The Water-Energy Nexus in Bloomington

Water is cheap in Bloomington. In a region of the U.S. already known for low water costs, Bloomington Utility’s rates are lower than 70% of all Indiana water utilities regulated by the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission. So use it up! Enjoy! After all, this is the Midwest—the Breadbasket—not the Arid West.

But where does our tap water come from? In Bloomington (and in the surrounding region) every bit of it is sucked right out of Lake Monroe. An unassuming building on the Lake’s north shore houses motors that run around the clock and throughout the year, pumping millions of gallons of water daily to the treatment plant several hundred feet above the lake’s surface. After treatment, the “finished” water snakes its way through a network of more than 400 miles of water mains, arriving at your faucet on demand.

Water Hose
Wasted water also results in wasted electricity.

When you’re through with it, wastewater returns to the subterranean infrastructure where it travels the 240-mile network of sewer pipes and lift stations to reach one of the two wastewater treatment plants serving Bloomington.

The journey is logical enough, but the resources required maintain this operation day-in and day-out are astounding. Nearly 80% of the City’s electricity bills are dedicated toward water and wastewater treatment and delivery. Southern Indiana’s topography is partially responsible for this unusually high percentage; it takes enormous amounts of energy for water to climb out of the lake and into town.

This high cost embodies an important global statistic. Three percent of the world’s energy consumption is dedicated toward the treatment and distribution of water, and more is required daily as populations and infrastructure continue to grow.

In addition to water and wastewater treatment and production, water use in your home also consumes energy. Water heaters are one of the single biggest users of electricity in a typical home. Sending hot water down the drain is wasting water you just paid to produce!

So, that leaky faucet in your kitchen, that toilet that never stops running, those 20-minute showers, it’s more than just wasted water, it’s kilowatt-hours squandered. And in Bloomington, it’s kilowatt-hours generated primarily from fossil fuels, with King Coal at the top of that mix. While we all depend on affordable electricity in our daily lives, unnecessarily wasting resources has negative repercussions on us all.

The next time you take a drink of water, flush the toilet, or take a dive in a pool, remember that, despite the popular misconception, water is not free. Many resources are used to ensure you have access to clean water and to effective wastewater systems, and practicing smart water use will save us all in the long run.

How to make energy-smart rental decisions

rentrocketDid you know that 66% of the housing in Bloomington is rental properties! This creates a huge hurdle for the Monroe County Energy Challenge.  Cities with large rental populations struggle to reduce residential energy consumption. There is little incentive for landlords to make energy efficient improvements to their properties, since they often do not pay the utility bills.

The City of Bloomington Department of Economic and Sustainable Development obtained an Innovation Fund grant from the Urban Sustainability Network and Global Philanthropy Partnership to create RentRocket.org – a website that makes utility use information visible  (along with other amenities) to potential renters. Armed with more information, renters will have the ability to make smart choices about where they choose to live, giving preference to properties with the lowest energy costs (unless, or course, your druthers is to pay as much as possible to your utility company… then RentRocket can help you find the least efficient property in town!). As more renters start factoring this into their housing search, landlords will have more incentive to make their properties more energy efficiently.

RentRocket generates a map of rentals with energy use data to make finding an energy-efficient rental property easy.
RentRocket generates a map of rentals with energy use data to make finding an energy-efficient rental property easy.

All in formation on RentRocket.org is provided by renters and landlords, for renters and landlords. You can contribute to the growth of this site by going to RentRocket.org, clicking on the “Share Your Data” icon, and entering in your utility cost information. It only takes a few minutes.

Uploading your energy data is extremely simple once you collect the information.
Uploading your energy data is extremely simple once you collect the information.

In addition to utility costs, RentRocket allows renters to see the accessibility of alternative modes of transit and recycling options (some apartments in Bloomington still don’t provide recycling options to their tenants!).

In the meantime, there are several simple steps you can take to reduce your energy consumption, such as adjusting your water heater temperature to no higher than 120°F and keeping your fridge at a mid-level setting. Sometimes saving money can be so easy!

Don’t forget, we’re competing for $5 million in the Georgetown University Energy Prize! So be conscious of your energy use, and use RentRocket.org to rent smart.