Starting on April 1, the Laguna Beach-based nonprofit Wyland Foundation is launching its 12th annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation to encourage communities to make long-lasting, eco-friendly choices.
The Water Conservation Challenge is a competition among cities across the United States to see which town can be the most “water-wise,” with residents pledging to conserve water, energy and other natural resources.
“Every April, they go out to their community and say, ‘Hey, I’m taking the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, and I’d like everyone in the city to do it, and let’s see who can be the most water-wise city in the country,’” Wyland Foundation President Steve Creech explained.
At the end of the month, the Wyland Foundation picks five winners from different population categories with the highest percentage of residents who took the challenge.
In 2022, mayors from 42 states vied to see whose residents could be the most “water-wise.” Throughout the 2022 challenge, 334,603 residents across the U.S. made pledges to make eco-friendly changes.
By taking the pledge, residents agree to make more eco-friendly choices at home, in their daily life, in their yard and in their community by checking off recommended changes.
“So, the Mayor’s Challenge comes around every year, and we have residents from over 2,000 cities take part every year, and collectively, they agree to make changes in their life to reduce water waste by a million or up to three million gallons of water,” Creech said.
At the end of the challenge, residents in winning cities who pledged are entered to win thousands of dollars in eco-friendly prizes. The grand prize includes $3,000 toward their home utility bills, gift cards to home improvement stores and home irrigation products.
Students are also encouraged to participate. Schools with the most participants from winning cities will receive sunglasses made from recycled plastic designed to reduce blue light exposure.
“So, it’s a cool incentive for the kids, and they’re great sunglasses,” Creech said. “The point of the Mayor’s Challenge is that everybody can contribute. It’s businesses, it’s schools, it’s kids, parents, community groups, cities; everybody can do something, and that’s the whole point of it.”
“And then afterward, we give everybody that participates a chance to contribute to make good on their pledges by doing something that we call My Volunteer Water Project application,” Creech continued. “That gives them a whole bunch of different tools.”
The Volunteer Water Project is an effort to integrate the Water Conservation challenge year-round.
“We just want people to have fun in what’s otherwise a very serious subject, and that’s what the Mayor’s Challenge is all about,” Creech said.
Creech encouraged cities to spark friendly rivalries with neighboring cities to see who can be the most water-wise.
“It’s just a rallying point,” Creech said. “We kind of set the table, but it’s really up to the cities to bring their A-game. But we’ve had mayors from all across the country get involved.”
Residents can also participate in the conservation challenge without their city’s mayor participating.
“Having a mayor who’s really gung-ho about it is not a precondition for the city to win; any city can win; it just depends on the resident participation, but we do find that if a mayor is behind it, the city’s behind it, that they do better,” Creech said.
The biggest changes families can commit to reducing water usage are to plant native landscaping, fix water leaks when they occur and take shorter showers, Creech said.
“Those are great ways to just conserve the amount of water you’re consuming,” Creech said. “But here in a coastal city, the coasts are particularly fragile, and we see that after a rain.”
“One of the things that we believe in is relandscaping, things like installing permeable pavers for your driveway so that all of that leaking oil doesn’t run off during the rain into the storm drain and down to the ocean,” Creech continued.
Creech added that cleaning up debris around gutters and sidewalks and picking up pet waste can also reduce harmful waste from getting into the watershed.
“We can go without a lot of things,” Creech said. “Two things we cannot go without are clean air and clean water.”
“It’s something that has been taken for granted in the past, but as our communities get bigger and bigger, and we’re a society that is really based on consumption, and we need to look at how much we need to consume,” Creech continued. “And that is the heart of the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.”
Each year, the challenge builds awareness of the need for good water stewardship.
“We do it year after year, which is critical when you’re trying to build awareness,” Creech said. “It’s never just a one-off with us.”
“The Wyland Foundation’s got a great track record in Orange County; we’re here for this county, we’ve been supporting this county in so many ways,” Creech continued. “We’ve got local charities, our clean water Mobile Learning Center. We’re very involved, but we do find that by being present and being active year after year, people stick with us to get more involved, and we have more impact.”