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How much water is your facility wasting?

Flow Control recently sat down for a conversation with Rob Fehl, Badger Meter’s resident expert on water measurement solutions. We discussed the issue of inefficient water use, how much water facilities are losing today, and why water loss is such a pressing concern for facility managers.

Q: In your experience, how much consideration is the typical facility paying to water consumption and loss?

Not enough. Although responsible water consumption has been an increasingly popular and important topic, there is still a lot of progress to be made in the way we use water, especially in commercial and industrial settings. There are certainly companies leading the way in this effort by implementing water conservation and sustainability programs, and these companies are not only seeing benefits in the form of being responsible global citizens, but also in the form of operational efficiencies and reduces costs.

Q: What are some of the core applications where inefficient water use and unaddressed water losses are most prominent?

Mismanaged water is a common problem no matter the industry. Typical pitfall applications include irrigation systems, HVAC systems, food and beverage processes, commercial/hotel laundry, and a host of manufacturing processes.

However, it is difficult to narrow down because water inefficiencies are not isolated to specific industries or applications. Wherever there is water being used for any kind of operation or process, there is risk of lost or wasted water. Leaks often occur in places that are not plainly visible, such as in basements, in buried pipes, or in underground pits. The upside is that much of these water-loss issues are completely treatable through regular monitoring. Installing flowmeters or other monitoring devices allow you to identify abnormal patterns, which often point to areas of leaks, clogged pipes, or other problems.

Modern metering technologies and data analytics are enabling facilities to more efficiently and effectively monitor water usage and troubleshoot water loss. Image courtesy of Badger Meter.

Q: Can you give a sense for a particularly troubling amount of water loss you’ve encountered in your experience working on water monitoring and management applications?

By way of sub-metering at several residence halls at a major university, it was discovered that one location was using twice as much water as other residence halls on campus. This discovery led to further investigation, which found five toilets that were leaking 150 gallons per hour. Over the course of a year, that equates to 1.3 million gallons and about $7,500 in wasted water. After the leaky toilets were identified, they were fixed in seven days. So, it goes to show that something as seemingly insignificant as a leaky toilet can add up to significant water loss. And, all it takes is the awareness of a problem to take action. This is just one example on one campus. If simple leaks such as these could be avoided on a larger scale, the impact on water efficiency is limitless.

Q: Are there any specific industries and/or applications where water use and loss is being addressed particularly effectively?

Certain industries that are heavy water consumers, such as high-end golf resorts and forward-thinking manufacturing companies are leading the way in water management. This is especially true in regions, such as the Southwest, where water is a particularly scarce resource. From measuring wells, pump houses, head and cooling, and irrigation systems, to measuring water use in advanced manufacturing processes, the idea of smarter water management is spreading as organizations are beginning to see the importance of having more granular visibility of their water use.

Consider a 3.6 gallon per minute leak in a three-inch pipe. Many would consider this a “small” leak, but this adds over 5,000 gallons per day, and if left undetected, 1.8 million gallons per year. Depending on local water rates, this can potentially reach upwards of $10,000 in water and wastewater costs annually — a significant expense associated with lost water from just one “small” leak.

Q: Why is water usage and loss becoming a more pressing concern for facility operators?

Proper water management is becoming a priority for a variety of reasons, including increasing government regulations, natural resource scarcity, emerging environmental concerns, and growing cultural awareness.

Many facility owners/managers are interested in reducing water consumption on their properties, although they lack information on how to accomplish the desired reductions and — particularly at the smaller facilities — the time to develop and maintain efficient systems.

With increased water rates in many regions, commercial and industrial sites are motivated to reduce usage levels, and at the same time, identify leaks and equipment malfunctions. They require accurate systems to assess overall water consumption patterns and help identify areas for improvement and water-efficient best practices. These efforts can contribute to the broader sustainability goals of an organization.

Q: How are water use and energy management related?

Both energy and water are critical resources in many operations. Of course, it takes energy to supply, use and treat water, and conversely, water is often used to produce or maintain energy supply. Many organizations are already running advanced energy management programs, but comparatively, water management programs are not quite as prominent in industry. Fortunately, much of the energy management initiatives that are already fully developed and implemented in many companies can be applied to the management of water. Energy and water are interdependent, and if managed effectively together, organizations in all industries can gain a much more detailed look at operational efficiencies.

Q: Why are sustainability and energy management initiatives gaining prominence in industry?

Operations managers are facing increasingly high pressure to cut costs through efficiency gains and comply with rigorous regulatory requirements. Not to mention, social pressures to operate as environmentally responsible corporate citizens. Efficiency gains that are sustained for the long term can reap significant operational and fiscal benefits. By committing to sustainability, organizations can turn traditionally fixed costs of energy and water into sensibly and efficiently controlled resources.

Q: How does the typical facility monitor and manage water use today?

Many facilities are monitoring water at a macro level. They likely measure how much water is coming in from their municipal utility and may be measuring how much water is being routed back into the wastewater treatment cycle. While this type of monitoring is a good start, the real benefits of water management come from monitoring at a more granular level.

Take a golf resort, for example. From irrigation, HVAC, laundry, and hotel room amenities, to on-site water recreation, kitchens and retail subtenants, water is used throughout the property. Having the ability to track each of these functional areas individually creates increasingly more opportunities to pinpoint water-use inefficiencies and enables organizations to take corrective action quickly. You can apply the same concept to any facility in any industry and just re-categorize the water use applications.

Q: How do you envision the typical facility monitoring and managing water use five years from now?

The need to be smarter about the way we consume water, and other precious resources, is only going to become more critical in the next five years. More and more aspects of our daily lives, spanning from home to the workplace, are becoming interconnected. This interconnectivity makes it easier for businesses and individuals alike to be more in-tune with the ways they use water and will be able to adjust their consumption accordingly.

Perhaps the most notable progress in the next five years will simply be more measuring and monitoring of water where there was no monitoring in place before—commonly referred to as sub-metering. Water sub-metering represents an important first step toward quantifying over time the point sources that can drive resource efficiency and conservation activities. The old adage, “you cannot manage what you don’t measure” rings true when trying to get a better handle on facility water management.

Today’s advanced and increasingly popular, cloud-based software solutions, such as AquaCUE, are a valuable tool for supplying facilities with real-time water performance data, highlighting variations over time or in comparison to other facilities, providing accurate and real-time information to automation systems, and supporting behavioral and operational changes by facility operators and occupants.

Rob Fehl
Product Manager
Badger Meter

Rob Fehl is a product manager at Badger Meter, where began his career in 1991. He currently focuses on commercial and industrial solutions within the HVAC and Sustainability markets. He earned an associate’s degree in mechanical design from Waukesha County Technical College, as well as business and engineering training from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.