Posted on 10/21/2013 8:10 AM by Klaus Reichardt

Large areas of the United States have experienced—and are still experiencing—one of the driest periods in history due to droughts and water shortages, but some people believe this is a temporary situation. This winter may bring more rain and snow, helping to eliminate the drought conditions, many suggest. Possibly even another big rainfall event, similar to the one that occurred in Colorado earlier this year, will occur in these drought-plagued areas, causing rivers and streams to overflow.

While these scenarios may indeed play out, the reality is that the demand for water is growing significantly here and around the world. According to WaterSense, a partnership program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, water consumption has tripled in the past 50 years, and managing and supplying water to communities throughout the country will be “one of the most critical natural resource issues facing the United States and the world.”

This is a growing problem. One of the first things we must do to address the issue is reconsider the terms that are used to discuss the protection and management of our water supply. Typically, people are asked to “conserve water” when there are water problems. The words water conservation are used so often they are virtually a mantra is some areas of the country. However, what we are facing will require far more than water conservation. It calls for an entirely new mind-set and terminology – water efficiency.

Water conservation is typically associated with water use curtailment, meaning doing less with water, according to the Water Efficiency Manual produced by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Essentially, we are asked to conserve water when a drought condition exits. This is done by actions such as taking shorter showers and minimizing how often we irrigate lawns, and wash cars.

Water efficiency is an entirely different approach. First, it is not necessarily tied to a specific drought or current water supply situation. Water efficiency means “using improved technologies and practices that deliver equal or better service with less water,” according to the Water Efficiency Manual. Examples provided include such things as the use of low-flow faucets, toilets, and urinals as well as no-water urinals.

In other words, water efficiency takes a much bigger approach, looking for ways to satisfy the demand for water by using technologies and systems that use it more wisely at all times. And fortunately, there are indications that we are now taking steps to do this.

North Carolina’s Orange Water and Sewer Authority reports that the number of customers it is serving has grown by more than 60% from 1992 to 2012; however, the amount of water used has remained about the same. Similar scenarios are being played out in some of the driest and most drought-plagued areas of the country such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

While there are success stories, water efficiency is often difficult to implement. It cannot be denied that more water is used in commercial facilities than any other type of facility, and often the largest amount of water is used in restrooms. Since 1992, the federal government has established regulations regarding how much water a toilet or urinal can use per flush. When these regulations were first implemented, there was considerable resistance to them. Some of the initial fixtures introduced with these new regulations in place did not meet with customer satisfaction.

However, time and research have resulted in fixtures that far exceed these restrictions. From less water to no-water systems. This tells us that unlike other concerns we may have about meeting the needs of a growing world, we may be able to address our increasing need for water…if we learn to use it efficiently.

Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc.