EPA Program Seeks to Improve Water Efficiency

Some water professionals view the glass as half empty. In fact, a national survey conducted by the U.S. Government Accountabilty Office...

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Some water professionals view the glass as half empty. In fact, a national survey conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 36 states anticipate some sort of water shortage by the year 2013. Meanwhile, per person water consumption continues to increase making water one of the world’s most critical natural resource concerns. Others view the glass as half-full. There are growing opportunities to create change that will lead to more efficient water practices. This means protecting our environment and preserving this life-sustaining resource for future generations.

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At the same time water managers are facing supply issues, they continue to face other challenges such as aging infrastructure and new regulatory requirements. In fact, 60 percent of U.S. mayors say aging water and wastewater facilities are a top priority. Over the next 20 years, drinking water and wastewater utilities are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements.

For those making water decisions, efficiency may not always top the list. But as supply challenges arise and demand for water increases, using water wisely will become more and more critical to sustaining communities and quality of life. It is more important than ever to integrate water efficiency into everyday practices and to determine how to use water-efficient measures to help manage water supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently called national attention to the need for water efficiency as it launched WaterSense, a new voluntary public-private partnership program. Stakeholders from across the U.S., including water utilities, environmental groups, manufacturers and retailers, have worked with EPA on the development of the WaterSense program.

WaterSense will enhance the market for efficient products and programs by creating a label that will make it easy for Americans to identify those that save water. The program’s reach will multiply by working with partners such as utilities, manufacturers and retailers to promote and rebate water-efficient products.

The WaterSense philosophy is to create specifications or technical requirements for products and programs that are at least 20 percent more water efficient and perform at least as well as similar products in the marketplace. The specifications for each product are being developed through market research, technical review and a process for stakeholder input. Products meeting or exceeding these specifications may bear the WaterSense label.

Improving Water Efficiency

The EPA, along with its many partners, has developed resources and programs designed to help water professionals and the water industry improve water efficiency efforts. Whether it be those supplying the water or those using the water, making small water-efficient changes can make a big difference - it is just a matter of knowing where to start.

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As a broader effort, EPA’s Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative involves all aspects of water conservation from watershed planning and effective utility management to encouraging pricing structures that fully recover utility costs and encourage efficiency. The goal is to move infrastructure management toward more sustainable practices by encouraging innovation, facilitating partnerships, and promoting research and development.

Both programs include resources and tips for using water more efficiently, with the Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative focusing on the utility or broader community and WaterSense focusing on consumers. With EPA’s help, WaterSense utility partners can encourage their customers to use water-efficient products, choose water-efficient services, and be aware of how they use their water which will help them save water, reducing overall demand.

Putting a Plan in Place

Recognizing the need to reduce water use is the first step in developing a strategic plan for infrastructure and management practices that support industrial and municipal water efficiency. Utilities should start by designating a water-efficiency coordinator. This person can oversee efforts to integrate water efficiency, work to develop a long-term water conservation plan and educate employees, stakeholders and the community.

Through this plan and implementation of water-efficient changes, managers can extend the value and life of infrastructure assets. EPA offers the tools needed to put a water conservation plan in place. The complexity of the plan depends on the size of the system, but every plan should include these basics: setting goals, developing a system profile, preparing a demand forecast, evaluating conservation measures, and setting an implementation strategy.

Setting goals

Setting goals will give a system the ability to measure effectiveness. Goals should be specific and take into account the benefits to the system and its customers. Examples of water conversation goals include improving the utilization and extending the life of existing facilities, setting a target percentage for water-use reduction and educating consumers about the value of water and need for water efficiency. As implementation begins, goals should be reevaluated periodically and adjusted as needed.

Creating a system profile and preparing a demand forecast

Creating a profile involves taking inventory of existing resources and conditions in order to help meet growing needs. Certain conditions can impact water-efficiency efforts, and knowing the conditions that affect a system helps with planning. This is especially important for systems facing shortages or increases in demand. Conditions to consider include service population, annual water supply, total system demand and pricing.

Evaluating current conservation measures.

Evaluating the measures that you have put in place will identify areas for improvement when it comes to water efficiency. Know what has been implemented, what’s in place and what’s not. There are many conservation measures that can be put to work - both on the supply side and the demand side. Estimate the cost of implementation for each new measure and the anticipated water savings. Identifying and upgrading to water-efficient products that have earned the WaterSense label is one example of a step a water utility can take.

Setting an implementation strategy

Once a plan is in place, put water efficiency into action. Efforts should include supply-side changes such as tracking unaccounted for water as well as demand-side management-helping customers use water efficiently through upgrading products and encouraging changes in behaviors. Taking the initiative to implement and encourage water efficient practices will pay off. From tracking water use to buying more efficient equipment to implementing new procedures, there are countless opportunities for improving water efficiency.

Implementing a water-loss management program will minimize wasted water. Unaccounted-for-water should be less than 10 percent. Tracking how water moves through the system will help identify sources of lost water and areas for improvement. A basic method for accounting for water use is essential for all water systems; a leak-detection and repair system as well as a loss-prevention program are also critical to preventing water waste. EPA offers a worksheet and other tools to help get started.

Upgrading and replacing inefficient equipment will not only reduce water loss but increase long-term cost savings. It is also an opportunity to set an example about the importance of integrating water efficiency. Examples of equipment upgrades include installation of high-efficiency toilets and faucet aerators in municipal buildings and replacing worn-out municipal appliances with water-saving models. Manufacturers and industry professionals who value and strive for water efficiency also benefit because their water-efficient products may earn the WaterSense label. Through this process, more water-efficient products are expected to reach the marketplace.

Customers, stakeholders and communities need to get involved and they need to know that being efficient with their water doesn’t mean sacrifice. Encourage them to make those small changes that have big impacts. Set a rate structure that encourages water efficiency and consider incentive programs.

For more information about the EPA’s WaterSense or Sustainable Water Infrastructure programs, how to become involved, or to learn about more water-saving strategies, visit www.epa.gov/watersense and www.epa.gov/ow/infrastructure. WW

About the Author:

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By Benjamin H. Grumbles is Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Prior to assuming the position in December 2003, Grumbles served as Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water and Acting Associate Administrator for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations. He has also served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Environmental Counsel for the Science Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. For over 15 years, he served in various capacities on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff, including Senior Counsel for the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, and focused on programs and activities of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

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