NRDC Report Touts Water Efficiency for California

According to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), California’s commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) sector has the tools to save more than enough water to meet the annual needs of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego combined.

Some leading California businesses and institutions are already catching on – saving water and money at the same time.

“After three consecutive dry years and global warming threatening to intensify California’s droughts, we need smart-water solutions that that will stop waste and help businesses use only what they need,” said Ronnie Cohen, NRDC's director of Water Efficiency Policy. “Luckily, 21st-century technologies exist to stretch our water supply and save money. And some trailblazing California businesses and water agencies are already showing us how it’s done.”

The report's title is Making Every Drop Work: Increasing Water Efficiency in California’s Commercial, Industrial and Institutional (CII) Sector.

In February of 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger called for a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020, and legislation to help reach that target is currently pending in the State Assembly (AB 49). California’s CII sector – which includes office buildings, hotels, oil refineries, golf courses, schools and universities, restaurants and manufacturers – is responsible for one-third of urban water use, making progress in this sector essential to reaching this reduction goal. The CII sector uses the equivalent of more than 1 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of water annually. NRDC estimates California businesses could save about 25-50 percent of that water with efficiency measures, or as much as 700,000 -1.3 million acre-feet – the equivalent to 350,000-650,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Water efficiency improves water quality, supply, and ecosystem health by reducing polluted landscape runoff and the amount of water taken out of rivers and streams – making it an important tool in managing the troubled San Francisco Bay-Delta, and restoring the state’s quarter-billion-dollar salmon fishery. Water efficiency has also proven to be good for the bottom line of businesses, as it lowers water bills and energy costs, as well as wastewater charges and costs for chemicals and water purification.

Payback for investing in water-efficient technologies is between one and four years. Many water agencies help accelerate payback by providing free water audits, equipment and technology rebates, and in some cases, free water-efficient products and installation.

While the CII sector has made some progress over the last decade, there is still a tremendous potential for improving their water efficiency and lowering their bills. For example, the report reveals:

  • Commercial dishwashers use 25 percent of the water in commercial kitchens. A water-efficient commercial dishwasher would reduce that water use by 25 percent. Commercial kitchens can also save up to $1,050 a year on energy and water bills with a water-efficient pre-rinse spray valve and cut faucet water use and related bills in half with a low-flow faucet aerator, which run less than $5 each.
  • The average hotel will use more than 604,000 gallons of water every year just to wash bed sheets and towels. If that hotel installs a water-efficient washing machine, it can cut that number by 38 percent.
  • Landscaping, such as at office parks, schools, parks, and street medians, is responsible for one-third of the CII sector’s water use. But with smart irrigation controllers that adjust for weather conditions, commercial-sized landscapes can reduce water use by 40-50 percent.
  • Restrooms are responsible for 15 percent of CII water use. But low-flow showerheads, which can be purchased in bulk for $5-12 each, can save 2-3.5 gallons of water per shower, and more efficient toilets and urinals could save 35,000-64,000 gallons a year.