Environmental & Safety Issues: Water Management - Is it a Wash?
According to the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), "the Federal government spends as much as $1 billion per year on water and sewer costs. But almost $240 million of that amount could be saved."
Water, like most re-sources, was first managed using supply side thinking and solutions. Here the emphasis was on access and distribution-get at more water and distribute it more efficiently. However, recent droughts and increases in water supply costs of 100 to 400% have accentuated the need for a different approach to water management. Looking at water shortages from a demand perspective means acknowledging that the tools of conservation be applied.
According to the United States Geological Society (USGS), "the era of building large dams and conveyance systems is drawing to a close; as we approach the 21st Century, the relatively limited water supply and established infrastructure must be managed more effectively to meet increasing demands." This is already occurring in the form of water conservation, recycling, reuse and improved water-use efficiency programs taking precedent over rather ambitious development projects.
Water is Money
As with any conservation approach, placing value on a resource is the first step toward elevating the attention it receives. Although gas and electricity have always been a financial consideration for energy usage planning, facility managers are now finding that water efficiency programs are an effective way to reduce operating costs. The following describes some basic steps needed to implement a successful water management program:
Reduce Water Losses
Regular surveys of water distribution systems should be conducted to identify aging areas of the plant's water conveyance infrastructure. According to the USGS, leaking pipes and unaccounted for water losses can equate to substantial waste-up to 15% of total water usage. This means that a plant using 50,000 gallons per day (gpd) of water may be losing as much as 7,500 gpd. If figured at a cost of .005 per gallon, this would results in a potential operating loss of over $13K annually. If the company's sewer bills were based on water usage, then the operating loss could be more than twice as high. In addition, leaking water causes damage and in most cases will impact maintenance, repair and structural costs.
Reduce Overall Water Use
It is important to understand where water is being used and in what capacity so that resources can be prioritized. The graph shows examples of water use distribution (water balances) for common industrial settings. Data are based on a 1991 Non-residential Water Audit Program conducted in Denver, Co.
The most efficient way to reduce water use is to simply shut off process water when a system is not in use and install water saving devices. Many employees (through company procedure) assume that water is an inexpensive, limitless resource and allow process water to flow during down times. Often times, rather simple behavioral changes prove to be an economically viable way to realize immediate savings.
Employ Water Reuse Practices
Facilities can utilize non-potable water for their operational needs. Some of these include using rinse water from cooling tower condensate for landscape irrigation or non-contact processes and redistributing treated wastewater for other processes, such as cooling towers and sprinkler systems. Finding water reuse opportunities means thinking creatively. Some companies have found that incentive programs are a good way to not only solicit ideas from employees but also reinforce the importance of water conservation.
Develop a Water Strategy
Like any good business practice, water efficiency measures must be an integral part of the strategic business plan. Efficient use of water means more than conducting an in-plant study and preparing a cost analysis. A successful program must prioritize, set and communicate goals, establish performance measures, and carefully plan a course for action. This plan should be designed with a means to consistently raise employee awareness in combination with providing the proper tools and equipment to achieve permanent water savings.
Additional information on water savings is available at: www.epa.gov, www.waterwiser.org and www.eere.energy.gov.