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Water: Sustainable Infrastructure

Maximize Dollars Through Efficiency

Regional water shortages, high energy costs, and the increasing impacts of a changing climate, have elevated water and energy efficiency to one of the most pressing concerns in the water sector.

Drinking water and wastewater services are typically the largest energy consumers of municipal governments, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of total energy consumed—no community can afford to pay for inefficiency.

Energy Efficiency

Why pursue it?
An estimated three percent of national electricity consumption, equivalent to approximately 56 kilowatt hours, or $4 billion, is used in providing drinking water and wastewater services to communities each year. The good news is that water and wastewater plants often have the potential to reduce energy use by 15 to 30 percent. Depending on the size of the utility, this can save thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in operating costs, which can be applied to needed infrastructure.

An example of the savings that can be realized is discussed in EPA's Massachusetts Energy Management Pilot Program for Drinking Water and Wastewater Case Study (PDF) (8pp, 988K, About PDF).

How to pursue it:
What is your first step? Work with your utilities to identify areas for energy savings by pursuing an initial energy audit. Then make it a priority to support targets and strategies for improvement. Make sure least life cycle cost solutions become part of your utility's ongoing business model, as part of an asset management program.

Utilities also have numerous opportunities for on-site production of energy. Some of the country's leading utilities have combined efficiency and on-site generation to offset the need for outside energy sources; in many cases coming close to 100 percent self-powered.

Resources on energy efficiency can be found at EPA Office of Water Energy: Be Efficient & Renewable page. A great starting point is EPA's Energy Management Guidebook for Wastewater and Water Utilities (113pp, 1.2MB, About PDF).

Water Efficiency

Why pursue it?
Water efficiency helps your community's and utilities' sustainability in numerous ways. Here are just a few of the reasons to pursue water efficiency:

  • Many communities are facing water shortages in the short or long term. The cheapest new source of water is water efficiency.
  • Using less water reduces treatment costs, for both your drinking water and wastewater systems, saving your community money.
  • Saving water saves energy, which decreases operating costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Supporting water efficiency can reduce the strain on aging water and wastewater utilities and can sometimes delay or even eliminate the need for costly new construction to expand system capacity.
  • Promoting water efficiency helps your constituents understand the value of water and the high cost of water services.
How to pursue it:
  • Foster smart water use.
  • EPA's WaterSense program not only labels water-efficient products and services, but also brings together communities, local governments, water utilities, and other partners to help promote water-efficient products and an ethic of careful water use. Visit the WaterSense Partners page for more information.
  • Plug leaky distribution systems.
  • National studies suggest that, on average, 14 percent of the water produced by a water system is lost to leaks in the distribution system. Some water systems have shown water loss rates that exceed 60 percent. Lost water means lost revenue for your utility, as well as wasted money and energy for treatment of these lost gallons.

    Many utilities have programs to assess the condition of their piping systems and use the information to reduce the water that is lost to leaks. Ask your utilities if they know how much water loss they are facing and what the plan is to address it. Tools to help in reducing water loss can be found at EPA's Water Efficiency & Availability for Water Suppliers page.


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