Culture of conservation

Culture of conservation

Features - Champions of Innovation

Jodi Johnson has a conservationist’s heart, a landscaper’s field experience and a team through Denver Water to give contractors tools and knowledge to effectively manage water.

October 9, 2014
Kristen Hampshire



“Water is the next oil,” says Jodi Johnson, noting that when she took the position as conservation specialist at Denver Water two years ago, the city’s water reserves were nearly half empty.

Denver’s average yearly rainfall, 15 inches, is about a quarter of what a tropical city like Miami gets. Severe droughts in the last several years have severely taxed the water supply and forced a coming-to-terms with the reality that water is a limited resource.

Still, landscapers are in the business of keeping grass green, Johnson says. She gets it.

In her role at Denver Water, Johnson helps create innovative programs and tools so green industry professionals can deliver “green” expectations to customers while adhering to watering restrictions and reducing their overall water use.

“Water is a precious resource that we have to protect, and we have to teach people how to do that, not just take it away, but become more efficient – that’s what the goal is,” Johnson says.

Connect with contractors.

Landscapers are, perhaps, a bit taken aback by the water utility showing up on their properties – to help. Historically, Denver Water has serviced single-family residences and commercial customers. In recent years, the utility has been making a concerted effort to develop programs specifically for landscape contractors to help their businesses succeed as they mind their water use.

“I know their troubles with contracts,” Johnson says, understanding how landscape firms are squeezed by clients’ tightened budgets. They struggle to find labor hours in the budget to spend on an irrigation technician who can dig deep into the system and seriously audit it for improvements. That’s where Denver Water can step in and offer on-site audits and full reports for free, Johnson says.

“We’ll go through a landscape’s entire irrigation system zone by zone, identify breaks and leaks, make recommendations for upgrades, share how they can take advantage of our rebate programs and what is best for the site,” Johnson says.

“They don’t have the money in their contracts to have one of their technicians go through the system – so let us do it. We’ll do it for free, and we’ll create a useful report for free in the field that they can give to customers.”

Use the report to make money, Johnson says. Use the report to show where system upgrades are necessary. Use Denver Water as a contractor, in a sense.

That’s how Johnson speaks landscaper language.

“Their job is to keep the grass green,” she says. “We are not on their properties to judge. We want to find problems to improve their systems and be that third-party voice.” Denver Water is the voice that says, “Use only what you need.” And now, with the Water Budget program designed for large, commercial landscape companies, the utility is saying, “And here is actually how much water you need.” Johnson says.

Denver Water wants to get away from restricted watering days and give landscapers tools to manage their budgets.

“Every month, we send the landscaper and property manager a letter with a simple graph stating how much water was used, and how much water they should be using,” Johnson says.

“It’s a great informative tool for landscapers, and it’s also a tool for identifying breaks in the system or a spike in consumption.”

Meanwhile, Denver Water is making appearances at distributorships during landscaper events and “counter days,” popping in with information. Denver Water’s team of summer temps drive brightly colored cars and spread the word about savings. They’re tough to ignore, and that’s the idea.

“The whole goal of our program is to touch our customers,” Johnson says, adding that programs are designed to engage customers in the irrigation process. That’s why the Water Savers will be working this summer to capture pictures of customers in front of their irrigation controllers.

“We want to help people get to a point where they can look at their water consumption and manage that,” Johnson says.