WATER CONSERVATION 101: HOW TO TRACK AND REDUCE FACILITY WATER CONSUMPTION
By Patti Dees
Facilities save money by addressing waste and inefficiency, so why not target the water used on-site? Water conservation is even more important for facilities in areas with low rainfall or experiencing droughts. Tracking and reducing facility water consumption is a win-win for managers, owners and communities.
The Math: Saving Money
Aquifers and reservoirs can only supply so much water before they are no longer sustainable. After that, utility companies cap use or purchase water from neighboring areas and transport it from other locations. The end result is that water costs increase.
A program geared to using less water automatically reduces potential utility costs. But water conservation is more than just using less water; it is being smart about how a site uses water. Finding ways to retain and reuse the water that is already on-site and paid for further reduces utility use.
Besides the utility savings a site sees from cutting waste, recycling and using less, many recommended actions for water conservation also improve equipment and process efficiency. For example, monitoring pipes for leaks and repairing them quickly keeps flow rates and pressures at design specifications. Proactive monitoring also means that staff catch problems more quickly and keep damage to a minimum. Efforts to conserve water can lead to improved efficiency and fewer large-scale repairs.
Water conservation needs to be based on a thoughtful completed water audit to be successful. Some states and utility agencies offer assistance in performing them. Resources range from manuals to actual site visits. Audits should include information such as:
- All water use locations
- Flow rates, temperatures and chemical treatments for each location
- Meter locations and records
- Maintenance practices and any recurring water-related maintenance issues
The downside to ready access to water is how easily we forget that water really isn’t free and unlimited. Fortunately, the water audit process can include a discussion with occupants. Having them track their water use and participating in the water audit process encourages them to think about water and their own actions. Engagement early in the audit increases their personal investment in establishing and maintaining procedures.
After using the audit to gather baseline information, develop an action plan. The plan should include who is responsible for overseeing the changes, specific goals and a review schedule for the plan and policies. Map out which repairs or changes provide the most benefit and prioritize them for investment. Identify metrics to monitor, along with frequency, to ensure goals are met.
Making the Investment
There are hundreds of ways a site can conserve water. Some are cheap and easy, while others require a significant investment of time and money. Results are just as varied. Common actions include:
- Installing water-efficient fixtures and toilets. Low-use toilets and automatic shutoffs for faucets help reduce water use while still meeting occupant expectations.
- Installing timers, moisture sensors or control valves. These create better control and restrict the duration of intermittent or as-needed use, such as landscaping.
- Installing sensors or implementing frequent inspections for leak detection.
- Using greywater for irrigation or flushing toilets, which recycles water on-site.
- Using sub-metering equipment to track use. This provides a baseline measurement and ongoing monitoring to meet goals.
- Upgrading or redesigning HVAC systems, process boilers and cooling towers.
Responsible water use has become more important as demand outgrows supply. Improving water awareness and taking actions to use less water more intelligently can reduce facility costs. Water conservation offers the same type of benefits that energy conservation does: lower utility costs and improved efficiency. Being seen as a community hero is just a bonus.
- “Water Efficiency Manual,” N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. An exhaustive manual that includes principles behind conservation and auditing methodology.
- “Water Conservation for Industries, Businesses, and Institutions,” Texas Water Development Board. Lists ideas and resources for conserving water.
- Arizona Department of Water Resources. Includes ideas, sample checklists to move audits along and information based on site use.
- “Using Water Efficiently: Ideas for Industry,” Environmental Protection Agency. Lists a few ideas to jump-start your action list.
Patti Dees is a chemical engineer turned writer. She spins her polymath nature to produce clear and informative pieces on technical topics.