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Protect and Conserve Water

by the WBDG Sustainable Committee

Last updated: 09-04-2013

Overview

Within the federal sector, alone, it is estimated that expenditures for water and sewer run between $0.5 billion and $1 billion annually. Reducing water consumption and protecting water quality are key objectives of sustainable design. One critical issue of water consumption is that in many areas of the country, the demands on the supplying aquifer exceed its ability to replenish itself. To the maximum extent feasible, facilities should decrease their need for potable water by increasing efficiency. Once efficiency has been optimized, facilities should maximize the use of water that is collected, used, purified, and reused on-site.

Tremendous energy resources are used to procure, pump, treat, transport, and store potable water. Energy is also used to treat used water in the form of sewage. Potentially toxic chemicals are essential to this process. Using such potable water to irrigate lawns or flush human waste away is a waste of this energy intensive resource.

The protection and conservation of water must be considered throughout the life of the building. Facility owners and developers must seek to:

  • Use water efficiently through high efficiency fixtures, elimination of leaks, water conserving cooling towers, and other actions;
  • Improve water quality. For example, eliminate lead-bearing products in potable water;
  • Recover non-sewage and graywater for on-site use (such as toilet flushing and landscape irrigation)
  • Establish waste treatment and recycling centers;
  • Apply the FEMP Best Management Practices for Water Conservation;
  • Follow EPA Technical Guidance on Implementing the Stormwater Runoff Requirements for Federal Projects under Section 438 of the Energy Independence and Security Act hydrology requirements to maintain or restore predevelopment hydrology of the property with regard to the temperature, rate, volume and duration of flow.

Water conservation must also be a key consideration in the reuse or renovation of an existing building.

Fort Worth Texas Post Office landscaped with native plantsFort Worth Text Post Office with rainwater catchment basins

Water conservation strategies implemented at the Post Office in Ft. Worth, TX include landscaping with native, or indigenous, plantings and rainwater catchment basins.
Photo courtesy of Don Horn.

Recommendations

Use Water Efficiently

  • Incorporate water efficiency and conservation in construction specifications.
  • Use high efficiency plumbing fixtures and integrate other water-saving devices into buildings.
  • Design landscape for water efficiency through the use of native plants that are tolerant of local soil and rainfall conditions.
  • Meter water usage; employ measurement and verification methods; comply with the Department of Energy's International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) (PDF 2.5 MB) for water use.
  • Install water-conserving cooling towers designed with delimiters to reduce drift and evaporation.
  • Reduce evaporation through controlled scheduled irrigation at dawn and dusk.
  • Eliminate leaks; caulk around pipes and plumbing fixtures; conduct annual checks of hoses and pipes.
  • Commission water and sewer systems as part of the project quality assurance process.
  • Specify WaterSense labeled products for quality, water-efficient products.
  • Maximize the use of efficient landscape irrigation equipment such as drip irrigation and soil moisture sensors.

Protect Water Quality

Recover Non-Sewage and Graywater for On-Site Use

  • Use non-sewage wastewater for irrigation and other uses permitted by Code or local ordinance.
  • Use roof water, groundwater, and water from sump pumps for on-site activities.
  • Capture and use condensate from HVAC systems.
  • Follow "Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes" (PDF 525 KB), Council on Environmental Quality.
  • Work with local water jurisdiction officials to get approval for graywater projects.

Establish Site-Based Treatment and Recycling Programs

  • Use biological waste treatment systems to treat waste on-site.
  • Use graywater, roof water, and groundwater for on-site activities.

Apply the FEMP Best Management Practices for Water Conservation

Best Management Practices (BMPs) were originally developed by the Department of Energy Federal Energy Management (FEMP) Program in response to the requirements set forth in previous Executive Order (EO) 13123, which required federal agencies to reduce water use through cost-effective water efficiency improvements. In response to EO 13423 and to account for recent changes in technology in water use patterns the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense Office has updated the original BMPs. The updated BMPs below were developed to help federal agency personnel achieve water efficiency goals of EO 13423.

BMP #1—Water Management Planning
BMP #2—Information and Education Programs
BMP #3—Distribution System Audits, Leak Detection and Repair
BMP #4—Water-Efficient Landscaping
BMP #5—Water-Efficient Irrigation
BMP #6—Toilets and Urinals
BMP #7—Faucets and Showerheads
BMP #8—Boiler/Steam Systems
BMP #9—Single-Pass Cooling Equipment
BMP #10—Cooling Tower Management
BMP #11—Commercial Kitchen Equipment
BMP #12—Laboratory and Medical Equipment
BMP #13—Other Water Intensive Processes
BMP #14—Alternate Water Sources

The International Storm Water Best Management Practices (BMP) Database, developed under a grant from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, contains best management practices, and study references for the effective design of storm water management systems.

Related Issues

Dry Fire Hydrants

One of the synergistic technologies for achieving water conservation and fire safety is a dry fire hydrant. Dry hydrants are non-pressurized suction pipe systems that are permanently installed in ponds or lakes and use the untreated water, instead of municipal water, to fight fires. Utilized in areas that lack conventional fire protection; areas that cannot handle the large volumes of water due to antiquated systems; or during peak use seasons when there is low water pressure, dry hydrants allow fire departments to be much more efficient by providing close water sources to fire risks. Since dry hydrants are installed below frost line and do not require electricity, they are capable of supplying water in the case of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes when electricity lines are knocked down, or during extreme cold or hot weather where conventional hydrant pipes can freeze or break. Also, dry fire hydrants help to save precious drinking water and conserve energy by using rainwater that does not need to be processed to be used for fighting fires. More

Graywater

Graywater use can significantly reduce the amount of potable water needed for landscaping irrigation, toilet flushing and other non-drinking water applications. To increase graywater recovery and use, coordinate with local water authorities to explain the value of graywater recovery and the benefits to them and their community.

Passive Survivability

Passive survivability is a fairly new approach to disaster recovery and continuity of operations. Ensuring that an on-site water storage system can survive a natural disaster would allow a facility to operate through the disaster or restart operations soon after a disaster.

Extreme Weather

Extreme weather has taxed water supply systems and caused major damage to facilities along coastlines and rivers. Before rebuilding after extreme weather events, apply sustainable development principles to rebuilding water supply systems and stormwater management.

Continual drought conditions plague some parts of the country. Design water infrastructure systems and facility water use systems to minimize potable water use in these areas.

Relevant Codes, Laws, and Standards

Codes and Laws

Standards

Major Resources

WBDG

Building Types / Space Types

Applicable to most building types and space types, especially high water users such as Health Care Facilities, Hospital, Research Facilities, Clinic / Health Unit, Laboratory: Dry, Laboratory: Wet

Design Objectives

Aesthetics—Engage the Integrated Design Process, Cost-Effective, Functional / Operational, Historic Preservation—Update Building Systems Appropriately, Productive, Secure / Safe, Sustainable—Optimize Site Potential, Sustainable—Optimize Energy Use, Sustainable—Optimize Building Space and Material Use, Sustainable—Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality, Sustainable—Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices

Products and Systems

Building Envelope Design Guide—Sustainability of the Building Envelope
Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers:

Project Management

Building Commissioning

Federal Agencies

Publications

Organizations

Others

Training Courses