Issue: 7/01

Many articles have been written on the current energy crisis, and I don't want to dwell on it further. However, the problems we are facing with energy supplies today in this country have forced us to look at the next trouble spot--the water crisis.

You may already be aware of some of the things that have been brewing (forgive the pun) out there regarding the availability or problems we are facing with our water supply. For those readers who are not, here some pertinent facts you may want to consider.

The usually rainy Northwest is suffering a drought. The states of Oregon, Idaho and Washington have received too little snowmelt or rain, and are running up to 40% below normal. In the meantime, California needs its daily energy. The Northwestern states have supplied, and thereby over-pumped, their already low lakes and dams to provide power to the South. Quite a few hydroelectric power plants can no longer supply the water or energy in sufficient amounts.

In California, to conserve energy, some power pumps, which help transport water from Northern California to Southern California, have been shut down. This means there will be less water available on a daily basis.

The western part of Texas is experiencing yet another drought. Southern Texas, always on the watch regarding its water, has overdrawn its huge aquifers, or natural underground potable water reservoirs.

Florida's aquifers have been over-pumped as well and are not replenishing themselves quickly enough. This has led to salt water intrusion into the aquifers, and therefore, into our potable water supply.

The East Coast, on the other hand, often has too little sewer capacity available in many counties. The treatment facilities there run close to or at 100% of capacity and require more maintenance.

Environmental regulations are getting more stringent at the same time. The EPA may levy fines against cities and organizations that operate their sewage treatment plants at such high capacity loads, with the possible threat of shut- down if capacities are not lowered.

And, as new treatment plants require special and costly permitting, and fewer optimal locations for these kinds of plants are available, construction of new plants may not be feasible or affordable.

The majority of locations for water collection dams have been used, and only third- or fourth-rate places are available. This means they are available only at higher cost and at higher risks.

Less water quantity ultimately leads to diminished water quality. This, too, will raise the cost to achieve cleaner water for daily consumption.

Manufacturers like Waterless Co. are designing urinals like these that don't require water for flushing.

Some International Notes

South Africa is running out of water; it will be completely dry by the year 2020. Today, that nation is desperately looking for ways to conserve water daily. Fines are issued if the fixture water supply is not turned off at night to eliminate water leakage from the fixture.

Turkey has built enormous dams over the past 20 years to collect as much water as it can for its future. But with the dams, it deprives other countries south of it from a much-needed resource.

Germany started raising its water rates 5% each year for an initial planned period of five years 20 years ago, to encourage water conservation and effluent reduction.

Eight years ago, Australia instituted the most stringent water conservation programs throughout the country, making water-conserving fixtures mandatory.

Some manufacturers are producing meterred and flow-restricted showerheads in an effort to conserve water. (Courtesy of ETL.)

The Solution

So what are the alternatives? It is always easy to simply say let's spend more money for bigger and better things. However, we seem to be reaching a threshold where the consumer or voter is no longer willing to always shell out more money, directly or indirectly. With environmental concern and awareness reaching new heights, water conservation and water efficiencies are actually the least expensive and quickest way to combat water, sewer, and even electrical capacity shortages. At the same time, incorporating these measures would mean we would be able to sustain our current way of life and even accumulate more of this precious resource.

What can you, as a plumbing engineer and specifier, do to help? Manufacturers large and small have changed their products to promote the needed water efficiencies, and you can simply employ these proven fixtures and appliances in your next new construction or modernization project. I know old habits are hard to break, but it makes financial and environmental sense. One manufacturer even goes so far in its advertising as to ask, "Are you ready to go to war over water?" Seems to be a sign of the times.

Afraid your customer will shy away from possible higher first costs? Facility managers more often than not now look at life-cycle costing for any product they purchase. Even if the water efficient fixture has a somewhat higher first cost, its long-term cost savings will get you the nod for installation.

To respond to claims like, "My customer does not like those low-flow toilets," and, "They leave streaks and often need to be double flushed," low-flow products have tremendously improved over the past 10 years, and even if there is a bit of a streak, may I say so what! We just saved anywhere from 1.9 to 5.5 gallons of potable water on that flush. Besides, it may not be the toilet's fault, but the flapper's, due to harsh water deterioration.

A large variety of water efficient fixtures and appliances for commercial indoor water use are now available off the shelf, including dual-flush toilets, Ultra-Low-Flow Toilets (ULFTs), metered showerheads, flow-restricted showerheads, one-gallon flush urinals, Waterless No-FlushT urinals, aerators for sinks, preset and timed faucets, as well as under-sink heat exchangers for more efficient water use and commercial low-water-use clothes washers. Outdoor irrigation, evaporative coolers, improved hvac systems, modern cooling towers, etc., are additional ways to bring water use down in a facility.

To save one million gallons of water per year through newly installed water efficient fixtures, it only takes approximately 71 ULFTs, 33 one-gal. flushed urinals or 22 Waterless No-Flush urinals.
For example, to save one million gallons of water per year through newly installed water efficient fixtures, it only takes approximately 71 ULFTs, 33 one-gallon flushed urinals, 22 Waterless No-Flush urinals or 220 showerheads. This reduction in flow may mean a smaller water meter to the building and instant savings to your customer, the building owner. New construction projects may also benefit from smaller meter size requirements that would lower initial costs.

Other opportunities to implement water efficiencies exist through mitigation. If a new facility requires, say, two million gallons of water per year, but not enough water or sewer capacity is available, the building owner may purchase a number of water-conserving fixtures and have these installed in other buildings throughout town to create that needed "pool" of water.

For modernization projects, consider the additional savings through rebate dollars available from local water departments for water efficient fixtures. In some instances, the price of the fixture or appliance may be cut in half, reducing first costs and payback periods.

Implementing water efficiencies will also give you long-term promotional value, as the building or facility gains recognition for your water-conserving designs.

High performance buildings and especially schools have started to make water conservation an integral part of modernization or new construction. Our children are very much aware by now what water means to our world and its future. And, water conservation does not threaten sanitation concerns.

The word crisis is always a harsh word. Only when a crisis is looming or has arrived do we usually act. Looking at our current water resources, we have to act now. Rolling black-outs can be dealt with, as we do not need electricity for daily survival. Yes, industry and businesses may be harmed financially in the short term, but with adjustment time, they will recover. However, we do need water for daily survival. In fact, if the rolling black-outs prevent water from being supplied to us, or even if they just interrupt our water supply intermittently, we end up facing some serious sanitation issues in the not-too-distant future.

A cut-out view of the workings in the Waterless No-Flush Urinal.

The Facts on the Waterless No-Flush Urinal

Increased environmental awareness of water conservation methods through droughts, water rationing, and rising water and sewer costs has accelerated the demand for a fixture that can increase water efficiency. Waterless Co. LLC designed its Waterless No-FlushT urinals in an effort to provide an alternative that meets this demand.

With the Waterless urinal, no mechanical parts are necessary. There is no need for water to transport water--urine is already a liquid. Mother Nature provides the gravity, and the engineering society provides the correct flow grade.

Like any other fixture, No-Flush urinals have an internal trap, which contains BlueSealR, an immiscible liquid lighter than urine. Once the urine flows through this liquid barrier, it is completely closed off from the restroom atmosphere and eliminates the known urinal ammonia odors. A drier fixture within the urinal also promotes better sanitation, in that it helps inhibit bacterial growth.

A Waterless No-Flush urinal can save, on average, up to 45,000 gallons of water/sewer per year. Waterless Co. LLC can be contacted at (888) NOFLUSH or at

A Quick Glance at Some Real World Water Problems and Solutions

The City of Oceanside, CA, is considering raising its water rates by 5% to meet stricter clean water requirements, among other things. It is actually an unfunded mandate imposed by the Federal Government under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The city needed to desalinate its own aquifer since 1994, as the water was too brackish to use. The price increase may help the city to save money in the long run by importing less from other sources.--Source

According to the Economist, "A recent survey of municipal water projects financed by the World Bank showed that the price charged for water covered only around 35% of the average cost of supplying it. The shortfall is made up by subsidies or by allowing water infrastructure to decay." Water utility reluctance to charge adequate rates may be due to a loss of perspective. Water systems may ignore rate issues due to political considerations, a desire to avoid upsetting customers, lack of appreciation of the necessity for adequate rates, or simply a negative inertia. A 10, 20 or 30% rate increase can seem monumental, particularly as time passes between it and any prior rate adjustment. However, water is a bargain even at more realistic rates. For example, at $4 per 1,000 gallons, a gallon of water costs only 4/10 of one cent.

However, the point is to recognize that costs of service should be identified and recovered equitably. This fact is particularly important in today's environment of aging infrastructure, increased demand, and in the United States, increasingly more stringent regulations under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Rates are not "reasonable" if they are inadequate to assure good service into the future. In point of fact, rates that are "too low" are no bargain.--Economist, Feb. 24, 1996

Local water scarcity and corporate responsibility drive innovations. Proving that more products can be manufactured with less water, and that corporate environmental sustainability can go hand-in-hand with the financial bottom line, the General Motors de Mexico Ramos Arizpe Complex was awarded the 2001 Stockholm Industry Water Award.

The award, presented by the Stockholm Water Foundation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, recognizes the facility's "extensive use of water and wastewater treatment and recycling techniques that convert saline into potable water and conserve a scarce resource." The facility enhanced production while reducing water consumption through reuse of both industrial and sanitary wastewater within production processes.

The complex opened in 1980 in Ramos Arizpe (pop. 40,000), an area where the only source of water was a small, semi-confined aquifer with a relatively high salt content (0.2%). The company's challenge was to secure water for production without depleting the aquifer (which is also the local drinking water source), desalinate the well water supply, and establish a recycling and reuse process for the industrial and sanitary wastewater--all within the framework of an intensive water conservation program.--Source

Water levels in the Everglades are one to two feet below normal, one effect of a dry spell that made the year 2000 Florida's driest on record. Central Florida's lakes are drying up, shallow municipal and private wells are sucking air, salt water is creeping into well fields in southwest Florida, and water managers are scrambling to keep towns nestled around Lake Okeechobee west of West Palm Beach from running out of drinking water. As Florida heads into the fourth summer of a drought, there's a water deficit of 42 inches over the last two years in the Tampa Bay area. Orlando had its driest year on record in 2000. Other Southeastern states, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii also are in a drought, but Florida is the driest state in the country.

South Florida water managers recently approved the toughest water restrictions ever for the region. Home lawns can be watered only once a week, and businesses will face further water cutbacks starting at the end of the month. In the Tampa area, where residents also face watering bans, the soil in 29,000 acres of wetlands has turned to sand because of the drought and pumping from surrounding well fields.--Source