Sensible Sustainability

July 25, 2022
Evaluating efforts to curb water scarcity

On June 5th, the United Nations announced the 2022 theme for World Environment Day as “One Earth,” which also opened a 10-year push to restore ecosystems around the world, highlighting climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, while calling for sustainable living in harmony with nature. The UN identifies Water Scarcity as one of the top contributors to negative outcomes for human health and happiness.

When you hear the term “Water Scarcity,” one normally thinks about tragic images of tribes, people in faraway places hauling water long distances for their families. Globally, one in nine humans lack access to safe clean drinking water. Those of us privileged to live in the “first world” are currently experiencing a scarcity of quality and quantity of water as evidenced by declining raw water quality worldwide as well as increasing scarcity of water due to the drought conditions in the Western and Midwestern United States.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water to about 19 million people, declared a water shortage emergency in April 2020 and voted unanimously to curtail water use. That resolution has now evolved in 2022 into water rationing where 6 million people in parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties are limited to watering outdoor plants once a week — an unprecedented move for the region. We can no longer count on the virtually unlimited supply of water that so many of us have become accustomed to in the industrialized world.

Legislative Efforts

The U.S. EPA has announced a Water Reuse Interagency Working Group, which was established under the recently approved Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Section 50218). This Working Group is composed of senior officials from 15 federal agencies, and is charged with developing and coordinating actions, tools, and resources to advance water reuse across the country.

Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers lack access to safe drinking water. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water for households, businesses, schools, and childcare centers across the U.S. This legislation will invest in water infrastructure and work towards eliminating lead service pipes, including those in Tribal Nations and disadvantaged communities.

The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) has published the 2020 Water Efficiency and Sanitation Standard (WE•Stand) as an American National Standard. Key provisions of the 2020 WE•Stand include:

  • Water efficiency and conservation requirements;
  • APMO Water Demand Calculator;
  • Alternate water sources for non-potable applications such as graywater systems, reclaimed (recycled) water systems, and on-site-treated non-potable water systems;
  • Potable and non-potable rainwater catchment systems;
  • Water heating design;
  • Non-sewered sanitation systems;
  • Recirculating shower systems;
  • Leak detection and control;
  • Plant irrigation systems;
  • Composting toilet and urine diversion systems;
  • On site blackwater treatment systems;
  • On site stormwater treatment systems; Vacuum drainage systems;and
  • References to industry standards addressing water treatment technologies. 

Unintended Consequences

While using less water is important, we cannot allow our environmental zeal to create additional problems. Early conservation guidelines were primarily energy-focused, with very little thought given to other non-energy related consequences.

One of the unintended consequences of low-flow fixtures is the loss of chlorine residual and the resultant proliferation of unpleasant aesthetic issues from heterotrophic bacteria (HPC) and microbially induced corrosion (MIC), which can cause structural damage as well as raising levels of Lead and Copper in drinking water. 

In addition to the less dangerous issues, opportunistic premise pathogens (OPP) will proliferate in under-used plumbing systems and can also contribute to the growth of pathogens like Legionella pneumophila, which can cause Legionnaires disease, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, an antibiotic-resistant pathogen associated with serious illnesses; and mycobacterium avium, which can cause respiratory illness, especially in immunocompromised people. Serious thought needs to be given towards the potential consequences before simply mandating a reduction in water usage.

Professionals Can Make a Difference

As members of the Water Quality Management and Improvement Industry, we need to do more with less, and guide our customers toward embracing sustainable water efficiency and reuse. Being a responsible corporate citizen means minimizing waste of water, energy and other resources; we can all do our part by embracing proven strategies and technologies like these:

Proper Sizing and Selection

Water softeners and self-cleaning filters that are oversized will waste water and can contribute to inferior water quality while also creating an environment that encourages the growth of bacteria inside the pressure vessel. The IAPMO Water Demand Calculator is a handy new tool to enable designers to properly calculate predicted water consumption rates in buildings that are built to the latest standards. 

Size systems based on the actual use-case and be sure to leverage established technologies like upflow regeneration, progressive-flow operation, and plated pressure vessels to ensure better water quality while saving on water and regenerant/cleaning chemicals.

Metered On-demand Cleaning

Usage of calendar-only based cleaning/regeneration of water softeners and self-cleaning filters needs to stop. While fail-safe calendar-overrides do have their place, meters should always be used to ensure that the system is only really cleaned when absolutely necessary.

Upflow Regeneration

Countercurrent regeneration has been in use for more than 50 years. Depending on the application and ion exchange resin selected, regenerant usage and water efficiency can improve by as much as 30%, along with improving the quality of the water by simply switching to upflow regeneration and making the appropriate changes to injector-sizing and media loading as recommended by equipment designers.

Progressive-flow Operation

System control software from most major manufacturers has now been refined to allow for the deployment of multiple smaller tanks instead of one or two large tanks for softening, iron control and dechlorination. This provides better output water quality across a broad range of flowrates while also ensuring that backwash water usage is minimized while preserving the integrity of the treatment media.

Choose Cartridges

Recent advancement in high flow and high-capacity POE cartridges make use of replaceable cartridges to control arsenic, chlorine, chloramine, lead and PFAS more realistic now than ever before. High-capacity cartridges like these can replace self-backwashing pressure-vessels in many applications; this will save water usage and potentially make your installations more compact and cost-effective.

Rainwater Harvest

Rainwater harvesting is simpler and easier than ever before, and progressive legislators are making it simpler to maintain compliance with state and local regulations. Instead of wasting water that falls from the sky, building owners can now harvest, store and use it for a host of beneficial applications. ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 63-2013: Rainwater Catchment Systems was approved as an American National Standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on November 14, 2013. Now, instead of fretting about how to deal with new stormwater discharge, smart building owners are empowered to capture and reuse this resource while still meeting stringent environmental regulations and lowering their overall environmental footprint.

ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 78-2015: Stormwater Harvesting System Design for Direct End-Use Applications, covers collection of stormwater for potable and non-potable uses. The official standard components cover design and installation requirements including collection, tanks, piping, treatment, inspections and maintenance and labeling. For potable use specifically, the standard covers operation and water quality maintenance, including storage, filtration, disinfection, testing, stormwater capture and use. This Standard continues where ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 63-2013: Rainwater Catchment Systems ended.

Control Bacteria

Bacterial contamination in buildings from waterborne sources is a significant threat to human health and safety. Employing extreme water-saving technology removes the luxury of frequent, extra-long backwashes that can minimize bacterial growth in the media bed. 

Always use a high-quality media cleaner, disinfect all treatment equipment at least once a year and deploy a bacterial safeguard, such as UV sterilization or ultrafiltration after the primary treatment train to minimize the potential for downstream contamination. Also be sure to minimize dead-legs during plumbing installations and explore the use of recirculating disinfection loops further reduce bacterial growth.

As individuals, we can also help to improve national water efficiency by preaching and practicing simple principles of sustainability at home and at work. Here are a few talking points:

  • Identify and fix dripping faucets and leaky toilets;
  • Install water-saving faucets, toilets, urinals and showerheads;
  • Drink less bottled water—filter it at home or at work;
  • Adjust sprinklers to eliminate overspray onto sidewalks and other non-permeable areas;
  • Identify and fix leaks in irrigation systems; And
  • Use a commercial car wash (they recycle most of their water) or bucket and sponge instead of hosing cars and trucks clean in the driveway.
  • It is never too late to get serious about preserving precious water resources. It is good for society, the planet, and just as importantly, it is good for business. Even small incremental steps are progress towards protecting and restoring the natural systems on which our societies and economies depend. 


Water Reuse Interagency Working Group | US EPA

National Water Reuse Action Plan: Collaborative Implementation (Version 1) | US EPA

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law | The White House

About the Author

Greg Reyneke

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