With April being Water Awareness Month, March turned out to be a pretty good time to start focusing on saving water when Salt River Project hosted its sixth annual Water Conservation Expo at the SRP PERA Club in Tempe.

Almost 600 people attended the expo on that busy March 2 morning, ready to learn the intricacies of “smart” irrigation controllers and water-saving shower heads before turning their attention to spring training games, NASCAR races or one of the many other events happening that first Saturday in March.

Participants walked away with about 450 smart irrigation controllers for their yards, with help from free classes on the benefits of smart controllers and how to program the water devices to low-water-use landscaping. More than 1,000 people were registered for the event, recognized by customers and exhibitors as one of the Valley’s best water-themed venues.

Booths featuring SRP energy-efficiency and environmental programs were also featured along with other new water-saving products and services. Representatives from Valley cities, Central Arizona Project and the Water Use it Wisely campaign were also on hand to provide residents with local knowledge while SRP offered several interactive displays and exhibits, including one about the Don’t Move a Mussel campaign to keep invasive quagga mussels out of the reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers and SRP’s canals.

SRP customers were eligible to purchase a “smart” irrigation controller for $50, plus tax, and save as much as $240 on the retail price of a Rain Bird ESP-SMT4. The WaterSense-labeled four-station controller uses weather data to manage outdoor watering schedules more effectively and can deliver water savings of up to 25 percent — a significant savings considering landscape watering can account for up to 70 percent of a household’s water use.

Installing a smart irrigation controller is certainly a wise investment for Valley residents, given the hydrological changes we’ve seen just in the last couple of weeks. Even though the short-term water outlook for the Valley continues to improve seemingly from week to week — or storm to storm — we still can’t forget that we live in a desert where drought is a way of life.

Following two very dry runoff seasons in 2011 and 2012, the water outlook on the Salt and Verde wasn’t looking very promising heading into 2013. In fact, just days ago SRP water managers were considering plans to increase groundwater pumping to supplement surface water supplies. They were also considering the additional step of reducing SRP’s standard water allocation in 2014 to shareholders — including the 10 municipalities that we store and deliver water to in the Valley.

The good news is those operational plans have been altered by Mother Nature in the form of a healthy snowfall. But two things we do know for sure are one decent snowpack in the mountains does not end a drought that has been around for about 18 years now, and conserving water is just as important in more “normal” runoff seasons years such as 2013 — because we never know what next year will bring, or even next week.

• Jeff Lane is a media relations representative at SRP.

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