By Grainger Editorial Staff 11/14/22
Water conservation is now a higher priority for facility managers. In the Southwest, a years-long drought has drained reservoirs, leading to the first ever mandatory cutback in water drawn from the Colorado River in 2021. Municipalities throughout the Southwest are implementing drought protocols, offering incentives for water conservation and warning of potential penalties for water waste.
In some California cities, habitual water wasters have had their taps restricted. In August 2022, water-intensive businesses like car washes were forced to suspend operations when dry conditions triggered drought restrictions in North Texas.
Businesses in drought-prone regions need to start preparing for rising water prices and mandatory conservation requirements. Early action is the key to ensuring the next drought won’t disrupt your facility’s operations.
Before you can conserve water, you need to know where it’s flowing. To conduct a water audit of your facility, start by taking inventory of every fixture and piece of equipment that taps into your plumbing. Then investigate their flow rate. This may require searching through old manuals, or as a last resort, closing the supply valve and using a bucket and a stopwatch to determine how many gallons you have to add every minute to keep the equipment’s reservoir topped off.
After taking inventory, estimate your water use. Multiply a fixture or piece of equipment’s flow rate by its frequency of use (or duration of operation) to get a ballpark estimate of its water consumption. Comparing your estimated total use against your water meter can tell you whether your audit missed a major water draw, or whether you have a leak.
If you need a more granular picture of your water consumption, you can install submeters in your water supply system. These will tell you how much water is flowing to individual zones within the facility, giving you a clearer idea of where conservation measures will have the greatest impact.
Water conservation should begin with the low-hanging fruit. Fixing leaks can reduce water consumption and save on long-term maintenance costs. Changes to your landscaping could help your business conserve water without affecting operations. And prioritizing water conservation when buying and replacing equipment can improve water efficiency while maintaining functionality.
Make leak inspections part of your facility’s regular maintenance schedule. Often, a leaking valve can be spotted simply by watching the fixture when it’s supposed to be turned off. For some equipment, leak detection may require adding dye to the reservoir tank to see if water is moving through the system. For a closed system like a boiler, you may be able to shut off the water supply and watch for the system pressure to drop.
Be sure you’re staying on top of maintenance. Even a leak as small as a dripping faucet can waste 3,000 gallons per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Replacing a valve cartridge is a simple job that only takes a few minutes. Regularly sample the water inside closed-loop systems like boilers and cooling towers. Poor water quality, low pH and high oxygenation levels can lead to corrosion, creating pinhole leaks that are difficult to find and repair. Preventive maintenance is especially important for fire-tube boilers, where fixing a small leak can require costly replacement tubes.
In arid climates, replacing turfgrass with a xeriscape garden can cut your irrigation water needs by as much as 50 percent. Instead of shallow-rooted turfgrass that dries out in the sun and needs constant irrigation, a xeriscape will feature a variety of decorative drought-tolerant plants, like yuccas, agaves, sage and manzanita that require less frequent watering.
If you’re not ready to rip out your grass, there are still steps you can take to conserve water. First, when it’s time to choose seed, pick a grass type that requires minimal irrigation, like Bermuda or zoysia. Or consider switching to a taller “no-mow” fescue lawn that will put down deep roots and require less frequent watering.
Finally, be sure your irrigation system is set up for efficiency. Use drip irrigation to deliver water directly to the roots of shrubbery and trees and be sure your lawn sprinklers are broadcasting with as little overlap as possible. Aim sprinklers so they aren’t watering sidewalks and parking lots. Water early in the morning when evaporation will be minimal and set up a rain gauge to know when watering is necessary.
After watering, watch for runoff. Wastewater flowing off the lawn and into storm drains is a sign of overwatering.
Look for ways to get the job done while using less water across your business’ operations. For example, identify situations when you could use dry cleaning methods like sweeping and compressed air cleaning instead of mopping or hosing down equipment. And instead of washing vehicles on-site, consider using an outside commercial carwash that has a sophisticated water recycling system.
Optimize the production processes that are consuming the most water at your facility. For example, be sure you’re using the right detergent for efficient cleaning and examine the spray pattern of your rinsing equipment to ensure you’re getting even coverage.
If you have a cooling tower, maximizing your concentration ratio (allowing a higher concentration of dissolved minerals to accumulate in the cooling water) will create savings in makeup water. Many systems are set up to run at 2x to 4x concentration but can safely be operated at concentrations of up to 6x. Raising a cooling system’s concentration ratio from 3 to 6x will reduce makeup water use by 20 percent.
Finally, try to use water more than once. Installing water recycling and greywater systems may require an upfront investment but reusing water can create tremendous savings. For example, a single-pass cooling system can use up to 40 times as much water as a recirculating system.
Rinse water can often be filtered and reused several times before it needs to be replaced. And If water can’t be reused, it may still be clean enough to move into a “greywater” system and be recycled for non-potable uses, like irrigation or toilet flushing.
Your facility may also have potential for reclaiming water from alternative sources, such as boiler condensate and cooling tower blowdown. Boiler condensate is usually pure distilled water, making it ideal for use as makeup water in the boiler system. Cooling tower blowdown water has a high mineral content, but it may be useful as greywater, or for dust suppression spraying.
The rain that falls on your facility is another potential water source. Rainwater harvesting systems collect the runoff from your roof during rainstorms. After filtration and treatment, the water is stored in cisterns for use in your regular operations. Collected rainwater can be added to your greywater system for landscaping irrigation and other non-potable uses.
Visit the Grainger KnowHow for tips and insight on water conservation.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.