The New Water ‘Normal’
With water restrictions now enforced in California after three years of drought, more and more commercial facilities are looking for ways to reduce water consumption without impacting building user satisfaction. In most facilities, other than water used for irrigation, the most water consumed is in restrooms for toilets, urinals, and faucets. Typically, as a result, facility managers looking to reduce their buildings’ overall water usage start by finding new ways to do so in restroom areas, such as through installing low- or no-flow toilets and urinals as well as aerators in faucets.
However, there is a much more significant step that the state and facility managers could be taking that might reduce water consumption by as much as 10 percent, if not more. That step, very simply, is to start plugging leaks. According to California’s Department of Water Resources, approximately 10 percent of the treated drinking water in the state is lost due to leaky pipes—either in the transport of water from treatment plants to customers or in the facilities where the water is distributed.
Estimates are that the total amount of drinking water lost each year due to leaks is in the neighborhood of 200 billion gallons, which is enough to serve the needs of about 1.5 million households. What might be of interest to many people is that this huge volume of water loss is actually considered “normal” and expected. However, many water experts now say we are entering a new era when it comes to water and this normal is being replaced with a “new normal,” that of less water and at the same time more demands for water.
Water leaks can often be reduced by simply lowering the amount of pressure in pipes. Water typically leaks from joints, seams of the pipes, and other “points of failure”; with less pressure going through with the use of advanced water management systems, there is less pressure on these points of failure. (Water pressure management systems can be costly for utility companies, but their return on investment can be significant and fast. Utility companies in Philadelphia, for instance, invested in water management systems that paid for themselves in less than seven years.)
Plus – and we have heard this before – investing more in water infrastructure is of critical importance. The fact of the matter is much of the water and sewer infrastructure in the US is decades old. While they are repaired as problems arise, many of these aging pipes have reached the end of their useful lives. We just recently witnessed what can happen when a water main broke and flooded UCLA in West Los Angeles. This water line, which was installed in 1922 when Warren Harding was President, released 75,000 gallons of water every minute before it was finally repaired.
Americans do not think about water too often and when we do, such as during a drought, it is often viewed as a temporary problem that will be rectified after the next big rain event. That’s the “old normal” ways of thinking. The “new normal” is telling us that we are going to have to do more with less when it comes to water. And, just because water problems are out of sight, in the case of leaks and ancient pipes, they can no longer be out of mind.
We have a challenge before us. Hopefully, it will not take more water main breaks in more parts of the country before we realize that something must be done. And, building owners and managers no longer have the luxury of addressing water-related problems only when there is a crisis or when tenants complain about water leaks. Once again, that’s the old normal. The new normal says we must become much more proactive when it comes to water management. This includes recognizing and aggressively replacing critical components of water delivery systems as needed. We must also find new ways to reduce water consumption as a part of our daily personal and business lives.
A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc, Vista, CA, makers of waterless urinals and other restroom products. He founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. He may be reached at Klaus@waterless.com
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