The United States, and particularly the West, is currently in the throes of a serious drought. At the time of writing, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 34% of the country is officially in drought, while half of the country is at least abnormally dry. All the while, water rates continue to increase, rising 33% on average since 2010 across thirty major cities, according to a study by Circle of Blue.
These trends are prompting commercial water consumers to implement innovative ways to conserve water, but it can be disorienting to know how to start the process without a water expert on staff. Fortunately there are many ways that building managers, property owners, and facility managers can use readily available technology to effectively and efficiently manage water. Better yet, they can do it in a way that maintains vibrant properties while saving on utility costs.
Growing Grass and Cutting Costs
For many commercial and multifamily properties, the landscape sets the tone for people's on-site experiences. Property managers want to ensure the aesthetic appearance of their building is as inviting on the outside as it is on the inside, which requires a solid landscaping strategy with the use of water to maintain greenery. There are plenty of reasons why water is so important for properties, so how do you maintain a building's exterior, save water, and reduce irrigation costs? There are several technology solutions and strategies that can keep your building looking good without costing too much.
1) Perform a water assessment: A variety of online resources are available that estimate how much water is required for a landscape given its location and characteristics; comparing that to a water bill will provide a good starting point for understanding baseline water use and areas for improvement. Irrigation system inspections are a good way to quickly identify if water is being wasted due to issues like broken sprinkler heads or water running off into the street. While monitoring and control technologies can achieve significant savings, a properly functioning irrigation system is a necessary first step.
2) Irrigate intelligently: Irrigation controllers are ubiquitous on commercial and multifamily properties, but technology advancements have significantly improved the ability to save water and manage complex sites. One of the biggest advancements is in the incorporation of weather data to irrigation schedules so sprinklers don't run before, during, or after rainstorms. In addition, connecting irrigation hardware to the internet provides visibility into irrigation history and system performance without setting on the landscape itself.
3) Make savings sustainable: While smart controllers determine irrigation requirements, landscapes are heterogeneous and constantly in flux. Irrigation zones can be replanted or moved, wires can be cut and pipes can break, among other issues. Maintaining a water-efficient property means staying on top of these issues so that landscapes stay healthy and water isn’t wasted. Measuring and analyzing water consumption in tandem with smart controls and system alerts allows users to consistently minimize water waste and maximize savings over time. The good news is that today’s real-time technologies can lead to significant savings without sacrificing landscape health, even if water restrictions are in effect.
Go With the Flow
While irrigation management is a mature industry, indoor water management technology is a newer advancement. Utility-based smart meters have become more popular but rarely provide detailed water use data to end-users. Fortunately, the recent availability of monitoring and communication technologies can deliver powerful information to property managers’ fingertips in real time.
As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Fortunately, anyone can begin the process by tracking monthly consumption on water bills—a surprisingly obvious, yet overlooked, resource. Armed simply with a spreadsheet of monthly use, property managers can begin to identify trends and anomalies. Yet, a single number representing a month’s consumption is often insufficient to make meaningful efficiency gains. When does water use spike during the day? Is there consumption in the middle of the night? With higher-resolution data and good analysis and visualization tools, the data can paint a much better picture of water use patterns and allow users to begin making improvements.
While monitoring technologies immediately provide value through identification of large anomalies, water waste is often smaller and more gradual. Because of this, water data is much more valuable when consistently tracked over time to allow historical trends to emerge. Water use data also becomes actionable when compared to other properties; this benchmarking lets portfolio managers knowledgeably prioritize efficiency efforts at properties where the best ROI opportunities exist.
Plan for the Future
While intensifying drought and water rate increases may someday dramatically change the way we use water, the technology available to us today allows us to make incremental, yet significant, progress towards a water-efficient future. Not only is this good for local communities and good for the environment—it’s good for commercial water users’ bottom lines, too, and that’s hard to beat.
Gillan Taddune is CEO of Banyan Water. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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