Innovative Businesses, Agencies Show How to Save Money with Water Efficiency
In the midst of a third consecutive dry year, California’s water supply continues to shrink as the state’s population grows, but according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the state’s commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) sector has the tools to save more than enough water to meet the annual needs of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego combined. Some leading California businesses and institutions are already catching on – saving water and money at the same time.
“After three consecutive dry years and global warming threatening to intensify California’s droughts, we need smart-water solutions that that will stop waste and help businesses use only what they need,” said Ronnie Cohen, Director of Water Efficiency Policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Luckily, 21st-century technologies exist to stretch our water supply and save money. And some trailblazing California businesses and water agencies are already showing us how it’s done.”
The complete report, Making Every Drop Work: Increasing Water Efficiency in California’s Commercial, Industrial and Institutional (CII) Sector, is available online from NRDC.
In February of 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger called for a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020, and legislation to help reach that target is currently pending in the State Assembly (AB 49). California’s CII sector – which includes office buildings, hotels, oil refineries, golf courses, schools and universities, restaurants and manufacturers – is responsible for one-third of urban water use, making progress in this sector essential to reaching this reduction goal. The CII sector uses the equivalent of more than a million Olympic-sized swimming pools of water annually. NRDC estimates California businesses could save about 25-50 percent of that water with efficiency measures, or as much as 700,000 -1.3 million acre-feet – the equivalent to 350,000-650,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Water efficiency improves water quality, supply and ecosystem health by reducing polluted landscape runoff and the amount of water taken out of rivers and streams – making it an important tool in managing the troubled San Francisco Bay-Delta, and restoring the state’s quarter billion dollar salmon fishery. Water efficiency has also proven to be good for the bottom line of businesses, as it lowers water bills and energy costs, as well as wastewater charges and costs for chemicals and water purification.
Payback for investing in water-efficient technologies is between one and four years. Many water agencies help accelerate payback by providing free water audits, equipment and technology rebates, and in some cases, free water-efficient products and installation.
While the CII sector has made some progress over the last decade, there is still a tremendous potential for improving their water efficiency and lowering their bills. For example, the report reveals:
- Commercial dishwashers use 25 percent of the water in commercial kitchens. A water-efficient commercial dishwasher would reduce that water use by 25 percent. Commercial kitchens can also save up to $1,050 a year on energy and water bills with a water-efficient pre-rinse spray valve, and cut faucet water use and related bills in half with a low flow faucet aerator, which run less than $5 each.
- The average hotel will use more than 604,000 gallons of water every year just to wash bed sheets and towels. If that hotel installs a water-efficient washing machine, it can cut that number by 38 percent.
- Landscaping, such as at office parks, schools, parks and street medians, is responsible for one-third of the CII sector’s water use. But with smart irrigation controllers that adjust for weather conditions, commercial-sized landscapes can reduce water use by 40-50 percent.
- Restrooms are responsible for 15 percent of CII water use. But low-flow showerheads, which can be purchased in bulk for $5-12 each, can save two to 3.5 gallons of water per shower, and more efficient toilets and urinals could save 35,000-64,000 gallons a year.
Performance Leaders Are Already Reaping the Benefits
In this new report, NRDC demonstrates how businesses and water agencies across California are already taking steps to reduce water use.
Based in Mountain View, Calif., Intel has saved enough water through efficiency measures since 1995 to supply 180,000 homes for a year. At their plant in Santa Clara, they developed a recycling system that allows them to take leftover water and use it for on-site cooling and landscaping. They also replaced water-intensive air scrubbers with alternative technology to reduce emissions.
In California’s Coachella Valley, the owners of Desert Willow Golf Course built a course irrigated almost entirely with recycled water in the arid area known for its golf. Not only does it use recycled water to replenish the course, it was designed to need less water, by including less turf grass and more desert plants. These technologies have saved the business $84,600 a year, and enough water to meet the needs of 565 families of four.
Fetzer Vineyard in Mendocino County is a water-saving star of the wine industry, using about 75 percent less water than their competitors. On average, it takes about eight gallons of water to make a bottle of wine – but Fetzer has managed to cut their process down to just over two gallons per bottle. Water meters to regulate their usage help them find and repair leaks more easily. And they use aeration ponds to treat their own wastewater and use it to irrigate their organic grapes and landscaping. These measures allow them to save 8 million gallons of water a year
These are just a few of the examples listed in the report, which provides case studies and a reference for other CII facilities and urban water agencies to begin taking advantage of similar savings opportunities.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.