CHATHAM TOWNSHIP - It's the Abbotts versus the Johnsons. This isn't a battle of athletic endurance or mental prowess. It's a water contest in the middle of a sweltering summer.
Residents Kenneth and Katherine Abbott, and their children, Joanie 16, Sarah, 11, and Meredith, 4, will compete against Chris Johnson, Ann Cavuoti-Johnson and their children Mariana 18, Courtney, 16, and Carolyn, 12, to see which family can conserve the most water.
The contest is part of the national "We're for Water" campaign and cross-country tour that wraps up in New Jersey on August 2, after visiting consumers in 16 states to promote the importance of wise water use. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program partnered with American Water, the nation's largest publicly traded water services provider, on the campaign kickoff on July 14 in Los Angeles and its conclusion on August 2, which features two New Jersey families participating in a water conservation competition.
WaterSense partner American Water will monitor the two families' water use over the course of one week as they work to conserve water in their households - using tips they learned from the EPA's WaterSense website (www.epa.gov/watersense) - and compare it with their usage during a previous week this summer. On August 2, the families will compete in various events to demonstrate what they learned, and the family that reduced their weekly water usage the most will be announced.
Richard Barnes, external affairs manager for New Jersey American Water, said the company reached out to the municipalities it serves for good candidates for the contest. "There were a good number of families on the list," he said. New Jersey American serves 17 of New Jersey's 21 counties and covers 183 municipalities.
Pat Collington, Chatham Township Environmental Commissioner, said, "I was proud to learn that, when it came time for the EPA and NJAW to select an East Coast community, it was Chatham Township's 'green' reputation that made them pick us." Ms. Collington added that the township's Environmental Commission chose water as its "theme" this year and kicked off 2010 with a successful water symposium -an event at which people in the area learned where their tap water comes from, what's in their tap water, what they can do to protect water sources and how to conserve water.
The Johnson family said cutting back on water usage "will be a challenge" because they already use water prudently, such as running the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads and using an old-fashioned sprinkler to water their lawn in the early morning or evening. As for showers, Chris Johnson, said: "All three of our daughters have long hair and a three-minute shower is a foreign concept to them." Ann Cavuoti-Johnson said the contest is for a good cause and "we hope the publicity will put a spotlight on this important issue."
Kathy Abbott, who is a member of the Chatham Township Environmental Commission, said, "We are excited to be part of the contest and looking forward to some friendly competition with the Johnsons. I know that our weak spot is showering, especially when washing our hair. Not my husband, of course. But I and my two oldest girls should remember to turn the water off while applying the shampoo and conditioner. As for the little one, sometimes I let the tub get too full when I am drawing her bath. That happens when I start the water and then go do something else, like put away laundry or get a phone call."
As for watering the lawn, Ms. Abbott said her water bill definitely goes way up during the summer because of lawn watering. "We have a sprinkler system like a lot of people in Chatham, but I think we use it moderately. For example, the lawn is not perfectly green when the weather has been hot and dry."
Part of the Great Swamp is in Chatham Township and many residents have sump pumps that work frequently due to the high water table. "It is hard to imagine that there is any need to worry about conserving water in Chatham, since it is so wet and verdant here. At our house, we have such a frequent sump pump flow that we built a little rocky stream, and it is never dry. We even have frogs. The kids love it. We got it certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Native Wildlife Habitat. To save water, sometimes I dip a bucket into the stream to water flowers," she said.
The families are encouraged to reduce their water consumption through three steps: check toilets for silent leaks and replace worn parts if necessary; twist on a faucet aerator to reduce bathroom faucet water to use 30 percent less water without a noticeable difference in flow; and replace older showerheads with a new WaterSense labeled model to save water and energy while still showering with power.
So how much water will the Johnsons and Abbotts be able to save? The West Coast contest is complete and the figures are in. In the Baldwin Hills, Calif., competition, the James family saved 3,740 gallons and the Walls family saved 1,496 gallons in one week.
The We're for Water campaign, which occurs during "peak" water use season in many parts of the country, encourages consumers to adopt simple changes at home to start saving water. The two-week tour features Flo, the We're for Water "spokesgallon," a symbolic one gallon bottle of water saved up from the kickoff competition in Los Angeles, traveling the country stopping at national landmarks, taking photos with tourists, educating citizens about water efficiency and recording the trip via Facebook, Twitter, widgets, and the We're for Water website.
American Water provides drinking water, wastewater and other related services to approximately 16 million people in 35 states, as well as Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. New Jersey American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, is the largest investor-owned water utility in the state, providing water and/or wastewater services to about 2.5 million people.