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Strategies for Drought-Resilient Real Estate (BOMA 2023)

June 28, 2023
Panelists highlight the urgency for smarter water action plans and how to achieve them.

“The frequency, intensity and duration of droughts are increasing, leading to a myriad of issues including regional wildfires, flooding and erosion—and this pattern is expected to continue with climate change.”

Sobering words, to be sure—but Urban Land Institute director of resilience, Marianne Eppig, wasted no time getting to her pressing remarks during the panel session, “Water Wise: Strategies for Drought-Resilient Real Estate,” at the 2023 BOMA International Conference & Expo. She was joined by panelists Austin Krcmarik , water efficiency lead at Denver Water, and Brent Lloyd, managing principal/director for BrightView Design Group, who shared valuable lessons learned from case studies of effective water and landscaping management.

Eppig noted that with the combination of water scarcity, population growth and water quality issues, many communities are beginning to forecast an inability to accommodate future water needs if the status quo doesn’t change. “The price of water rights is increasing exponentially, and water rates have also been rising faster and higher than inflation,” she observed.

As a result, the Urban Land Institute has been able to make a solid business case for smart water development. “We found that investing in water efficiency and conservation measures at the site scale mitigates the risks of water shortages, policy changes and rising water prices and energy cost savings, providing long term value to owners and investors,” Eppig said.

She noted that upfront investment in water and energy efficiency measures can increase asset value in some cases by 10% or more “because when you use water, you’re also using a lot of energy, so the two are linked.”

Creating a Water Action Plan

The most cost-effective way to integrate water efficiency into a real estate project is to include it from inception, Eppig suggested, which involves coordination across architecture, engineering, construction and operations and maintenance on a water action plan. This approach is critical for saving water and money throughout the process of development and the life of the project.

“The good news is that effective water management is easily paired with energy management,” she said. “In fact, water management follows the same framework used in the Energy Star guidelines for energy management. The steps include making a commitment, so saying ‘Hey, we want to be more water wise,’ and assessing your performance or your water use and setting goals for your water is creating a water action plan.”

Eppig offered several practical steps for creating an action plan for better water management, including:

Identify projects and calculate costs and potential savings. She suggests finding financing sources that offer simple payback with simple ROI and then prioritizing your projects. “We have a calculation to do that sort of reporting,” she said.

Implement the action plan, evaluate progress and reassess and recognize achievements as you go. “This is all an iterative and cyclical process, and if you’re familiar with Energy Star guidelines for energy management, it’s the exact same thing,” Eppig explained.

Indoor strategies that the Urban Land Institute identified include smart metering and submetering for commercial buildings to help them identify water inefficiencies. “Smart metering allows consumers to see real-time data for monitoring and to change their behaviors. As a result, this is also really helpful for identifying leaks faster,” Eppig said, which she described as “a no brainer. The faster the better.”

Water-efficient fixtures and appliances. “This is extremely easy now with EPA WaterSense label products, and they’re not too expensive, so this shouldn’t be hard,” she noted.

Water reuse. Eppig said this category can be one of the most expensive interventions to apply for smarter water management, unfortunately, second only to submetering, perhaps. “In arid and semi-arid regions, outdoor [applications] frequently account for over 50% of water use, making it a lynchpin for water savings,” she said. WaterSMART and resilient landscaping includes everything from soil preparation and selection of climate appropriate plants to the installation and maintenance of low flow irrigation systems, green infrastructure, hydro zoning and permeable hardscapes. These strategies have a variety of benefits, including:

  • Reduction of water demand
  • Productive use of stormwater
  • Decreased flood risk
  • Recharge of groundwater and local ecosystems, “which is critical for getting out of the drought,” Eppig said.

“Without appropriate operations and maintenance, properties will lose their water efficiency over time,” Eppig warned.

Key Takeaways

The lessons learned from the best practices in the Urban Land Institute report and Eppig’s portion of the presentation are “that saving water saves money and generates long-term value for real estate assets and communities, and that by working together on water conservation, efficiency and reuse, we can protect our water future, despite productive water shortages, population increases and climate change,” she concluded.

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