Staying at home is changing the way Madison uses water
Madison Water Utility’s pump operators usually spend weeknights filling the city’s reservoirs and preparing for the morning water rush – a major daily spike in demand that must be carefully managed all across the city.
“At 5 o’clock in the morning, everything’s getting busy. People are waking up, big buildings are filling up their water tanks to get ready for employees to come in,” says Karmjit Singh, one of the employees who operates all the pumps and wells in Madison’s water system from a remote command center. The challenge is to make sure Madison’s water system keeps pressure across the city steady as tens of thousands of people hop in the shower, all at pretty much the same time.
Except these days, that’s not happening.
Operator Mike Jabs compares life in quarantine to one very long weekend, at least when it comes to the way Madison is using water.
“It was quite noticeable,” he says. “The spike is delayed and not as significant as it normally would be.”
Water use across the city has dropped by about two million gallons a day since mid-March, when people started staying home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From March 16 through April 14, Madison Water Utility pumped about 22 million gallons a day on average, down from 24 million a day the month before. UW Madison, the city’s largest water user, closed much of its campus on March 16. Eight days later, Governor Evers issued a statewide stay at home order.
Customer sales data from March offers a telling picture of how the pandemic has quickly changed water use in Madison. Single-family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings are using more water compared to March 2019. But demand from Commercial customers and Public Authority customers (which includes UW Madison) has plummeted.
“From the data, we can start to see a large demand pattern shift,” says Madison Water Utility Chief Financial Officer Jeff Stanek.
The sudden shift is unprecedented, but as long as Madisonians are staying home to stay safe, the trend will likely continue.
“It’s becoming the new normal,” Stanek says.