Water Efficiency Myths and Misconceptions

Many Federal energy managers feel that water efficiency is not appropriate for their facility. The following is a list of the most common myths and misconceptions Federal agencies have concerning water efficiency and legislative mandates.

Pie chart showing water use distribution in a typical office building. Domestic water use distribution accounts for 41%. Cooling and heating water use distribution accounts for 27%. Landscaping water use distribution accounts for 20%, Once-through cooling application water use distribution accounts for 2$. Kitchen water use distribution accounts for 1%. Miscellaneous water use distribution accounts for 9%.

Domestic (toilets, urinals, faucets, etc.), cooling/heating, and landscaping uses represent the best opportunities to conserve water in typical office buildings.

Water efficiency only includes low-flow fixtures.
Water efficiency covers much more than low-flow fixtures. Domestic fixtures do account for a significant portion of water use, but especially in areas with heavy cooling loads and arid climate this can be equal or outweighed by cooling water and landscape uses.

Also remember that the Federal building stock consists of much more than office buildings, including hospitals, laboratories, industrial manufacturing (minting coins), and parks. These non-office building facilities have heavy process water uses.

Low-flow fixtures don't work.
Many early model low-flow fixtures had problems, but this is today no longer true. In fact, most models of toilets have been completely redesigned to flush on 1.6 gallon per flush or less. Most surveys show that more than 80% of users are satisfied with their new low-flow fixtures. It has also been shown that widespread use of low-flow fixtures has no impact on the waste treatment system.

Water efficiency is only a concern for arid or western regions of the U.S.
Over the last five years, almost every region of the U.S. has experienced water shortages. Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York joined California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado in restricting water use. However, the states east of the Rocky Mountains are usually not constrained by water availability, but rather by capacity for sewage treatment and water quality issues. They also have older, rapidly deteriorating systems.

These are just a few of the reasons that eastern water customers typically pay more for water and sewer than western customers. Even though the necessity for water efficiency may be greater in the west, the economics for efficiency are usually better in the east. Water rates are typically higher where there is no perceived shortage. These higher costs seem to be attributed to higher sewer rates.

Water projects have long payback periods.
Water and wastewater rates are increasing across the country, which in turn are making water efficiency projects more viable. Many water efficiency measures not only save water, but also save energy used in heating and pumping. When these costs are included in the economic analysis of water efficiency upgrades, the economic feasibility of projects can improve dramatically. Energy service companies, utilities, and Federal agencies are discovering that incorporating water efficiency as part of an energy program can help to buy down the overall cost of the project. In one case, a utility was able to include an additional 15% of mechanical work by implementing water efficiency measures in comprehensive energy projects at Federal sites.

Federal agencies are not required by law to implement water efficiency.
Federal laws and regulations do in fact require water conservation measures. For example, Executive Order (E.O.) 13423 mandates a reduction of water consumption intensity, defined as gallons per square foot, of 16% by the end of fiscal year 2015 from a 2007 baseline.