Most facilities have, for some time, regarded water use as a secondary concern to energy use. But that is starting to change for a number of reasons, including drought and more awareness of how water efficiency can boost the bottom line. These days, facility managers are looking to water as the next area of focus in high-performance, and a key part of that effort in getting a more detailed picture of how the water is being used.
No matter where your facility is located, water use is a concern. In the face of historic drought, California has recently mandated reductions in urban water use for the first time ever. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, municipalities are trying to address aging sewer systems and improve their water distribution systems.
Most facilities have regarded water use as a secondary concern to energy use for two reasons, experts say: cost and visibility. “Water remains inexpensive compared to energy, and as long as that’s true water will be the second tier that they’re interested in,” says Stephanie Tanner, lead engineer, EPA WaterSense.
In addition, to date there has been more activity in the marketplace around creating visibility into energy use than into water use as far as data management, so facility managers often don’t have as fine-grained an end-use understanding of water as they do of energy.
But that is all changing. Pressures such as drought are driving the change in high-performance focus, but so is a growing understanding of how water efficiency can improve the financial picture for a facility and support risk-management strategies. “People are starting to look at their building as a whole and really understanding how they’re using water and what they’re doing with it,” says Tanner.
The first step in optimizing water use in a facility is understanding how the water is being used in the first place. Cities are starting to require facilities to use some kind of tracking system for their water. Some jurisdictions are mandating the use of Energy Star’s free, online Portfolio Manager tool for this purpose, says Tanner. Several thousand buildings now use Portfolio Manager to track their water use, she says.
Commercial buildings typically use water in three pots, says Tanner: cooling water, irrigation, and fixtures. “Most people think that it’s the fixtures and that’s it, but cooling towers can be a third or more of a building’s water use,” Tanner says. “That’s really a big management issue. A lot of places don’t realize the impact better management can have on cooling tower water use.”
Cooling tower systems also present a big opportunity for water re-use. Not all facilities, however, have taken advantage of this resource. Consider the example of a university in British Columbia. According to Troy Vassos, senior environmental engineer with Golder Associates, the university’s wastewater is much more dilute than in other areas in British Columbia. “They have all this water from the cooling towers that they just dump to sewer,” Vassos says.
The university, which in a way is large enough to count as a municipality, hasn’t in the past found other applications for the water, such as irrigation. “They just discharge to sewer because it doesn’t mean anything to them. Now when they’re starting to contemplate water re-use and what they can do to be self-sustaining, they started to realize they have this large amount of water they could be using as a resource and they’re evaluating what happens in buildings and how they could be using the water. Before it was just a black hole.”
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