What is a Water Audit?
A water audit, also known as a water assessment, is an analysis of a business’s water usage to identify inefficiencies and potential cost savings. It documents all the different ways your business uses water within its operations, when and how much water is typically consumed, and identifies opportunities for reductions.
Water audits typically involve assessing a business’s past utility bills and using water meters to generate precise data around water consumption. Many businesses are surprised to find that they are using more water than they thought, especially if they have not been monitoring their usage closely.
There are two main types of water audits: self-audits and professional audits. Self-audits require companies to track their own water usage over a period of time and then analyze the data to find ways to improve efficiency. Professional audits are conducted by third-party experts that specialize in evaluating a company’s water use and helping develop a water conservation plan.
Both types of audits can be beneficial, but professional audits tend to be more comprehensive and can provide unbiased recommendations. Whichever type of audit you choose, the goal is the same: to save water and money by becoming more efficient.
There are a number of ways to reduce water consumption, and a good water audit will identify the most effective measures for a particular business. Below, we discuss types of water audits and related resources, along with some common water-saving strategies for businesses.
The Benefits of Conducting a Water Audit
Inefficient water usage translates into both money and resources wasted. Conducting a water audit identifies inefficiencies and paves the way for improvement and business benefits.
- Lowers Utility Bills – Having a clear picture of where and how much water is being used throughout your business allows you to make better informed decisions around water management. More efficient management gives you the ability to make reductions where possible and fix inefficiencies resulting in lower utility costs.
- Improves Operational Efficiency – More efficient management of your water use means streamlining your operations to use precise amounts of water only when it is needed, eliminating unnecessary water waste and revising any processes that require water.
- Avoids Potential Damage and Repair Costs – Water audits also help you identify potential or active leaks, allowing you to fix these issues before they get worse and more expensive to repair. Water reductions can also alleviate long-term strain on equipment and infrastructure that utilize water, further lessening strain on your business.
- Supports Sustainability Certification – Sustainable business certification is becoming a global standard for businesses across all industries. Water audits performed in conjunction with water reduction strategies can earn you credit towards sustainability certification such as the one offered by Green Business Bureau. There are several water related initiatives including conducting a water audit as part of the GBB Eco Library.
- Conserves Local Water Resources – Using a water audit to better manage your water use has positive impacts on the community by conserving local water supplies and supporting the people and wildlife that also depend on these resources. This is particularly important as more regions begin to face water shortages. Reducing your water consumption supports community resilience against water scarcity.
- Enhances Company Reputation – Making an active effort to conserve resources and consume responsibly shows stakeholders that you’re looking out for the greater good. This boost to your reputation gains stakeholder trust, positions you as a green leader among competition, and can attract new customers.
Why Water Audits Are Important
As long-term water availability becomes more unpredictable, it is crucial for businesses to know how much water they are using and find ways to conserve this invaluable resource.
Besides the cost savings and brand boost that reducing water use brings to businesses, reducing your water usage is critical to combating global water scarcity.
Two million people worldwide already live in areas with inadequate water supply while four million others – nearly two-thirds of the world population – endure severe water scarcity for at least one month out of the year. According to UNICEF, around 1 in 4 children globally will be living in areas of extremely high water stress by 2040.
Even the wealthiest nations are facing increasing water shortages due to rising temperatures, growing populations, and increased agricultural use of water. Two of America’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead in Nevada/Arizona and Lake Powell in Utah, are at a historic low and could potentially reach “dead pool” status, meaning water levels are so low, there is no downstream flow to power hydroelectric power stations. These two reservoirs are vital for the economies of the U.S. west, bringing water and electricity to tens of millions in Nevada, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico, along with irrigation water for agriculture.
In alignment with U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” which aims to increase access to clean drinking water and protect the world’s water-related ecosystems, a water audit is a powerful first step towards becoming a more responsible business and supporting the greater good.
Water Audit Costs
When you consider the rising costs of commercial water and sewer – projected to reach 25$ per 1,000 gallons by 2030 and $45 by 2040, a water audit designed to help you lower your water use and utility bills seems like a no-brainer.
Audits from third-party providers typically involve different levels of scope and purpose and depending on the size of your facility and the complexity of your operations, professional water audits can be costly, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
While self administered water audits utilize the workforce you already have and can save you money and time, self audits can miss important assessment criteria if your team lacks the skills and knowledge around water use and management.
Rally your team for input and reach out to third-party auditors to weigh your options. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) have created a comprehensive guide for navigating water audits for commercial buildings including a section on simple payback from investing in water audit and other water conservation measures.
How to Conduct a Water Audit
Water audits can be conducted internally by employees or by hiring an outside firm. We’ll discuss steps for conducting a self audit below.
- Map Out Your Water Use – First you’ll need to follow the flow of water throughout your facility and identify all equipment and fixtures that use water. Locate where the main water line enters and exits your facility along with any water meters. Document any flow rate devices that may be installed, whether equipment requires treated or filtered water, and if recycled water is used at all.
- Track Your Meters – Now you need to generate data on how much water your facility is using monthly by tracking your water meters. Looking at past utility bills is great for getting a baseline of your water usage but monitoring your water meters gives you a more detailed look into how your water usage fluctuates. This includes looking at your main water meter which tells you how much water is flowing into your facility as well as any submeters attached to fixtures and equipment – boilers, cooling towers, refrigeration units, irrigation systems, etc. These submeters are key because they provide a more accurate picture of your water usage. WaterSense® provides a helpful guide, “WaterSense® at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities”, that goes into detail about metering/submetering applications and can help you select the most appropriate meter application for your business.
- Establish BMPs and Set Reduction Goals – Now that you understand where and how much water is flowing throughout your facility, it’s important to establish best management practices (BMPs) and set realistic, measurable goals for more efficient water use. Work with your Green Team or sustainability leader to decide what your BMPs and water goals will be and a timeframe of when these initiatives will be launched and completed. Your BMPs and reduction goals may be part of a larger water management plan that outlines:
- Protocol for regular meter tracking and data collection
- Protocol for leak detection and repair
- Best water conservation practices for various pieces of equipment and processes
- Communicating BMPs and goals to employees and stakeholders
- Educational resources to teach employees about water conservation practices
- Identify Improvement Opportunities – Hopefully conducting a water audit will show you some ways you could reduce your water usage. This may include installing a device that allows for water recycling in a certain process. Work with the purchasing manager to prioritize improvements and plan out water efficiency purchases within the budget.
- Combine with a Sustainability Certification – Build your overall sustainability performance by combining your water management plan with a sustainability certification. Sustainability certification programs map out short and long-term green initiatives so your company can continually improve and yield cost savings.
The EPA and WaterSense® provide online resources for guiding commercial and institutional water management including this downloadable WaterSense® Simple Water Assessment Checklist.
Water-Saving Strategies for Business
Extend the benefits of your water audit by following up with these water-saving strategies:
- Employee Training and Education – Implementing water conservation is often more successful when those participating understand the importance behind sustainable practices. Work with your Green Team to set a time to train employees on best water management practices. Make it an engaging learning experience that is open to employee input.
- Regular Metering and Maintenance – Be proactive with your water conservation goals by ensuring regular metering and maintenance of your equipment.
- Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) – Water meter technology is advancing and facilities are transitioning to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) which collects data remotely to provide real-time water usage data more frequently and accurately. This improves water resource management, leak detection, the billing experience, and your company’s overall operational efficiency.
- Water Reuse – Consider ways you can reuse water in your operations. Water reuse applications for businesses include water cooling towers, rainwater catchment systems, grey water for irrigation, among others. Assess the costs of adding new pumps, plumbing and other devices for reclaiming and treating water and how these costs could fit into your budget.