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The water supply situation varies widely depending on the region — and it does not always correlate with rainfall. In Florida, for instance, the land is flat and porous, making it hard to store water to serve the growing population, Grigg says.
Particularly as the climate changes, Osann says, more areas may find themselves vulnerable to water shortages, including cities along the East Coast, where even if the rain falls regularly, the region’s small rivers do not provide much reserve.
Katie Henderson, a research manager with the Water Research Foundation, says that shortages in the West and South are likely to get worse. Many states require utilities to develop drought management plans, she says, but smaller water systems are particularly vulnerable, and shortages are often a recurring problem because drought tends to occur in cycles.
Recent droughts have prompted many utilities to invest in new supplies, storage facilities, or long-term conservation plans. The City of Atlanta, Henderson says, is investing $300 million to create a 2.4-billion-gallon reservoir that would give the city a 30-day supply of water instead of its current three days.
DiLoreto says that, particularly in the West, ideas such as desalination or recycling of effluent for “gray water” systems will have to play a role in meeting the demands of a growing population.
Plenty of ways to save water
Facility managers have a wide range of options for reducing water use. Suburban office parks can put in plants appropriate for the climate. In an office building, “the low-flow toilet is of course the big thing,” Grigg says. Any building that contains a cafeteria or other commercial food service facility will have significant opportunities to use less water; so will any building with a pool, a sports field, or laundry equipment.
Even a fairly new office building has goals to shoot for, according to Howard. The Global Water Center in Milwaukee, where he works, in 2014 became the first office building in the world to meet the criteria for the International Water Standard, similar to LEED. As well as water use, the standard considers wastewater and the infrastructure that takes water to and from the building. Any building with fixtures more than five to 10 years old probably has opportunities to save significant water, Howard says.
A large office building could improve efficiency by capturing and re-using water from the cooling tower or sump pump, Osann says. And in new facilities, hot water pipes should be insulated and designed to be as short as possible, to minimize waste while users run the tap waiting for the water to get hot.
David Lewellen is a freelance writer based in Glendale, Wis.
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