Business + Industry, Facilities, Sustainability, Water Reuse, Energy, Water
Taking a Closer Look at Water Conservation
As the demand for water grows, business and industry continue to identify ways to enhance the value of clean, reliable water. Water conservation is one area of operational focus that many sectors are embracing. For example, oil and gas exploration firms are adopting water-reuse processes while power plants are using reclaimed municipal wastewater, among other water-saving measures. Likewise, the beverage industry is increasing water efficiencies—not a surprise given that water is often 90 percent of its product—and many other industries are treating and reusing wastewater to minimize liquid discharge.
To meet demands, reduce costs, extend supplies and improve efficiencies, a business must have a solid understanding of their unique drivers for water conservation, assessment tools, the value of improvements and available solutions. After all, one conservation approach does not fit all.
Frito-Lay's Casa Grande, Arizona snack food manufacturing facility, the first-of-its-kind process water recovery system, wins the distinguished 2012 U.S. Water Prize
Understanding Water’s Importance
What drives water use varies across business sectors, treatment needs, regulations and geographic regions. The primary reasons companies focus on water conservation:
- Supply: Do I depend on surface water or groundwater sources, and are they reliable? Will there be enough water during a drought? I’m in a water-rich region, why should I conserve? It is important for users to understand available supplies, how those supplies affect consumption and the risk of losing one’s share of that supply. Knowing the answers and focusing on the business risk of availability is critical. In arid regions, water conservation is directly related to water scarcity, so a consumer in drought-prone areas will evaluate risks differently than water abundant regions. Overdrawn potable supplies could force conservation measures or use of alternate sources. Even in water-rich areas, where public interest in water conservation may be minimal, sustainability now helps ensure resiliency to changing water use drivers.
- Regulatory compliance: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforces federal clean water and safe drinking water laws, but states and municipalities have their own water quality and supply regulations that may affect usage. In some U.S. regions, groundwater is tightly regulated to manage and preserve resources, and some of these programs may provide credit for conservation as part of the strategy for reducing groundwater use. For example, one groundwater conservation district in Texas requires groundwater use reductions and historically has required the regulated entity to document that an alternative supply, such as surface water, will be used instead. However, this district recently approved measures to allow use of aggressive water conservation measures for compliance.
- Energy costs: One of the biggest incentives for water conservation is lower energy bills. Even in regions where water is plentiful there have been substantive increases in energy expenses. Water conservation or reuse can reduce pumping and water heating requirements, often resulting in significant energy savings.
- Public perception: Water conservation can also be driven by corporate sustainability goals, customer demands or a desire to respond to public expectations. Oil and gas exploration companies are starting to use less desirable supplies (e.g., reclaimed wastewater, brackish groundwater) and reduce fresh water use to improve the sustainability of their activities and minimize competition for high-quality water, especially in cases when everyone else is cutting back during a drought. Conservation and reuse leaves more for the community, which is good corporate stewardship.
Evaluating Best Approaches
Conducting a formal evaluation is a means to better understand basic water use within internal operations, identify water-related impacts and risks, allow for goal setting, and select the best approaches or available technologies for conservation. Some steps:
- System analysis: A manufacturing facility may know its total water usage, but not fully understand how the water is used or the location of water-heavy processes. A comprehensive and accurate picture of existing systems is imperative for reducing overall water use. Look beyond purchase, delivery or disposal expenses and identify the true costs of water, such as treatment expense, energy used, water supply reliability and areas of waste (e.g., open hoses, manual cleaning with water, leaking fire loops, fixed-speed pumps).
- Feasibility study: Next, identify conservation opportunities and their return on investment (ROI). Ask: Will that approach or technology work for my facility? What are the costs moving forward? What is the cost if I do nothing? Conservation efforts that include a feasibility or risk analysis can help increase ROI. For instance, water scarce areas have a different ROI calculation because water reliability metrics may have more significance. Reuse may be on everyone’s mind, but it can be driven more by costs (e.g., buying, treating, disposing) and may be prohibitive to implement. It is also important to understand the relative costs and potentially acceptable risk of the status quo: Unless a practice has been fully evaluated, making a change may produce a less favorable ROI.
- Planning and reporting: Putting water conservation into practice requires more than installing new technology. For a successful, facility-wide conservation initiative, there must be a top-down commitment and increased awareness with realistic goals and alignment between management objectives and what the facility can achieve. In addition to capital improvements, best management practices may include employee education, improved standard operating procedures, monitoring of leaks and water loss, and employee incentives.
Learning more for Success
Water conservation continues to garner industry attention as water is increasingly recognized as a critical and finite resource. With inherent benefits to water conservation, such as regulatory compliance, extended supplies, reduced costs or sustainability commitment, understanding the cost and value of water prepares any industry for the future.
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