The New Reality of Wasting Water

 The New Reality of Wasting Water


By Calvin Finch, Ph.D.

The importance of individual businesses having adequate water supplies available at reasonable costs is obvious. It is nearly as obvious firms can often reduce production costs by utilizing effective water conservation practices. Sometimes, however, it seems business leaders don’t relate adequate water supplies for their businesses to the water conservation and drought management policies of the communities where they do business.

Business leaders need to realize the importance of water conservation and drought management policies to their businesses, and allocate leadership resources to the development of those policies. Water conservation and water emergency (drought) management policies are too important to individual business water supplies for business leaders not to be involved in the planning process.

Conserving Water

Water Conservation is the process of identifying and implementing more water efficient ways to manufacture, landscape, recreate, and conduct other activities. Water conservation results in permanent water savings from behavioral and technological change that can be used to meet the water needs of expanded population or economic activity.

What are the choices in water conservation programming?

In many communities there is no viable water conservation programming. In such a situation, that usually means the community requires more water to get the job done than is necessary and spends more money on water supplies than is necessary.

Other communities have a token water conservation program. Such programs are often characterized as relying on a few pretty brochures to distribute at community events and a third grade curriculum. Not to pick on the third grade, but the water conservation effort needs to be more than only enough effort to allow a few good human service articles per year. Token water conservation efforts don’t involve evaluation of effectiveness and do not reduce unnecessary water costs or water use to any measurable extent.

A community with an effective program uses stakeholder input to target unnecessary water use to the degree that it minimizes water costs and does not reduce quality of life or economic development. Effective programs rely on a combination of education, incentives, and enforcement.

Water Emergency Management

Drought Management is related to water conservation, but different. Drought management activities address emergency water supply reductions or demand increases due to infrastructure failures, contamination, or drought. Drought management could also be called water emergency management.

The most effective drought management actions result when a community has worked together to identify actions (usually temporary) that will be initiated if an emergency occurs. It does not work very well when the plan is not in place before the emergency occurs. The situation in the Atlanta Water Emergency that resulted in 2007 is an example of what happens when there is no viable plan to deal with a water emergency. There was a lot of flailing about, with attempts to impose restrictions that wouldn’t necessarily work to address the issue, and were unfavorable to certain industries. Many of the activities imposed did not have much relationship to reducing water use.

Taking a Leadership Role

How do businesses assume a leadership role in developing water conservation and drought management policies?

Insist that local governments and water purveyors in the community have an adequately prepared water conservation effort and water emergency plan.

Insist that the plans be developed with public input, most desirably through a formal structure that is well organized and has adequate staff support. The importance of the input process must be recognized to make it worth business and other community representatives’ time.

Businesses insure that someone representing their interests is on the committee and takes the job seriously. Industry association representatives often work well in that role.

The business representatives providing input do best, if they participate with an “agenda.”

The” agenda” can include many topics. Here are some to consider.

Building the Agenda

The programs established must have clear water savings goals and cost estimates. The cost of the water saved must be monitored and justifiable.

Impacts of the actions beyond water savings and monetary costs must be identified. One rule may be that the actions do not reduce the number of jobs in the community.

After costs of the activities are estimated, the source of funding must be identified. A major part of an effective conservation or emergency water plan is that its value be declared and supported with a source of dedicated funding.

Priority goes to water conservation and drought management activities that do not reduce economic activity.

Among activities in the “do not reduce jobs or economic activity,” are problems of “lost water” with the water purveyor, emphasis on landscape watering and recognition of business leadership in water use.

It is hard to insist that ratepayers accept water conservation and drought restrictions if the community’s water purveyor has 15-20 percent or more of the water it pumps and treats that is lost in distribution or accounting practices. The water purveyor must set an example by identifying and correcting its “lost water” and non-revenue water issues.

Placing an emphasis on landscape watering efficiency is a huge area of opportunity. Landscape watering uses 50 percent or more of the water in many communities. As a horticulturist, I verify that water use on landscapes can be reduced on a long term basis or a short term emergency basis without permanent detriment to the landscape or to the landscape industry. In cities such as San Antonio where drought restrictions are largely accomplished with reduced landscape irrigation, the landscape industry has stayed profitable and strong by providing drought related services and technologies.

Another area to target is industries providing leadership in efficient use of water. Such industries should be rewarded by recognition of their leadership. A classic example is the car wash industry. In many communities the carwash industry has organized to reduce water use by recycling water. Despite documented water efficiency, the industry is not always recognized for its accomplishments. In fact, car washes are often targeted for restrictions during drought emergencies. The gesture is reflexive by desperate officials looking for some action to take, but it is not usually effective in reducing water use. Ineffective desperate actions would not occur in an emergency if a set of water-saving actions were pre-determined by a plan with stakeholder input.

Without the input of business leaders the chance of inefficient, ineffective water conservation and drought management is too great to be tolerated.

Calvin Finch, Ph.D., is director of the Urban Water Program for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources in San Antonio. Dr. Finch coordinates projects focused on high priority water issues.



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