The Elephant in the Room: California Drought and Commercial Water Conservation
Dublin, CA.-It seems to be on everyone’s mind. The drought in California and everything related—there are hundreds of interconnected issues, subjects and debates occurring at the same time bringing with it a cascade of information. In California this year alone, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency, issued an Executive Order calling for conservation of water resources that has extended all the way to the State Senate issuing mandatory fines of $500.00 or more to homeowners who abuse water—discussions of a Bay-Delta Conveyance or twin-water tunnel extending from Santa Clara to Los Angeles, water bond issues of over 11 million dollars to be passed in November, State Water Board Emergency regulations, emergency drought proclamations, agricultural losses from the drought totaling almost 2.2 Billion dollars, burn bans, proposed water use rules—you get the point of all of this, right? It seems the dissemination of information related to the drought is nearly impossible to navigate.
What is important to recognize is that we should make an attempt to understand the information, no matter how difficult. We should also take that information and make an informed decision about how to help. Our future is at stake, and it is a fact that current water losses are abysmal and a primary concern of not only Californians, but all Americans as the wealth of America and well-being of all is at stake. You should know, as a commercial enterprise or business in California or the United States, there is an opportunity to make a significant difference.
Recently our CEO at ACD Telecom, Greg Hudson had asked me to investigate how we could make a difference as a business in California in regards to water conservation and the drought and report back to him on my findings. I had mentioned that I thought I could gather information in a few days and have an analysis prepared for him relatively quickly.
As I began to gather the associated data from articles, websites, and blogs—glean everything I could to see how we could help as a business, I realized it would take much more time and effort than originally thought. I also discovered something quite alarming. As far as commercial water conservation is concerned, there is minimal conversation about it while at the same time resources to help in the water conservation effort are readily available. All of the focus upon this issue seems to center around individual, family or private water conservation. Do a quick Google search if you do not believe me. Is there a reason for this?
Sure, there are entertainment celebrities like Conan O’ Brien, Lady Gaga, sports figures such as Anaheim Angels pitcher Hector Santiago and San Francisco Giants Javier Lopez “pitching” for environmental education and conservation—also websites dedicated to promoting understanding and cooperation such as Save Our Water and California Drought promoted by the California Department of Water Resources and the Association of California Water Agencies—but the elephant in the room that no one seems to be addressing is how to conserve water at our offices, places of business and commercial areas of our California cities. While the efforts of these celebrities and organizations are commendable, there is more that can be done. Is there a way to really make a cost-effective difference that doesn’t strain the budget, for both large and small businesses? The answer is yes.
This article is meant as an answer to the aforementioned questions and be an introductory resource to find the means to make a difference, begin a conversation at your office and become more aware of the water conservation issues from a commercial standpoint. The following are some initial points and information we found useful for our company that we would like to share them with you.
Commercial Water Conservation in California: How to Make a Difference
Governor Brown assisted in the development of an inter-agency Drought Task Force--and also reaching out to the community by stating “I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible…The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse." In the article by the Fresno Bee, it was also explained that part of the April 25th Emergency Drought Proclamation that “encourages outdoor sports facilities to similarly reduce irrigation of playing fields. It urges hotels and restaurants to give patrons options to reduce water consumption, such as limiting laundering of linens and making water available only on request.”
It would seem then that commercial water usage and conservation should be a primary issue according to the efforts and proclamations of the Governor’s Office and interagency task force. Of course, educating yourself and your team members at your respective place of employment would be the first step in commercial water conservation efforts, and there are many resources to help in that respect.
One of the first sites I came upon in my research that was very helpful was through the Pacific Institute and their concept of “Corporate Water Stewardship” which is explained as:
“Corporate water stewardship is an approach that allows companies to identify and manage water-related business risks, understand and mitigate their adverse impacts on ecosystems and communities, and contribute to and help enable more sustainable management of shared freshwater resources. Stewardship is rooted in the concept that robust and effective public water governance is critical to the long-term business viability of water-intensive industries and that companies can play a role in helping to achieve this end. As such, stewardship approaches result in companies improving water efficiency within their own operations, encouraging good practice throughout their supply chain, and collaborating with others to advance sustainable water management.”—Pacific Institute
The Pacific Institute has many valuable resources for you to peruse and examine further, including but not limited to the UN CEO Water Mandate, how to conduct a Corporate Water Assessment for your business, Alliance for Water Stewardship and many other resources. This was central to our critical understanding of what position to take and how these issues affected our business in regards to water sustainability and the human right to water. The Pacific Institute’s website also has a Media Center that was very helpful, which included multimedia and research available to you through PI Experts through contact information provided.
Another valuable resource that is actually two separate websites but is inter-connected is Save Our Water developed by the Association of California Water Agencies and California Drought issued by the State of California. Save Our Water has ‘tools you can use’, a Toolkit and the ability for businesses to increase awareness and understanding by providing videos, site buttons and infographics that can be posted directly on your business website. In fact, they have a ‘Partner Program’ which will assist in increasing awareness not only to potential clients and current customers, but differentiate your business from others that indicates your concern for commercial water conservation and your active involvement in the process. California Drought on the State of California’s website also has valuable tools, archived information and related links to help you navigate the information that is out there about current water issues and conservation efforts.
Conservation is in the Toilet
That’s right; water conservation in California is in the Toilet. Let me clarify; there is a direct way for businesses to not only assist tremendously in the conservation efforts, but do it affordably. I was surprised to find in my research that almost every municipality and county in California offers some type of rebate, loan structure or assistance in replacing urinals and high-flow toilets—even to the extent of eliminating costs for assessment, procurement and installation of all water-saving utilities. Some counties or municipalities, like the Town of Windsor, offer free business water assessments and incentive programs. Most municipalities do.
As Governor Brown has encouraged businesses in California to think of alternative ways to provide and conserve water, as well as individuals and families, you should know that according to the United Nation’s Environment Program website “Buildings use about 40% of global energy, 25% of global water, 40% of global resources, and they emit approximately 1/3 of GHG emissions. Yet, buildings also offer the greatest potential for achieving significant GHG emission reductions, at least cost, in developed and developing countries. Furthermore, energy consumption in buildings can be reduced by 30 to 80% using proven and commercially available technologies.”
With that being said, a large majority of water usage in buildings comes from high-flow toilets and loss of so-called ‘blackwater’ or ‘greywater’ that is not often recycled or put to its full usage. So essentially there are two options that I found will work for our business that we are considering. Quite simply, they are Blackwater Systems implementation and the replacement of our high-flow toilets and urinals with EPA recommended as follows:
· High-Efficiency Water Sense Certified Commercial Toilet-$200 Rebate
· High-Efficiency Urinals-$300 Rebate
These rebates are provided by the California Urban Water Conservation Council and they have the specific geographical areas covered on their website. If you do not see your municipality listed there you can check your city and county government sites and most do have commercial rebates available as of August, 2014.
As for Blackwater Recycling systems, there is an informative article at the Environmental Building Strategies website, a private company that “optimizes green building projects starting with the initial design charrette and resulting in third party verification of improved energy performance. Comprehensive energy analysis and modeling coupled with water and waste conservation strategies” is offered to clients and there is also valuable information on their website.
Blackwater recycling is also discussed through another corporate website, one that specialized in its implementation, Phoenix Water Recycling. There is an informative page that discusses the details of Blackwater (and Greywater) recycling and how it can affect your businesses positively from both an environmental and fiduciary standpoint. Many buildings in San Francisco are already migrating to these types of systems and in fact San Francisco County and City is becoming a leader in that respect.
Of course, there is a wealth of information out there but here are a few more helpful sites that can contribute to Commercial Water Conservation efforts:
“Better buildings are our legacy. USGBC is committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings, and works toward its mission of market transformation through its LEED green building program, robust educational offerings, a nationwide network of chapters and affiliates, the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, and advocacy in support of public policy that encourages and enables green buildings and communities.”
WaterSense-An EPA Partnership Company
WaterSense, a partnership program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to protect the future of our nation's water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services.
WaterSense brings together a variety of stakeholders to:
- Promote the value of water efficiency.
- Provide consumers with easy ways to save water, as both a label for products and an information resource to help people use water more efficiently.
- Encourage innovation in manufacturing.
- Decrease water use and reduce strain on water resources and infrastructure.
The program seeks to help consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance. Products and services that have earned the WaterSense label have been certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.
The WBCSD Global Water Tool—launched in 2007, the Global Water Tool (GWT) is a free and easy-to-use tool for companies and organizations to map their water use and assess risks relative to their global operations and supply chains.
More than twenty WBCSD members formed an advisory group, led by CH2M HILL, to develop and provide oversight and pilot testing of the GWT. Expertise was provided by The Nature Conservancy and the Global Reporting Initiative.
By comparing a company’s sites with the best available water, sanitation, population and biodiversity information on a country and watershed basis, the GWT allows to answer the following questions:
- How many of my sites are in extremely water-scarce areas? Which sites are at greatest risk?
- How much of my total production is generated from my most at risk sites?
- How many of my employees live in countries that lack access to improved water and sanitation?
- How many of my suppliers will be in water-stressed regions in 2050?
More than 300 corporations have used the tool which has been regularly updated with improved datasets and functionalities as well as customized to various industrial sectors. Adaptation to specific geographies is under development in Europe and China. The India Water Tool was launched in July 2013.
- California Urban Water Conservation Council-For Rebates on your Toilets and such
- Environmental Defense Fund-A great article entitled “Four Lessons in Corporate Water Efficiency” and gives additional resources and information for commercial conservation
- Bewaterwise.com-A great website with useful information from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California-also with links to rebates and funding for green initiatives
- The Hero Program—“Choose a lending company that caters to your specific needs. HERO™ is a financing plan that specializes in funding commercial energy and water efficiency products, as well as renewable energy systems. This program offers up to 20 years of financing at fixed rates and creates a special tax assessment on properties. Moreover, it also eliminates the barriers of high, up-front costs.” Free Application Fee and Consultation (see website)
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If it makes a difference, please let me know. ACD Telecom has committed to promoting Save Our Water on our corporate website, becoming Green Certified in California, replacing our high-flow toilets and urinals recommended by the EPA and Energy Star (taking advantage of the rebates), and are in discussion about replacing the current sewage system in our offices with Blackwater or Greywater recycling systems. What about you and your business? What will you do? Can you make the commitment to change?