Instead of looking at the amount of water available, we should be monitoring how much water we actually use . . . and how much of it we waste.
For many supply problems, it’s cost that causes pain and discontent. When gas prices go up we have to find money to pay for it; and it’s the same at the grocery store, in the housing market, and at the car dealership. As Americans, we have tended to buy our way out of trouble . . . as long as we can find the funds. When we talk about water problems to our neighbors, to our customers, and to our constituents, we should explain that it’s not the cost that will necessarily cause headaches, it’s the lack of available water. Most states will experience problems with the availability of water in the next five years; some have already begun their sickness.
“We keep looking at the wrong end of the problem,” was how my neighbor (not a water professional) put it the other day. “We look at the amount of water available for use, instead of checking how much water we actually use and how much of it we waste.”
Waste is the key word. My neighbor admits: he lets the faucet run for several seconds before using it in the kitchen; he washes his car and leaves the water running from the hose while he answers the phone; he runs his morning shower for longer than necessary because it gives him time to prepare mentally for his morning schedule at work; and he waters his grass more often than necessary. The thinking behind those actions is, “There’s plenty more—an endless supply where that came from”—but there isn’t.
Consider one area of my honest neighbor’s guilty admissions—the bathroom. We get many messages, and much encouragement and social advice about soaps, powders, shampoos, towels, mats, tissues, all kinds of beautiful décor, correctly colored toilets and tubs, razors, medications, and lighting, but we hear little or nothing about the key ingredient of the bathroom—the water! One of the places where water can be saved in worthwhile quantities is (can we mention this in public?) the toilet. A gentle push of the handle and all our problems go away, with far too much water to help them. One of the easiest, and least expensive, ways to save oceans of water is to have a toilet tank that works with maximum efficiency.
With 36 states expected to face serious water shortages by 2013, American Water (one of this nation’s biggest providers) is partnering with the Student Conservation Association and EPA’s WaterSense program, to launch the Save Water Today public service program. The quartet of announcements includes segments entitled “Dishwasher”, “Shower”, “Faucets”, and “Toilet”, with acting celebrities donating their service to make the announcements more powerful. At the end of each American Water-sponsored spot, viewers are directed to www.SaveWaterToday.org.
To dispel misconceptions about water conservation, take a peek at what the major players are doing to help communities large and small improve their water resource management.
Upgrades and retrofits
At the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, PA, Honeywell has helped to upgrade the infrastructure. As part of the energy-saving project, Honeywell will install a new water management system that will enable prison personnel to control water use more effectively. The improvements are expected to decrease annual water use by 20 million gallons, nearly 30% of the facility’s water consumption. New high-efficiency water fixtures will include faucets and aerators in administrative areas and toilets in prisoner cells.
With the GeoSpring hybrid water heater (50 gallons), GE Appliances reminds us that savings in energy and water are often linked. Users can receive tax credits, too, for such saving innovations. Rebates can vary from community to community, so it would be wise to investigate locally which appliances saving water and energy can also save money, at purchase and in use. For 2011, generally, the tax credit covers the purchase price and installation labor costs of products purchased between January 1 and December 31, 2011. The 2011 credit for all qualified energy efficiency improvements is capped at $500, $300 of which may be applied to GE’s heat pump water heater. GE sends customers a certification that states the product meets the appropriate criteria.
Levels of Involvement
Look at the national picture. In North America there is an impending, disastrous lack of water in the amounts we demand. The most obvious solution may be that we should demand less, rather than we should buy more. It seems to be a national sentiment, a constitutional right, that nobody tells us how much we can use, of anything, but that sentiment is worthless if the commodity we want is unavailable.
There are levels of involvement in water conservation. Those levels may be individual, communitywide, statewide, or nationwide, and a person who is involved in any aspect of water distribution or treatment should be involved at every possible level. At the individual level, using equipment that requires less water and through careful use to avoid waste, residential water use can be reduced.
What can a consumer do to help the national movement? They can follow WaterSense on Twitter and Facebook. (Get more information at http://epa.gov/watersense/pubs/simple_steps.html.) Consumers can also check with their local water utility to see if they are offering rebates for WaterSense-labeled products and look for the WaterSense label on toilets, showerheads, faucets, and new homes. When hiring an irrigation contractor, they can make sure the company is a WaterSense partner.
At the top end of the scale is a national level of involvement. The leader here is undoubtedly EPA, with its practical WaterSense program. Launched five years ago, WaterSense is an EPA-sponsored partnership program that seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water efficient products, programs, and practices. Users can find and select water efficient products with a confidence backed by third-party independent testing and certification. A good place to look for more on this important national level of involvement is http://epa.gov/watersense/about_us/watersense_label.html.
|Photo: AMERICAN WATER
Actress Diane Neal asks us to save water in an American Water Public Service Announcement.
At a higher level of involvement than the individual consumer, local, and state governments, water utilities and other non-profit organizations can join WaterSense as promotional partners. Partnership is free, and it’s an excellent way to join with others to promote water efficiency.
Leadership and Hard Work
Saving water can be inside and outside, in the house, in the office building, or out on the yard and landscaped area. There will always be the cynics who claim that you’ll never get a community to work together; they are wrong. Two fundamental skills are required for a successful community effort: leadership and hard work.
Look at the City of Chula Vista, CA. “Our primary water conservation program, the NatureScape Program, promotes yards and landscapes that provide a healthy habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, while conserving precious resources like water,” explains Michelle Castagnola, MBAM, a specialist with the Public Works Conservation Division at Chula Vista. “We generally gauge program success by measuring our progress towards reaching our programmatic goals and objectives. We would consider anything that hinders reaching those goals an obstacle.
“The program involves an onsite evaluation and free technical assistance to help participants create sustainable outdoor areas on their properties,” she continues. “A participant’s yard which meets a minimum level of conservation and sustainability can be certified, again for free, as a ‘Backyard Wildlife Habitat’ through the National Wildlife Federation” (NWF).
The Conservation division at Chula Vista began its NatureScape program in 2006 with the ultimate goal of becoming an NWF Certified Backyard Wildlife Community, which requires achieving a certain number of certified residences and public areas.
“At this time, the City of Chula Vista has nearly 300 homes and 38 public areas certified through the NatureScape Program,” reports Castagnola. “Once we are certified [probably within the next month], Chula Vista will be the largest city in California to receive a communitywide designation. In addition to this success, every positive interaction with homeowners and the broader community, which allows us to educate and assist them in lowering their water use, is a huge success. An obstacle to accomplishing these successes has been finding new and dynamic marketing options to ensure constantly that all community members—not just ‘garden-focused’ residents—are aware of the free program.”
In Chula Vista, public works staff have worked with local utilities and retailers to expand adoption of new technologies throughout the community. The City launched an efficient appliance rebate program, known as the Chula Vista Appliance Exchange Rebate Program, in April 2010. Eligible appliance types include clotheswashers which meet high levels of water and energy efficiency. Rebates are issued at the point-of-sale at participating retail stores. Chula Vista also distributes low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads through its Free Source & Energy Business Evaluation (FREBE) and Home Upgrade, Carbon Downgrade programs, in partnership with local water districts and San Diego Gas & Electric.
“The City believes that a strong education component is required when promoting any new technologies, to ensure that they are being used appropriately and efficiently,” adds Castagnola.
Here’s a question that applies to many communities today: How important are language skills in working with consumers?
“The City of Chula Vista is a diverse community, with numerous languages commonly used by its population,” comments Castagnola. “As such, the City typically provides program and marketing materials in non-English languages. Multilingual City staff are also available to help overcome language barriers. Typically, therefore, we do not feel that language is a major obstacle here to providing program services or community education.”
The City of Chula Vista, then, has had equal success in implementing water efficiency programs for both residential and commercial sectors. In its well researched and planned technique, the tools and marketing approaches used for program delivery may be completely different to each of the two sectors. There is probably a wise lesson in that for all of us. A community comprises many different units. It would be naïve to believe that the same approach concerning water conservation to an individual householder would appeal, or be appropriate, to a commercial customer, wouldn’t it? (Remember leadership and hard work?)
Snowballs, Ripples, and Community Success
Those who have snow will understand how a small snowball can be rolled into a sphere bigger than the person rolling it, and most of us have seen how a small stone can plop into a pond and send ever-growing, ever-stronger ripples across the water. That’s how individuals help whole communities, communities help states, and states help our nation. Each household that saves water contributes, so don’t let anybody tell you that an individual’s efforts are pointless.
The Stealth Toilet, manufactured by Niagara Conservation, uses eight-tenths of 1 gallon per flush (gpf)—half the amount of water used by the average toilet. It sets a new standard for water conservation. Without any behavior modification, the Stealth can dramatically increase water conservation compared with existing high-efficiency 1.2-gpf toilets and even more impressive results compared with 1.6-gpf, 3.5-gpf, and 5-gpf models (which represent the vast majority of toilets across America).
The Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District (EVMWD) has launched a free retrofit program; it features these high-efficiency toilets, and they could save up to 20,000 gallons of water per toilet per year. “Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District is a leader when it comes to finding and promoting the world’s best water conservation technology,” asserts Ben Wicke, Board President of EVMWD (Division 1). “We’re excited to launch this free program that enables our customers to saver water and lower their bills.”
The first phase of the program includes 3,000 toilets, and also, free water-conserving showerheads, bathroom aerators, and a dual-spray, high-efficiency kitchen aerator. The fixtures are part of the Niagara Stealth System. The products are also part of Niagara’s Aquagy 2020 initiative, which is designed to promote energy conservation through water conservation and can help agencies achieve the state-mandated 20% per capita urban water conservation by 2020.
“The Stealth System literally creates new ‘low-hanging fruit’ for water agencies seeking to maximize conservation at a reasonable cost,” explains Bill Cutler, Niagara Conservation president and founder. “Considering that California has mandated a 10% per capita water consumption reduction by the year 2020, the Stealth could be the silver bullet that helps agencies meet the mandate, while setting a new standard for technological innovation. We are proud to partner with Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District and believe they are setting a new standard when it comes to conservation.”
“We’re so pleased with the Stealth System direct installation program,” notes Greg Morrison, director of Legislative and Community Affairs for EVMWD. “Through our partnership with Niagara Conservation and EcoGreen Services, we’ve been overwhelmed with customer interest and enthusiasm for some of the world’s most water efficient products. We received requests for 2,400 fixtures in just 24 hours, and our entire inventory was depleted in less than a week.”
Inside or outside, some of the best savings (in water and cash) come from small components designed to give the user greater control. Kohler is another leading manufacturer which offers such products for both residential and commercial applications. At home, with some American households using 400 gallons of water a day, or more, there are plenty of opportunities to save. Kohler high-efficiency toilets that flush 1.28 gallons or less can save householders up to 16,500 gallons of water per fixture per year. That estimate assumes a household of four. The Kohler 1.75-gallon-per-minute (gpm) water conserving showerheads and hand showers deliver 35% water savings over traditional 2.75-gpm models. As to faucets, Kohler has low-flow aerators that give up to 45% water savings over traditional faucets.
New smart irrigation systems include simple controls that are easy to use and deliver excellent results.
The picture is as bright for commercial applications—in restaurants and office buildings, for example. Many toilets made 20 years ago or earlier can use as much as 7 gallons per flush! Today there are much more efficient Kohler toilets that have reliable performance. For some urinals, the savings could be 40,000 gallons per year. There are also flushometers that regulate how much water is flushed in both toilets and urinals; that way, users need not do a complete overhaul of the office bathrooms.
In addition to manufacturing water-saving components and systems, Kohler publishes some sensible water regulations we could all follow:
- Use the correct water level and load size in the washing machine.
- Instead of hosing the driveway, sidewalk, and steps, use a broom.
- Use leftover water for houseplants instead of pouring out a half-empty glass of drinking water.
- Make sure the dishwasher is fully loaded to maximize the dishes cleaned in a cycle.
The tips seem obvious when we see them, but convenience and laziness may have taken us away from practical household habits. A good place to begin research when shopping for a toilet, new or replacement, is the WaterSense label. Toilets with that label must meet specific requirements to save water; it’s not just a sales gimmick, nor an endorsement by an unknown celebrity. Single-flush toilets must use 1.28 gpf or less. Dual-flush toilets must have a full flush that uses no more than 1.6 gpf and a reduced flush that uses no more than 1.1 gpf. Kohler has a page of 20 toilets in myriad configurations that all offer the WaterSense label.
Does it work? Does it save money, too?
In a world that seems to be stormed on all sides by new technologies—all claiming to be the best technology since sliced bread—managers of public works departments, building owners, and basic residents wonder how much of the proposed progress is real and how much is just another way to get their money.
“We achieved break-even on our investment in the first eight months,” attests David Radler, director of facilities maintenance for Campbell Union School District in Campbell, CA.
With educational funds in jeopardy, the school district requested a water use audit from the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The district mentioned several technologies like those already mentioned in this article, features like faucet aerators and ultra-low-flow toilets, but it revealed the greatest water and cost savings would come from smart irrigation controllers.
Enter HydroPoint WeatherTRAK smart controllers. They eliminate landscape water waste by adjusting irrigation schedules automatically, based on changing plant needs and local weather conditions.
“Programs like Campbell Union’s yield positive, tangible results for the entire community,” observes Sharon Thompson, vice president of marketing for HydroPoint. “Their win-win water use efficiency solution directly transfers taxpayer dollars from wasteful landscape water use to classroom resources.”
“The WeatherTRAK controller even offers options for root depth,” states Alice McGrath, the green-thumbed Board Vice President for Horizons, a 125-home Community Association.
For this community, the HydroPoint system waters the hilly 11-acre landscape. Homeowners who lived at the bottom of the slopes used to complain that their yards were soaked in watering, but not any more, thanks to clever control. Plants irrigated correctly develop deeper, more efficient root systems, which hold the soil in place and minimize the risk of costly slope failures.
How has WeatherTRAK saved water and money at Horizons? For these statistics, think of one CCF being 748 gallons. Before WeatherTRAK the average two-month water usage was 4,991 CCFs, with a water bill of $8,000. After the installation, the two-month water usage is 2,763 CCFs, with a two-month water bill of $4,500. The projected water savings for one year are 13,368 CCFs, and the projected five-year water bill savings are $105,000. So, yes, water conservation does work, and it does save money, too.
The wise comment of the water district, that the greatest savings come when they are in action where the most water is used, prompted me to investigate another sector of the water-using public. Most residences have one or two toilets, and most homes do not have large numbers in residence. Some places do however, such as the prison where Honeywell is helping to save thousands of gallons and dollars. Where else are there multiple residents? Hotels, motels, and hospitals—those are facilities we should encourage to save water and money.
The Hilton San Antonio Airport hotel (San Antonio, TX) has almost 400 rooms, and it is in a semi-arid climate. The Hilton wanted to help the City of San Antonio save water. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) suggested dual-flush toilets to replace the 3.5-gallon toilets that were currently installed. Dual-flush toilets have a two-button flushing system: half-flush for liquid and paper waste, full-flush for solid waste. After considerable research, the hotel chose Caroma Sydney 305 elongated toilets.
“These Caroma toilets offer considerable savings over the older toilets we replaced,” notes Michael Sanders, General Manager of the Hilton San Antonio Airport.
The Sydney two-piece, dual-flush toilets use 1.6 gallons of water for a full flush and 0.8 gallons for the half flush. The toilets also have a large trapway, virtually eliminating blockages. “Caroma toilets look stylish and modern, and will save us millions of gallons just this year alone,” adds Sanders.
At another Hilton in San Antonio, the Hilton Palacio del Rio on the famous River Walk, the problems had been monthly water costs that were too high, had too much staff time spent on fixing toilet issues, and too many guest complaints about bathroom-related issues. The hotel installed 470 Caroma high-efficiency toilets. The water savings averaged 35% per month (with 6 million gallons of water saved in eight months). Maintenance calls went down by more than 80%. Guest complaints went down by more than 90%.
“They were so easy to install, too,” commented Wayne Russell, assistant director of Property Operations at Hilton Palacio. “Considerably reduced monthly water costs and less staff hours needed to fix problems was what we wanted, and to be able to do this while helping with the drought situation for our area was a great bonus.”
Author's Bio: Paul Hull is a frequent contributor to Forester Media publications.