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Sustaining Water for Generations to Come

Every year in the United States there are over 240,000 water main breaks that waste over 2 trillion gallons of fresh, treated drinking water. Considering this fact alone, it doesn’t surprise me that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently gave water infrastructure a “D” grade – again.   

In our previous posts on water sustainability, I’ve looked at how water is accessed and how it’s delivered here in the U.S. In my final writing on the topic of water infrastructure, I’m talking about what each of us can do in our everyday lives to utilize water more efficiently.

Industrial Water Use

cooling-tower (1).jpgCooling towers often represent the largest use of water in industrial applications. Per the Cooling Technology Institute, cooling towers extract waste heat into the atmosphere through the cooling of water stream to a lower temperature. Towers are present in power generation plants, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, data centers, and commercial office buildings.

While most cooling towers have regular maintenance to help identify leaks, they should also be equipped with overflow alarms and make-up water meters that are monitored by the building automation system to rapidly detect leaks.

In addition to regular maintenance and alarms, even smaller water cooled equipment that is aging can be replaced with air cooled systems, where applicable. Equipment that can be switched includes compressors, vacuum pumps, ice machines, and refrigerant condensers.

Commercial Water Use

I travel a fair amount for work and pleasure, and in addition to the number of aging ice machines and A/C units I see, I’m amazed at how often hotels have not taken advantage of low-flow devices for showers and faucets. Upgrading these items are low cost and have a quick ROI, and save on operating costs for the long term.

Per the American Hotel and Lodging Association, if one assumes the average hotel guest shower is 10 minutes in length, switching from 3.5 to 2.5 GPM showerheads could save 1,182,600 gallons of water a year. 

Besides maintaining and changing the equipment, benchmarking is another way to measure energy performance and make changes. This practice is popular and now mandatory in some cities and states including New York City, Denver, Seattle, Ohio, and Michigan.

Owners are required to benchmark energy performance compared to similar buildings and water performance, and a database of the results is compiled regularly and, in some cases, made available to the public. The EPA found that consistently benchmarked buildings reduced energy use by 2.4 percent per year, on average, resulting in a savings of 7 percent. 

At-Home Water Use

Nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used in the United States annually just for showering, or enough to supply the water needs of New York and New Jersey for a year. (United State Environmental Protection Agency)

Around the house we’ve all heard of these ideas but reminders are always valuable. 

  • Leaking Faucets and Toilets. The City of Daytona Beach, Florida, estimates that a leaking faucet that drips 10 times a minute wastes 526 gallons annually. Toilets are much more. Install low flow shower heads and aerators on faucets to reduce the flow.
  • Clothes and Dishwashers. Consider upgrading to high efficiency “Energy Star” rated clothes and dishwashers. Not only do they use less water, they are also more energy efficient helping to lower your power bill. Also make sure these machines run with full loads to maximize efficiency.
  • Teeth Brushing and Shaving. Do you leave the water running while performing these hygiene tasks? Running a two-gallon-per-minute bathroom faucet for two minutes twice a day uses nearly 3,000 gallons annually. Shutting off the faucet reduces consumption dramatically.
  • Pool Covers. People with swimming pools and hot tubs can reduce evaporation, save energy, and reduce chemical use by installing pool and hot tub covers.    

Landscaping Water Use

For both business and around the home, wise choices on landscape plants and watering techniques can save resources. Simple items include using shut-off sprayers on hoses and planting drought tolerant plants. For irrigation systems, utilize rain sensors and avoid watering paved surfaces. Drip systems are extremely efficient as they put water directly where it’s needed.

An excellent case study of water saving measures is the Park Place Building in downtown Seattle.  Originally constructed in 1970, the building was recertified LEED Platinum in 2014. One of the water saving measures collects rainwater, blow down from cooling towers, and condensation from air handlers that is used in landscape irrigation as well as toilet flushing. The water saving measures performed well above LEED baseline standards.

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Each of us has the ability to make smart choices about our water usage. Making water infrastructure improvements a priority will ensure a sustainable supply for future generations.

To see how innovative and sustainable water choices can be incorporated into your building planning, check out our case study on rain harvesting in a high-drought area.


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