Eden Housing “Water Warriors” Cut Water Use by 20 Percent

CHPC’s water affordability initiative works to increase access to water conservation resources for the nonprofit multifamily affordable rental housing sector in California. Below is the first article in a GREEN series focused on leaders, best practices, and emerging trends for water conservation in affordable housing. We will cover graywater reuse, high efficiency fixtures, sewer service fees, sub-metering, and landscape irrigation in urban and rural settings.

GREEN members are responding to the drought. These are their stories. 

With more than 10,000 units of affordable housing under ownership across 15 counties in California, Eden Housing knew the potential impact of making its portfolio more energy and water efficient. Accordingly, Eden used Governor Brown’s mandatory water restrictions as a call to action for reducing water use throughout its portfolio by 20 percent from 2014 to 2015. We spoke with Jennifer Reed, Eden’s Director of Fund Development and Public Relations, to learn how Eden achieved its goal.

As a first step, Eden set simple, coordinated, and measurable goals to create a framework for guiding its conservation work and aligning departmental efforts. Across its 135+ property portfolio, Eden made it a goal for the organization to beat the local mandated water savings by 5 percent or more. The idea for the “Water Warriors” initiative arose after nearly 350 staff members gathered to collaborate over ways to increase preventative maintenance, report leaks, and expedite repairs. A few keys to Eden’s success in establishing the Water Warriors culture include:

  • Developing an online learning portal system called “Eden University” to standardize training for and reach a property management team spread across 15 counties and 47 cities in California.  Eden University has allowed staff at various properties to complete uniform trainings, measure progress, and share best practices.
  • Making green activities part of a business-as-usual approach has allowed staff to grow this culture over time.
  • Engaging with residents on water conservation has inspired a sense of ownership and among many residents.

Drought tolerant landscaping, like the kind pictured above at Eden’s Victoria Green Apartments in Hercules, CA, can help achieve significant water savings.
Eden maintenance staff member installs a dual flush converter on to an existing toilet.

Portfolio-wide conservation strategies

Benchmarking and Monitoring

Eden uses WegoWise software to measure energy and water performance at its properties. Property Management and Accounting staff monitor water use and cost respectively to identify unusual patterns, measure impacts of rising water rates, and assess cost-saving opportunities from various building improvements.

Drought Tolerant and Efficient Landscaping

Eden worked with its landscaping contractor to replace large outdoor landscapes with drought tolerant and native species, which contributed to roughly half of the overall savings.  Eden also set a goal of reducing outdoor water use by 40 percent in new construction projects.

Fixture Replacements

Eden has a standardized practice for replacing plumbing fixtures in rehabs, conducting semiannual unit inspections, and changing fixtures before tenants move in. Toilets can account for up to 27 percent of indoor water use and lead to additional plumbing repairs when being replaced. Eden decided to use property replacement reserves to pilot toilet retrofits at eight identical properties.  The combination of very low flush toilets, coupled with resident education, led to 20-30 percent in water savings at some properties.  Eden made a conscious decision to focus on the long-term quality of new equipment rather than simply accepting what was offered for free through utility rebates.  Eden hired a separate vendor to replace toilets because of staff time, liability, and cost efficiency.  While more expensive upfront, Eden knew this would create long-term savings.

Piloting Graywater for Laundry-to-Landscape

Eden’s first laundry-to-landscape system has an expected completion date of December 2016.  Eden has plans for another five systems during the next three years.  Piloting this first example allowed them to perfect a replicable process and manage a series of new graywater systems coming through its pipeline.

Supporting new regions and communities in need

In early 2014, Eden acquired 40 properties from South County Housing in San Jose, Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, and San Benito County many of which serve farmworker families and rural communities – creating a new geographic area and population for Eden Housing. These new properties will give Eden a new opportunity to expand upon the success of its current water conservation efforts. Stay tuned.    

Coming soon, we will reveal the water conservation secrets of Self-Help Enterprises in the San Joaquin Valley.  Self-Help Enterprises is also a NeighborWorks America member and has extensive experience in addressing water needs in rural communities. 

Related Articles

“Using Data to inform Energy and Water Retrofits:  Q&A with Tabitha Harrison at Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC)”  – March 7, 2016

“Graywater Reuse Increasing in Low-Income Rental Housing” – February 2014

CHPC’s water conservation work is generously made possible through the California Drought Action Initiative program of Resources Legacy Fund. To learn more about CHPC’s water conservation advocacy efforts or to join the GREEN Water Working Group, contact Collin at or (213) 785-5734.

The Green Rental home Energy Efficiency Network (GREEN) is a coalition of mission-driven and service organizations across California working collaboratively for the inclusion of multifamily rental housing as a priority in federal- and state-funded energy efficiency programs. GREEN also works to improve the regulatory and administrative provisions to enable a higher rate of green retrofits to public and privately owned assisted housing in California. The California Housing Partnership convenes GREEN to increase access to energy efficiency resources for multifamily rental properties in California and ensure that publicly assisted properties serving the state’s lowest-income households receive an equitable distribution of these resources.