Green Building, Plumbing

Water Conservation: A Business Case

We have all witnessed water waste in public places—sprinklers running during a rainstorm, restroom faucets that won’t stop dripping and toilets that just keep running—and think, “Boy, I’d hate to have to pay that water bill.” But as a facilities management professional, you may have to worry about that water bill at your organization. More and more, business and industry are facing the fact that harnessing and controlling water usage is a line item that can no longer be overlooked.
green water faucet
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the past decade, the costs associated with water and wastewater services have increased “at a rate well above the consumer price index.” In the future, those costs will likely continue to rise to offset the investments we must make to replace our aging water infrastructure. But there are other factors to consider as well.

For starters, the EPA notes “Water waste is often a sign of inefficient production and non-value-added activity and it frequently indicates opportunities for saving costs and time.” For example, water- efficiency programs also save energy related to:

  • Heating and cooling water,
  • Transferring and pumping water,
  • Operating water-consuming equipment, and
  • Treating water and wastewater.

Combined, the EPA says the cost of implementing measures to address these opportunities offer great return on investment and shorter payback periods while reducing a facility’s impact on local water resources.

Another factor that is fast becoming a primary concern in some areas of the country is that of reduced risk. While forward-thinking companies have been making great strides in reducing energy use, many have yet to address the problems associated with limited local water resources brought on by drought, pollution, and other natural and man-made events. Water conservation measures that improve efficiency also help neutralize some of the impacts of water scarcity on a facility, as well as on the water resources of the community at large.

Regulatory compliance can also be impacted, especially when wastewater discharges are factored into the mix. Finding ways to minimize wastewater through water conservation can reduce or eliminate the need for discharge permits, saving on the considerable costs of energy and labor associated with permit-related activities such as tracking and reporting. Moreover, minimizing discharges can also cut costs for wastewater pretreatment including labor, energy, materials, equipment, and chemicals.

Water efficiency is also a big part of corporate sustainability worldwide. In areas where water is scarce or vulnerable, particular emphasis may be placed on water usage providing businesses with an opportunity to leverage their water-saving practices within their corporate sustainability profiles and reporting activities. As more consumers, investors, and clients consider sustainability as a factor in purchasing decisions, promoting conscientious water management practices can help keep a company in a positive light and increase competitive advantages.

This is especially true when it comes to green product procurement and choosing venues for meetings, conventions, and other events. Many government agencies and private organizations have instituted environmental requirements regulating such purchasing and use. Documented water-efficiency practices help to strengthen a company’s overall environmental offering, again providing a competitive advantage or at least a level playing field as more and more companies do the same.

Unlike energy, water supplies cannot be created with solar panels or wind turbines, and as our climate changes, it may become less available and more vulnerable. Although water-efficiency measures must be tailored to the type of business (commercial/industrial/agricultural), types of processes and equipment, location, and other unique aspects, there are many general best management practices (BMPs) that should be considered.

10 BMPs for Water Conservation

1. Water Management Planning—Begins with development of a comprehensive water management plan (WMP) that illustrates how a facility uses water (from entry to exit) and establishes prioritized long- and short-term goals for projects designed to reduce water use and waste.  EPA’s WMPs also include project costs, potential water savings, potential energy savings, potential utility costs savings, and potential payback in years.

2. Information Sharing and Education—Keep everyone advised of and, if possible, involved in new operational procedures, retrofits, and replaced equipment, and other project information to ensure they understand their purpose and how to use them properly to conserve water. Federal facilities also share successes online, in newsletters, and at conferences and other public forums to help educate others.

3. Distribution Systems Audits, Leak Detection, and Repair—According to the EPA, older buildings can lose as much as 10 percent or more of their total water production and purchases to leaks and/or poor metering practices. To counter this, staff should be trained to report leaks and equipment malfunctions to the facility manager who should promptly proceed with repairs. All work orders should be tracked from start to finish. In addition, many EPA facilities have completed screening level system reviews to establish the percentage of water consumption accounted for, which can help assess the presence of leaks and other water waste issues.

4 &  5. Water-Efficient Landscaping and Irrigation—Using native and “climate appropriate” landscaping practices can reduce the need for water by 50 percent. Reduced use of turf and other irrigated areas can also reduce time, money, energy, and emissions/discharges related to mowing, fertilizers and pesticides, waste removal, and other maintenance. When irrigating, consider water waste due to evaporation, wind, poor management, and/or design, installation, and maintenance.

6 &  7. Toilets/Urinals and Faucets/Showerheads—Toilets and urinals alone can account for almost one-third of building water consumption and should be replaced with new fixtures (manufactured after 1/1/1997). Faucets/showerheads that do not meet current standards (use no more than 2.2 and 2.5 gallons per minute respectively) should also be considered as well as metering faucets that dispense only a predetermined amount of water or dispense for a predetermined period of time. Maintaining optimum water pressure for system performance should also be assessed.

8. Boiler/Steam Systems—Water consumption varies depending on system size, amount of steam used, and amount of condensate returned. Boiler systems should be monitored to prevent corrosion and optimize steam condensate reuse. Periodic testing and treatment of quality parameters such as chlorides, hardness, pH, conductivity, alkalinity, and biological growth should be performed.

9. Single-Pass Cooling Systems—Equipment like air conditioners, CAT scanners, condensers, air compressors, and ice machines can use 40 times more water than a cooling tower operating at five cycles of concentration.  The EPA recommends modifying single-pass cooling equipment to recirculate water or eliminate the equipment all together.

10. Cooling Tower Systems—By closely monitoring and controlling the quantity of blowdown water (water released from the tower to maintain proper water mineral concentration), facilities can reduce water waste. Procedures include regular quality, performance, and water chemistry reviews of water tower operations.