Water Behind Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional Meters

June 8, 2015

Last week when a colleague called me on my cell phone, the call dropped just as I was telling him that I was somewhere in the bowels of the Long Beach Convention Center. I was on a tour of some of the location’s water systems, and this included boilers, chillers, cooling towers, an enormous industrial kitchen and laundry, and just a glimpse into one empty bathroom. We did not look at the landscape irrigation system, or check into janitorial services, but these are obvious users of water too.

In many facilities there are also some less obvious uses; or there can be very visible but site-specific water extractions.

For example a hotel, hospital, or care center will have more baths and showers than an office building. Water to meet the total requirements of round-the-clock guests or patients will certainly be different than water allotted for daytime office workers. Steam may be part of industrial processes or powering, heating, or cooling buildings. Other kinds of steam equipment is often used in sterilization and may be found at clinics, hospitals, veterinary facilities, dental offices, and laboratories of all kinds. Some buildings have fish tanks and these may be aesthetic, or they may be affiliated with labs or even food production.

The cataloging I’m doing is to raise awareness. We manage the containment of these processes pretty well, but our buildings are wetter than we realize. And they are all different.

Let’s just say that life is water intensive. This seems to be the case no matter what the level of infrastructure development in a given place. As I have begun to summarize, the variety of water flows in our civilized, built environments are many, but in addition to this, the management of them on sites is often disconnected by departments, each with their own tribal knowledge of the processes and equipment. A lab worker responsible for sterilizing dental instruments in a large medical and dental building has probably never thought about the cooling tower fenced just behind the property. Likewise a nurse who is bathing bedridden patients is not concerned about the kitchen’s ice machine or what goes on in the boiler room. If it is a female nurse she has no idea if the urinals on site are waterless or not. But water efficiency is coming into the consciousness of those tasked with other building efficiencies, and the interconnected ways of water and energy are demanding attention. The government, building lease holders, and others have a stake in the overall efficiency of properties.

This year the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) has added a Fundamentals of Water Efficiency Seminar to its offerings and an affiliated test to become a Certified Water Efficiency Professional (CWEP). As an editor in both the energy and water spaces, I attended the inaugural class held the two days prior to the AEE’s West Coast Energy Management Congress (EMC), though I managed to wiggle out of the testing portion. AEE reports that there was a strong demand for this information among workers in energy efficiency, and the class had an especially large attendance.

Francis Wheeler, President of Water Savers LLC, and his colleague, Eric Elam, Director of Project Design and Engineering at Water Savers LLC led the seminar. One of the first points Wheeler made was that square footage of a building or set of buildings is not an indicator of the water used at the site. A water balance or mass balance, he said, is an estimate of the total amount of water used in a facility based on the summation of all known water using equipment and processes. This is a little bit different from the way that “water balance” is used in hydrology or in an audit by a water utility, as these compare flows in and out, however the AEE CWEP process does take account of the water coming into the site, whether metered or not, in order to come up with a Comprehensive Facility Water Audit, for which this kind of water balance is a component. With over 15 years of water efficiency and conservation experience, and now countless water assessments at countless properties, “Everyone guesses wrong,” Wheeler said. “The data proves the reality.”

Findings when facilities are assessed may range from a cooling unit that is supposed to be recirculating water but the valve is not set right and so the water is being dumped after one use, to a building where the water meter has consistently been read missing a zero, to an output of landscape irrigation water that is far beyond what is being billed for which led to a recognition of the tapping of a source that was not being recognized.

Most of the instances of water use require energy in terms of pumping and/or heating. Wheeler gave an example of a huge water, sewer and thermal energy savings potential that can come from having efficient pre-rinse sprayer valves in commercial kitchens. The seminar was actually full to the brim of information like this, and is certainly needed as aquifers and reservoirs in various places in the nation are not so full.

About the Author

Nancy Gross

Nancy Gross is a former editor of Business Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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