Heads Up On Water Scarcity: 5 Tips For Builders, Owners and Managers

Get a jump on new water use laws

As water gets scarcer, stricter monitoring and construction requirements are appearing. According to a MultiHousing News Online article by Managing Editor Erika Schnitzer, by 2013 36 states will face water shortages. As such, the multifamily industry should follow water shortage news closely: water, unlike energy, is truly a limited resource; just like Will Rogers said about land, “they ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

In the article, energy management and sustainability consulting expert John Klein, of JDM Associates LLC, shares two key facts about water use today. Fact 1: Most people think water’s pretty cheap or free. Fact 2: Most people have no idea how much water they use.

Let’s discuss actions multifamily managers and owners can take in relation to Klein’s second observation first. In a water-scarce world, learning how much water you use alone is a good way to reduce consumption. Why? According to Klein, separate water meters for residents of buildings can decrease water bills by 15 to 25 percent. So installing separate water meters is a good idea.

And what about the conception that water’s cheap? Well, even if it is today, it likely won’t stay that way for long in most of the country. Property owners and managers should find out what rate they’re paying, and whether rates fluctuate depending on how much water is consumed per billing period. That’s because some areas of the country are going to have such a limited supply of potable water that they become non-developable. And in other areas, water rates will be changing fast, because municipal water systems will need to invest in more infrastructure, or in getting water to new places, said one water management expert interviewed by Schnitzer.

Both of these steps are a form of benchmarking, keeping track of progress so that you can attempt to improve your performance. In fact, Klein says benchmarking of water may become required soon. Some states are already passing water conservation laws: California (ever the early-adopter) adopted more stringent standards on toilets, Texas law requires water utilities to submit water audits, and Georgia requires efficient water fixtures and metering in multi-settings buildings.

If individual meters for each unit aren’t set up, owners and managers should still know what points of water consumption are included. This means an inventory of devices that are consuming water.  High-efficiency plumbing fixtures can decrease usage (and increasingly jurisdictions are passing mandates requiring such fixtures). One plumbing sales expert interviewed for the article noted he’s seeing an immediate uptick in sales of high-efficiency products now, since they can provide “instant payback on net operating income.” Put another way: installing efficient devices now lets you start saving before the rates start to rise.

A quick recap of tips to help keep water costs and consumption down:

  • Builders: Install individual water meters
  • Managers and Owners: Learn your water rates and how the rates are determined
  • Managers and Owners: Start keeping track now of water cost and consumption so you have comparison figures to use
  • Managers and Owners: Inventory water-consumption devices
  • Managers, Owners and Builders: Consider installing higher-efficiency devices now

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