Going gray in order to be green: Using reclaimed water to save money and resources

Water security is becoming a hot topic for more than just the Southwestern U.S.; with a warming climate, the Northeast is also expected to face significant challenges to water security. A 2006 study that analyzes changes in hydrological indicators concludes that the Northeast will experience wetter winters and drier summers, with an overall net increase in dry conditions. Summers are expected to have more short and medium-term droughts that may put significant stress on agriculture in the region. Not surprisingly, access to potable fresh water is closely linked with food security. According to the FAO (2009), it takes between 2,000-5,000 liters to produce one person’s daily food!

In order to address concerns about shortages of potable water, some Universities and businesses are turning to gray water systems. Gray water, or reclaimed water, is relatively clean waste water generated from kitchen, bathroom (not toilet), and laundry uses. It can be recycled and reused with little treatment for landscape irrigation and other non-potable uses. Benefits include reducing demand and bills from water utilities, easing the strain on public water supplies, and saving energy use from pumping and treating water.

The University of Connecticut is on track to open a 25 million dollar Reclaimed Water Facility this summer that is expected to treat 500,000 gallons of wastewater on peak days. This waste water will mostly be used in place of potable water to cool the turbines in the UConn cogeneration power plant which provides electricity, AC, and heat across the Storrs campus. The water will be treated using microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet disinfection.

However, water conservation and reuse does not have to be so costly. Here are a few cost-effective tips for reducing water consumption saving money: 

  1. Implement a water management plan and increase awareness among employees about good water habits.
  2. Create a leak detection and reporting plan. One idea: post a hotline in bathrooms to report leaks.
  3. Purchase water efficient fixtures and equipment, such as low-flow toilets and aerated faucets/showerheads.
  4. Post water conservation tips and solicit water-saving ideas from employees.
  5. Use gray water for landscaping/irrigation and toilet water. (remember to get a reclaimed water permit)

Everything we do, from flushing the toilet to putting gas in the car, contributes to our water footprint. How will you reduce yours?

email: sblp@sbnmass.org    |    phone: (617) 395-0250

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