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Posted on Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor used 337 million more gallons of water during hot, dry summer

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor resident Barb Gilbert waters flowers in her yard at her Sixth Street home back in June. Water usage went up to 20.5 million gallons per day in Ann Arbor in June, compared to 16.4 million gallons per day in June 2011 — a 25 percent increase.

Jeffrey Smith |

With one of the worst droughts in recent memory and a heat wave that seemed to last forever, Ann Arbor residents turned to their taps for relief this summer.

Ann Arbor city water customers used nearly 337 million more gallons of water from May through August this year compared with 2011 — a 16.3 percent increase, according to an analysis of data obtained from the city's water department.

Molly Robinson, the city's water treatment plant manager, said there's no doubt the drought and heat are to blame for the increased levels.

"We definitely attribute it to the hot weather and the lack of rain we had over the summer — definitely more people in general watering outside," she said. "We can watch that very easily at the plant. As soon as temperatures drop or it rains, the demand drops off."


Sprinklers water the front lawn of the new City Place student apartments on a hot day in mid-July. Molly Robinson, the city's water treatment plant manager, said she's not sure how much new developments like this have contributed to the city's increased water consumption.

Ryan J. Stanton |

For the month of May, consumption levels averaged around 15 million gallons per day, compared with 12.4 million gallons per day in May 2011 — a 21 percent increase.

In June, water usage went up to 20.5 million gallons per day, compared with 16.4 million gallons per day in June 2011 — a 25 percent increase.

In July, it went up again to 22.9 million gallons per day, compared with 21.1 million gallons per day in July 2011 — an 8.5 percent increase.

And in August, it slowed to 19.8 million gallons per day, compared with 17.3 million gallons per day in August 2011 — a 14.5 percent increase.

There was one instance in July when city water customers used 28.1 million gallons in a single day, and another day in August when consumption peaked at 25.2 million gallons.

The most recent report for September shows water usage tapered off to 17.1 million gallons per day, compared with 15.7 million gallons per day in September 2011.

That's still 1.4 million gallons more per day — or a 9 percent increase.

"Use was high at the beginning of the month, but then dropped off quite a bit," Robinson said in reference to the September report.

Robinson said she's not sure how much new student housing has contributed to the city's increased water consumption. The projects that have been finished — Zaragon West, City Place and Landmark — only just opened within the last month or two.

"Development is ticking up in the city, but I can't say we can attribute it to that," Robinson said of the increased water consumption. "If you look at the different months, you can see the increases and it correlates to the increases in temperature we saw."

The city's drinking water rates for most residential customers are tiered based on usage. The city measures usage in units equal to 100 cubic feet of water or 748 gallons.

A typical single family bill is calculated with 21 units per quarter, is in the second tier for stormwater and receives a 10 percent discount for payment on or before the due date.

Even at the highest rate, the city's charges for drinking water are still significantly less than a penny a gallon.

Robinson said she thinks Ann Arbor residents are conservative in their water use, and the city's climbing rates — where the more you use, the more you pay — help with that.

"In general, the residents in the city are conscious of conservation," she said. "Overall, our per capita use is quite low compared to other municipalities, so I don't think the jump is a negative for us."

In total, city water customers used nearly 5.2 billion gallons of water last year. Usage for the first three quarters of this year totals nearly 4.4 billion gallons. requested reports showing total billed water charges for the past two quarters of this year compared with last year.

Lisa Wondrash, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city isn't able to easily provide that data because there are 12 water districts, all of which are billed quarterly and at different intervals.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.

I, too, have converted my flowerbeds to mostly native plants. I never watered them all summer and they looked ok, and now have some beautiful asters, too. I just let the lawn go brown. It returns to greeen when the rains come. Beneficial insects and birds really like them, too.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 6:05 p.m.

Ryan, thank you for this story. I think the city's reliance on water revenues suggests the billing and cost of water in AA deserves close scrutiny.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

Actually, the city relies on the Huron River as its major source of drinking water. Yspilanti city and township get their water from Detroit. Ypsilanti water comes from YCUA, the Yspilanti Community Utilities Authority. AA has a much more vested interest in protecting the Huron River and is under an EPA directive to reduce phosphorus runoff. This was the motivation for banning phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, instituting a tiered fee schedule to change water use behaviors, and one of the reasons for fee increases to upgrade the waste water treatment facility. Ypsilanti is increasing rates in response to rate increases from Detroit Water. See the articles in the Heritage paper. They're also considering tiered rates. Here's their current rate structure. If you noticed the Mallets creek restoration/detention work in County Farm Park or along Huron Parkway, I believe a portion of the funds for those projects came from the Storm water fees. The city/county are currently reconstructing the stream in Leslie Golf Course too. Visit eWashtenaw and search for the Water Resources Commissioner to find out why these projects were undertaken and the benefits they will provide.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

Here's the gage data for the Huron at Hamburg. At about 40 cubic feet /sec, It's running way below the 60 year daily average of 120 ft**3. Q. How many gallons in a cubic foot? 1 cu ft -> ~7.5 gallons. 7.5 gal/cuft * 40 cuft/sec * 43200 seconds/day => 12.96 million gallons. That sounds surprisingly close to the withdrawal rate at the water treatment plant.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

I've converted my yard (on a corner lot) to native prairie plants and didn't water them at all. I still had flowers all summer and the fall asters are beautiful.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

I"m sure your neighbors are pleased. I know this because I live next door to a "weedscaper". If you want to live around weeds, please move to the country.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

Ryan ny chance you could compare our water and sewage rates to Ypsilanti's? Thanks


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

see my reply to DagnyJ. The rates are all online for Ypsilanti township, city and Ann Arbor.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

I heard Pittsfield is higher then Ypsilanti's. Not sure why. But I do know they get their water from Detroit. Ann Arbor has its own system of doing things.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

In case anybody is wondering, the city has about 125,000 water customers, including some in Scio and AA Townships


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Thank heavens city residents used all of this water to keep their grass green this summer. It would have been utterly terrible if we would have had to wait for fall rains to get our grass green again.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

I have to giggle with this one. Because our neighbors water and we just let our lawn whether away. We did try to save some of our trees and they are doing ok for the most part, but they are drought stressed and hope they make it thru the winter.

Silly Sally

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

Not enough of this water went to watering trees, especially those poor trees in city parks that have died due to neglect. Ditto for those on lawn extensions or easements. Not a word from our "leader", either. Not silly but a waste of out tax dollars to have allowed this to happen.

Dog Guy

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

The city hall cabal depends on the water utilities department to stay liquid. All those ever-increasing water, sewer, and storm fees and rates make for a very fluid "slosh" fund, much of which evaporates without a trace.

Rork Kuick

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

I've been wanting data saying how much is removed from the river every day.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

From the water treatment website: 14 million gallons/day is distributed 85% of which comes from the river -> 11.9 million gallons. So now you have to find out how much water flows past a certain point in a given unit of time to get a sense of whether 11.9 million is a big or small amount.