A Path to Net-Zero Water

5) Fill Up with Fire Sprinklers
You never know when it’s going to rain, but you know when your fire sprinkler tests are scheduled.

Diverting water released from a fire system test may seem like an unusual strategy until you start crunching the numbers, says Kling. The flow rate for a single test is massive – 250 gallons per minute during a typical 15-minute test. That’s 15,000 gallons for one pipe to be tested four times a year. Now multiply this by the number of existing stand pipes. What you have is a volume of discharge water that equals a significant rain event.

To capture this water, you need a holding tank, which is typically buried below ground to maintain aesthetics or hidden in the basement if you have the space. Because the water has been sitting stagnant in the pipes for several months, it requires particulate filtration. Test water may be used for irrigation or other purposes as it can be planned for capture, stored for long periods of time, and siphoned during periods of need.

6) The Big Picture
“People generally take water for granted,” observes Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day and president of the Bullitt Foundation, a civic organization focused on urban ecology. “When faced with low rates and a seemingly abundant supply, there can be little motivation to conserve. But this is an attitude that we desperately need to reverse.”

Water conservation isn’t just a matter of reducing your utility bills – water shortages are a growing issue around the country. Projections indicate that some of our largest cities could be facing water scarcity in the next decade. Record droughts are already giving rise to an increasing number of water restrictions, particularly as many areas are faced with population growth that’s quickly outpacing their water processing capacity.

“On a national level, we forget that water treatment is a highly energy intensive process to extract, treat, distribute, and discharge water,” Sturgeon points out. According to various national data, it takes anywhere from 0.25-3 kWh per 1,000 gallons of water to achieve potable standards. Considering that the U.S. consumes over 400 million gallons a day, clean water carries a hefty energy profile.

To compound the problem, the vast majority of U.S. water infrastructure is in dire need of replacement – the condition of our aging pipes earned a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This backlog of deferred maintenance and inadequate capacity has become a costly problem.

80% of sewer pipes reaching the end of their life, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates that fixing 800,000 miles of pipes would require a $298 billion investment. The majority of our water main breaks also needs to be replaced, a potential $1 trillion improvement cost. Given that local and state governments are largely responsible for these capital improvements, those costs are eventually passed along to building owners.

Apply the same approach to water conservation as you take with energy – decrease demand and improve efficiency – and any reclamation and reduction efforts you implement will have a tangible impact on your utility bill and community at large.


Jennie Morton jennie.morton@buildings.com is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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