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Water Efficiency Basics

Although two-thirds of the Earth's surface is water, less than one-half of one percent of that water is currently available for our use. As the U.S. population increases, so does our water use, making water resources increasingly scarce. Many regions feel the strain.

According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Federal Government used an estimated 148 to 165 billion gallons of potable water annually. This was equal to the annual water use of a state the size of New Jersey or almost 8 million people. This is, in part, because water requires significant energy input for treatment, pumping, heating, and process uses. Water is integral to the cooling of power plants that provide energy to Federal facilities. According to the same study, the Federal Government, with moderate efficiency efforts, could conserve approximately 40% of its water and related energy use, or around 60 billion gallons of water annually. This is enough water for a state the size of Oregon or approximately 3 million people.

Federal Agencies and Water Efficiency

Federal agencies must lead by example with water-efficiency best management practices for the following reasons.

  1. Clean, fresh natural water resources need to be protected and preserved.

  2. Legislation mandates water conservation. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Executive Order 13423, and other Federal policies call for Federal agencies to reduce water use and improve efficiency.

  3. Water costs and sewer service rates are increasing steadily. Unlike electricity rates, water rates are projected to increase over time. A conservative estimate of future water rate increases for Federal agencies is approximately 10% per year nationwide. These rate increases are not just due to scarce supplies, but also waste treatment place capacity restrictions. The latter is especially true for Federal facilities in the eastern United States.

  4. Federal agencies are often a major user of local water resources and lead by example with effective conservation. This is especially true for facilities with their own water supply. These facilities should not flout local drought restriction by, for example, having a beautiful green lawn when the rest of the community is under watering restrictions.

For these and other reasons, Federal agencies should determine the most cost-effective ways to conserve water, energy, and money within facility operations. Many options exist for Federal water efficiency, ranging from low-flow faucets to advanced computer and climate controlled irrigation systems and everything in between.