Tips to help customers step up their water efficiency programs

Water utilities can’t seem to catch a break: The need to improve aging infrastructure has pushed water rates up in many parts of the country, while increasingly unpredictable weather patterns make conserving water more important than ever. Agencies that own their own treatment plants also have to be conscious of the wear and tear on aging equipment, as well as the cost of power for processing operations.Vector illustration of water tap with the Earth globe inside water drop on blue background

Strong customer relationships can be instrumental in working through such challenging times. Unfortunately, frustrated customers—especially large key accounts—who haven’t seen their water bills go down after installing low-flow fixtures may be feeling less than cooperative. The October issue of FacilitiesNet magazine You are leaving WAPA.gov. suggests 10 measures that can help customers take water efficiency to the next level. Use these recommendations to open dialogue with your biggest water users, educate them on the challenges you face and build the bridges that will help you find solutions.

1. Equipment upgrades – New equipment is almost always more efficient than older models, especially when equipment is nearing the end of its useful life. Businesses with commercial kitchens or laundries can see significant water and energy savings by investing in new dish and clothes washers. Replacing water-cooled chillers with air-cooled units and adding water recirculating systems where the hot water source is more than 100 feet from the fixture are other measures worth considering.

2. Leak detection – According to New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, even a small toilet leak can waste 30 gallons daily at a cost of forty cents every day, and the statistics only get more alarming from there. A one-gallon-per-minute leak equals 1,140 gallons per day, which can run up a huge water bill even where local water rates are low. Given that many small leaks can be fixed quickly and inexpensively, leak detection is worth the constant vigilance it requires. It also pays to educate building occupants to be aware of leaking fixtures and mysterious dripping and running sounds, which leads to the next tip.

3. Staff/occupant training – The maintenance crew cannot be everywhere, especially in large buildings and campuses. Facility managers need to recruit housekeeping and other staff to alert building operators to plumbing leaks so problems can be addressed quickly. Make sure all staff knows who to call when they see a leak. A simple sign in restrooms and break rooms, for example, can tell building occupants who to contact when they notice a dripping faucet or running toilet. One school district trained its janitorial staff and vice principals to report all water leaks by calling a specific number, and saved $700,000 in utility bills in the first year of the program.

4. Metering and sub-metering – As the old saying goes, you can’t control what you don’t measure. Water metering and sub-metering can help in tracking water consumption and leak detection in both new and existing buildings. Ideally, water sub-metering could provide valuable input on cooling tower, irrigation and hot water use.

The article suggests that water metering is most effective when incorporated into the building management system so that the data is reported with other facility data. Keep in mind that many irrigation systems use proprietary protocols so you may need a communications interface, which will add to the total metering cost.

At least one water metering company markets a smart meter using a wireless mesh open radio protocol and battery-operated water sub-meters that report their data to plugged-in transceivers. These low cost installations are practical for existing buildings as well as for new construction.

5. Water audits – Water audits will help facility managers determine what next steps to take and in what order. Keep in mind, however, that water audits are a new practice and don’t have a standard protocol like energy audits. For a good starting point, check out South Florida Water Management District’s Water Efficiency and Self-Conducted Water Audits at Commercial and Institutional Facilities: A Guide for Facility ManagersYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

6. Benchmarking sustainability goals – Use the water audit to help establish where water is being used in a facility and benchmark sustainability goals. Software platforms are available that automatically import utility bills and then measure and benchmark the facility’s performance against your goals.

7. Cooling tower maintenance – Cooling towers are generally part of the HVAC system in large buildings of more than 10,000 square feet. HVAC water use can account for more than a quarter of the total water use in institutional buildings, according San Jose Environmental Services Department data. Facility managers should prioritize keeping cooling towers clean and minimizing scale buildup.

8. Irrigation systems – A range of options is available for improving both new and existing irrigation systems. For new installations, drip irrigation uses significantly less water than traditional sprinkler systems. And don’t forget to use native and low-moisture plants when landscaping.Incorporating smart controls that respond to weather events and soil moisture sensors can make existing systems more efficient. The City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, decided to convert several athletic fields in 2008 to an irrigation controller with soil moisture sensors. By 2010, water use was reduced by 8 million gallons, saving the city $29,000.

9. Rainwater capture – If you are willing to do the research with local water, environmental or development bureaus, harvesting rainwater for irrigation is an excellent alternative to using municipal water. Rainwater could also be used in new construction for some indoor uses like flushing toilets. In all cases, be sure to check your municipal codes regarding the reuse of rainwater.

10. Graywater/reclaimed water use – The California Uniform Plumbing Code You are leaving WAPA.gov. defines graywater as “untreated waste water which has not come into contact with toilet waste.” It can be used for irrigation or non-potable building uses such as flushing toilets and urinals, but graywater’s acceptance is regulated by state and local governments. Each has its own definition of what constitutes graywater and what, if anything, it can be used for. Where water recycling is permitted by local authorities, reclaimed water is being put to good use for landscape irrigation, toilets and urinals.

Source: Facilitiesnet via RCM News, October 2017

Rethinking Kentucky bluegrass in the West

Water utilities in the drought-stricken West may see Kentucky bluegrass lawns as water hogs, but a fact sheet by Northern WaterRedirecting to a non-government site suggests otherwise.

Drought Tolerant Kentucky Bluegrass in Northeastern Colorado identifies seven varieties of Kentucky bluegrass that adapt well to the region’s semi-arid climate. Since 2005, the water distribution agency has been studying the drought tolerance and other water-use characteristics of 40 different strains of the popular landscaping grass. Surprisingly, Kentucky bluegrass stacks up well against the indigenous tall fescue for drought resistance, due to its shallow root structure and the ability to go dormant quickly.

The fact sheet also explains the appropriate steps for soil preparation to ensure that any type of grass thrives and uses water efficiently. Although the study was done for northeastern Colorado, much of the information will apply in many parts of Western’s territory. Municipalities and water utilities may want to share the report with new homeowners, real estate developers, landscape companies or grounds crews—anyone who might be getting ready to plant or reseed a lawn.

Northern Water works with the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation to deliver water from Colorado’s Western Slope to eight counties along the state’s Front Range.  The agency collects, distributes and monitors weather and water quality data, tracks stream flows and reservoir levels, and provides water resource planning and water conservation information.