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Is the Reno Gazette-Journal One of the Region’s Top Water Users? — Fact-Check Friday

Date:

Google satellite image of the Reno Gazette-Journal facility.
Google satellite image of the Reno Gazette-Journal facility.

RGJ’s water consumption jumped by 695,000 gallons from 2013 to 2014.

The media company only recently started water conservation efforts.

Water consumption among water users is a very complex topic, one that ThisisReno covered extensively last year.

The Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) continues coverage of water use during the drought as well, and TMWA recently published in a bill statement that RGJ had again requested  this year’s data on the top water users in the region.

Two separate sources have told us that RGJ ranks high on the list of industrial waters users in the Truckee Meadows. It turns out the topic was discussed during a public meeting last year.

How the RGJ uses its water is of interest for the reason that they have covered public officials who have used large amounts of water – the Governor, in particular. In addition, the RGJ just this week launched an “RGJ Water Savers Club” to help encourage water conservation in the region.

Weighing the Benefits of Water Usage

Before looking at RGJ’s water use, it’s important to explain why high-water use rankings may be less meaningful than we’d like. There is always going to be a top water user, and there’s always going to be greater degrees of consumption, conservation and waste among all levels of users.

In ranking water consumers, what we’re dealing with is ordinal data, which has its limitations: Ordinal data only tell us who’s first, last and in the middle to varying degrees on a rank-ordered list: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5. and so on. These data don’t tell us any characteristics of being first, last or in the middle.

rgj-records-request-300x225-9101746-6001769
RGJ’s records request as detailed in TMWA’s water bill. ThisisReno replicated the request to see how RGJ ranked among water users.

So a top water user may be a municipal entity responsible for extensive water delivery in order to service large populations and properties, such as a city, county or school district. The entity’s respective level of waste, or water efficiency, is variable and relative.

A deeper analysis of why individual entities or businesses rank the way they do is arguably more informative.

Consider a city park. Open to anyone, parks are likely large consumers of water. It can be argued a large expanse of green grass has community benefits. Conversely, a private property with a large expanse of green grass is of less value to anyone other than the property owners, other than the potential benefits of a nice view, property values and perhaps some other environmental benefits, such as keeping weeds to a minimum.

Another simplistic, hypothetical example: Let’s say a large water user, a park, is consuming 100,000 acre-feet per year. Let’s also say a subdivision is consuming 30,000 acre-feet per year. Both follow the Truckee Meadows Water Authority request to save 10 percent of their water consumption.

When it comes to conservation, the park’s 10,000 acre-feet per year is clearly greater than the 3,000 acre-feet per year the subdivision is saving.

Mike Carrigan, sitting as a TMWA Board member last year, said, “Some of our largest water users are some of the most efficient users in the valley.”

How the water is being used is another consideration.

Open spaces have both tangible and non-market values. We enjoy directly and indirectly the benefits of open spaces, such as parks, so it can be argued that large water users, such as the City of Reno and Washoe County, are providing a benefit to most Truckee Meadows residents when they keep their grass green and when they conserve water.

The RGJ, however, is on private property.

RGJ’s Water Usage By the Numbers

Once notified in TMWA water bills that RGJ had requested records of high volume water users (they did the same last year, to the consternation of many residents concerned about their privacy) last month, ThisisReno duplicated the request to see where the Gannett-owned company stood in the rankings.

“I thought we might be in the top 100 because we do have a very large lawn,” said RGJ’s Watchdog Content Coach Brian Duggan at a June 2014 TMWA Board meeting. “I’m not surprised we are in the top 120, and that will be disclosed (in RGJ reporting), obviously. We will be very open where we stand on that list as well.”

No reporting disclosure, since June of 2014, about where RGJ stands in the ranking of top water users, has been made to date. (UPDATE, 5:54 pm: RGJ posted an editorial at 3:50 today acknowledging its growing water use for the first time.)

kelly-ann-scott-7724153-8144855
Kelly Ann Scott, RGJ executive editor.

“Our (investigative) series isn’t starting until next week,” said RGJ’s Executive Editor Kelly Ann Scott. “In 2014, the RGJ used 4.9 million gallons of water and ranked as No. 124 among TMWA commercial users, according to the RGJ analysis of TMWA data.”

What the TWMA data also show is that RGJ increased its water use in 2014 from 2012 and 2013. The company’s water use in 2012, ranked as number 135 in commercial water users, was 4,572,000 gallons. In 2013, RGJ dropped to 144, using 4,208,000 gallons of water. But in 2014, RGJ’s water use hit a high of 4,903,000 gallons, ranking 124, as Scott said, among commercial water users.

That’s 695,000 gallons more in 2014 than in 2013, both drought years.

When asked about the RGJ’s water consumption, Scott said, “so far this year (2015), we’ve made landscaping changes here that are intended to reduce our water use significantly. We also have made initial inquiries about having TMWA do a water audit.

“All of this analysis is a large reason why we launched the Water Savers Club. We want to find ways as a community to do better. The intent of the water club isn’t shaming; it’s education. And we are part of that, too.”

When asked about the landscaping changes and savings, she added:

“We redid the landscaping around our building and changed our irrigation levels and timing. The changes were made within the last two months. I can’t access our billing to pull up our usage year over year so far, but I can tell you after talking with our finance department that our water bill(s) are down 19 percent for the first five months of this year compared to last year. Presumably that’s because we’re using less water.

“In May – which is the time that water bills tend to increase because of landscaping, according to our RGJ analysis – our bill was down 25.5 percent year over year.”

RGJ is right to encourage us to conserve water — residential users make up the majority of TMWA’s total system consumption, so collective conservation by residents can have a system-wide impact.

Certainly all media can and should help TMWA get out conservation messages; to date, TMWA has been on the right track, announcing recently that a call for a 10-percent water reduction ended up being 19 percent, and its board voted to end flat-rate charging of customers in October.

But we haven’t answered the headline’s original question: Is RGJ a top water user?

They are ranked 124 among commercial users in 2014, and how they use the water should also be considered.

Since RGJ’s water use can arguably be considered primarily private, its increase in water use, the voluminous jump from 2013 to 2014, should raise the question why the RGJ, after numerous articles written about drought and water issues, has not been conserving more proactively — until this year.

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Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.

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