Governing bodies are imposing rules and regulations on certain types of water use in a growing number of cities and regions. Although many facility executives are familiar with temporary water use restrictions, such as limited hours for lawn and landscape irrigation during drought, facility executives increasingly have to heed permanent water conservation rules.
Why are requirements for water conservation here to stay? In most communities, the reason boils down to water demands outstripping supplies. Increasing growth — the U.S. population is projected to exceed 300 million by 2010 — is putting pressure on drinking water supplies. Pollution, such as contamination of groundwater, is forcing some drinking water sources to close or require expensive treatment technologies to keep them portable. Alternative sources such as reclaimed wastewater and desalinated seawater are options in some locales. However, they require costly new infrastructure and are not trouble-free. Simply put, to keep water and sewer service available and affordable, everyone needs to get better at doing more with less water.
The good news is that regardless of whether water conservation is required, there is a bevy of ways to save water in commercial and institutional facilities.
Water conservation policy and program initiatives targeted at the commercial and institutional sector often focus on reducing the amount of water used by plumbing fixtures, cooling systems and irrigation. These types of uses are typically the largest components of water demand at commercial and institutional facilities. What follows is an overview of technologies and practices that can curb water consumption.
Low-Volume Plumbing Fixtures. By now, most facility executives are aware that under the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) only low-volume toilets, urinals, faucets and showerheads can be installed in most facilities. EPAct sets maximum flow rates for fixtures. Since it was enacted, plumbing manufacturers have developed products that exceed EPAct’s water efficiency requirements. For example, high-performance dual-flush and 1.0-gallon-per-flush toilets are now available, as are nonflushing urinals and models that use less than 0.5 gallons per flush. Showerheads and lavatory faucets with flow rates of 1.0 to 1.5 gallons per minute are also gaining acceptance as functional designs improve. EPAct was designed to save water through normal fixture replacements. It is estimated that by 2020, the United States, will save between 6 billion and 9 billon gallons of water a day, enough to supply four to six cities the size of New York City.
Nonflushing Urinals What do the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Walt Disney World and the El Paso, Texas, Independent School District have in common? They all use urinals that use no water for flushing. Waterless urinals look like conventional urinals, but instead of using water for flushing, a liquid, usually oil, or canister trap contain odors in the urinal drain. Two states have laws governing urinals that don't use water. Arizona requires all urinals installed in new state buildings after Jan. 1, 2005, to be waterfree fixtures. Recently, the Oregon State Plumbing Board approved a rule to promote the installation of waterless urinals by allowing them in city, county, state and federal government facilities. Several cities and water systems offer rebate incentives for urinals that don’t use water, including Austin, Texas, and Seattle.
Recirculated Cooling Systems. Several water suppliers and cities require efficient water cooling practices and equipment. Denver Water requires all water used for evaporative or refrigerated cooling and air conditioning, including equipment such as condensers, and processes, to be recycled or reused. New York City requires recirculated water for medium and large refrigeration and air-cooled systems; properties with steam-source refrigeration must use some condensate for cooling tower makeup water.
Landscape Water Use. Lawn watering is restricted year-round in the cities and towns served by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Irrigation applications to lawns are limited to twice a week, and only before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Certain exemptions are allowed, but this is one of the more aggressive lawn watering rules that is not directly related to drought. Most lawn and turf areas, including playing fields, can survive and thrive on a reduced watering schedule if irrigations are ramped down carefully. Landscape and lawn health may actually improve under a more water-thrifty irrigation regime; excessive watering is a common culprit of root rot, plant diseases and bug infestations. In addition to water savings with reduced irrigation schedules, chemical — fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide — as well as labor costs may be reduced.
Turf Limitations. Las Vegas is cracking down on excessive lawn watering by applying turf limits to new properties, including commercial sites and golf courses. Existing multifamily and business property owners that convert grassy areas to water-thrifty native or adaptive plant materials or to waterfree ground covers can earn $1 per square foot in the Water Smart Landscape Rebate program offered by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Pre-rinse Spray Valves. Nearly 20,000 water-saving, pre-rinse spray valves have been installed in California restaurants and food service facilities as part of a commercial water conservation program. Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy and the San Antonio Water System have similar programs. The 1.6-gallon-per-minute hand-held spray devices are similar to the 3- to 5-gallon-per-minute conventional spray heads used to remove food residue from dishes, flatware and other food-service items prior to cleaning in a commercial automatic dishwasher. A study of water-thrifty pre-rinse spray valves found that the valves saved about $300 per year in reduced water and energy costs. The payback on the valves was less than three months.
Amy Vickers, an engineer and water conservation specialist with Amy Vickers & Associates, Inc. in Amherst, Mass., is author of Handbook of Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Businesses, Industries, Farms (WaterPlow Press).
Considerable discussion, and some grumbling, has occurred in recent years over the performance of urinals that don’t use water. While the numbers of nonflushing urinal installations and enthusiastic customers are growing — along with manufacturers who offer products — some facility executives have complained about increased odor, clogging, and failing or short-lived and expensive trap seal products that create unpleasant cleanup tasks for maintenance workers.
Aside from splash-back problems with some early models that have been corrected, surveys of users of nonflushing urinals show users are generally pleased with the new fixtures. However, facilities that don’t have reliable drain-line pitch and maintenance workers who are reluctant to clean nonflushing urinals — hard water increases mineral build-up that can require more aggressive bowl cleaning — may avoid these problems by installing wash-down urinals that use only 0.5 gallon per flush or less.
Like most new technologies, the performance of nonflushing urinals will likely improve over time. For the right situation, the urinals will function just fine, save tons of water, and reduce water and sewer bills.