we may water in four five-minute increments. If there’s any runoff onto sidewalks, there’s too much being used. Our lawn had guidance on how much water was needed, but the rest was just experiments!” 

Merrill and Sutton suggest using timers that can be programmed for increments, and don’t require spending much money. They also suggest coarser spraying nozzles and watering early in the morning or late at night to help abate wind blowing and evaporation. Merrill continues to fine tune the irrigation at St. Anselm’s, hoping for a good, even distribution of water — as needed — throughout the physical plant. 

He recommends, “Keep collecting the data. Notice what does and doesn’t work, and make adjustments as necessary.” 

Additional information is available from St. Anselm’s by clicking here.

Images (top to bottom): Water use by year; water distribution throughout St. Anselm’s physical plant. Courtesy Doug Merrill / St. Anselm's.