While for some, water scarcity is a hypothetical concept, for many others it’s a stark reality. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, according to the United Nations. In the U.S., the infrastructure is deteriorating and, according to the American Water Works Association, an estimated $1 trillion is needed to maintain and expand service to meet the country’s water demand over the next 25 years.
All things considered, water conservation has become an essential practice across the world. In recent years, technology has evolved considerably in providing increasingly better ways properties use water, from adoption of on-site reuse to smart systems detecting leakage. To dive deeper into the problem, Commercial Property Executive talked with Gillan Taddune, CEO of Banyan Water, a provider of data-driven water conservation solutions. Under her leadership, Banyan has saved more than three billion gallons of water for the built environment.
How has the process of water management evolved throughout the past decade?
Taddune: Ten years ago, the average commercial property had two ways to measure water use: a meter and a monthly water bill. Those methods simply gave property executives the amount of water consumed—and paid for—on an entire property over an entire month. Luckily, submetering has grown in popularity in recent years, finally giving commercial properties, particularly multifamily, retail and office complexes, the ability to measure water usage by tenant and charge accordingly.
These are simply measuring tools, however. They don’t empower property executives and facility managers to use today’s analytics and software tools to monitor and optimize water usage in real time, room by room, building by building and property by property. That’s why more and more property managers and owners are turning to the Internet of Things and advanced data analytics to understand their water use, optimize and reduce consumption across properties and portfolios, and ultimately mitigate the risk that until now has inherently accompanied water usage on a property and at scale.
Which are some cutting-edge water management strategies available to property owners and managers today?
Taddune: The most cutting-edge water management strategies today are both comprehensive and truly tech-enabled. The best strategy is the one that monitors water usage at every layer: indoor/outdoor, irrigation and cooling tower. These strategies rely heavily on IoT-enabled metering and software tools that collect thousands of data points and provide unprecedented visibility into water usage across a property or portfolio. This plays out in a number of ways within a water management system.
The most crucial for property owners is leak detection. Hidden water leaks can go weeks or months without being noticed, leading to massive resource loss and having severe impact on overall profitability. Examples include underground breaks in irrigation lines or running toilets, in addition to catastrophic water leaks that can cause major property damage. Today’s intelligent software and analytics tools can monitor flow rates in real time, identify an abnormality and initiate an automatic shutdown immediately.
Water management software today also has the capability to track usage by the type of appliance—faucets, showerheads, toilets, tubs—to provide managers and owners with insights into consumption trends and habits that allow for better optimization strategies and budget forecasting.
Which are the most effective methods to manage and conserve water?
Taddune: There’s a trend today in state governments to adopt water conservation policies that attempt to change individual behavior at the consumer level through fines, fees or incentives. They’re admirable initiatives, but fail to address the full scope of the problem.
I believe two things need to happen if we’re going to see water conservation truly succeed. The first is to set rates that accurately reflect water’s value. Water has been the most undervalued resource in the world for decades, which is why we’ve had such a laissez-faire attitude toward it in this country, until severe and prolonged drought forced the story to the surface. The second is market-wide technology adoption. Individual behavior change won’t move fast enough to see the impact we need, but adopting total smart water strategies at scale can compensate for excessive water use and negate to a degree the impact of poor infrastructure and population growth on our water systems.
What is water neutrality and why are rainwater harvesting and reuse of wastewater such important components of water conservation?
Taddune: Water neutrality draws from the same concepts as carbon neutrality. In our world, it essentially means you reduce your water consumption footprint to as great a degree as you are able and then offset the differences in your remaining water footprint.
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Rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling and reuse are tools in a toolkit for large water users to offset their water demand. Much of a commercial building’s water demand is for ‘non-potable’ needs, which do not require drinking-quality water. As such, rainwater can be collected and then used for applications like landscape irrigation, toilet filling and cooling. Similarly, on-site water treatment is a growing trend where grey and wastewater from a property are collected and treated in an on-site system, then redistributed for these same purposes.
The first step for any property manager or owner should be to inventory how much water they’re using and in what ways. Without first measuring your water footprint, there’s no way to improve it. From there, it becomes easier to triage and identify which solutions best fit your facilities’ needs, then implement and track ongoing effectiveness.
What is the most challenging aspect of water management? How does technology contribute to the long-term lifespan and accuracy of a water system?
Taddune: You don’t know what you don’t know. The lack of visibility into water usage on a property or portfolio is hands down the most challenging aspect of water management. Without technology, property managers simply don’t have the means of assessing how much water they should be using compared to how much water they actually use. The unknown creates real operational risk that affects profitability, budget forecasting, monthly expenses and more.
Similarly, large data sets can be confusing and misleading without proper interpretation. Software tools that include data visualization fight latent risk simply by providing clarity into water usage. The visibility of thousands of data points creates new areas for operational savings, allowing managers to monitor and optimize usage at the most granular level. This can then be elevated to the property or portfolio level, so decision makers have insight into the financial impact of water use, potential cost savings and areas for improvement.
What can property managers do to improve their water efficiency, especially in areas most prone to drought?
Taddune: There are a few commonsense actions to take that can go a long way toward increasing efficiency such as installing plants on the property that are native to the region—this is especially important in drought-prone regions so that managers don’t have to allocate additional labor or water resources to maintain the landscape. Another measure is to always water at night and keep tabs on weather forecasts.
Adopting a total water management system that does these things on its own—in addition to automatically identifying areas for improvement or investment, monitoring for leaks or abnormalities and continually learning about property-wide water consumption—can reduce water use by as much as 50 to 70 percent and open new savings opportunities that simply didn’t exist before.
What strategies do you recommend for sustainable management infrastructure in flood-prone areas?
Taddune: Floods are undoubtedly going to create major challenges across the country in the years ahead. Obviously, coastal communities face significant threat, but with intensified storm systems and shifting drought and rainfall patterns, inland cities will be likely to face flood challenges as well.
Although we don’t specialize in flood management, the solutions that we’ve seen that are the most interesting and seem to be quite effective all revolve around biomimicry or modeling engineering and design after nature’s own tools. For millennia, features like wetlands, sand dunes and floodplains helped manage fluctuating sea and river waters. When men came in and introduced retaining walls and levees, it was able to contain to a certain degree, but over time, as this infrastructure aged, nature took over once again. Water is an incredibly powerful force and often these levees and retaining walls actually exasperate the issues they’re meant to fix. We’re excited to see more areas implement biomimicry as a means of flood control in the future.