Preventing the Well from Running Dry

August 8, 2012

By Melissa McDonald, Business Development and Jonathan Lanciani, President & CEO, Sustainable Water

(This article appears in the August, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The first six months of 2012 have been the warmest first six months of any year on record for the lower 48 states. The warmer temperatures are coinciding with drier than average conditions, leading to 56% of the contiguous United States to experience drought and rendering close to1,400 counties eligible for federal disaster relief funds. Climate and water are recurring discussion topics today. But when the rains come and the weather cools, how will we react?  American’s interact with water constantly throughout the day and yet, we tend not to give it a second thought beyond turning the faucet on or off.  We have an insatiable thirst for water and depend on it to heat and cool our campuses, water our lawns and for sanitation purposes. The average college student uses more than 200 gallons of water per day yet there are millions of people around the world who survive on less than five gallons a day! It is estimated that by 2050, 40% of the world, including the United States, will be in water stressed situations. The map below shows the predicted levels of drought in the US for July through September 2012. And still, we use our limited supply of water at an intense rate. As Ben Franklin said, “When the well is dry, we shall know the value of water.”

Image 1: US Seasonal Drought Outlook Provided by National Weather Service (view larger: )

Why should we take a focus on water?

As an ACUPCC signatory, your institution is committed to achieving carbon neutrality, but what about your campus’ other environmental impacts on the surrounding environment? The emerging issues associated with climate change compound the water problem for many areas across the United States as we face groundwater shortages, coastal erosion, saline intrusion into aquifers, and extended periods of drought.

As part of the ACUPCC pledge, campuses need to complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including energy consumption. By solely focusing on reducing energy consumption, other aspects of climate change may be neglected, particularly the availability of water. As educators of our future leaders, it is imperative to begin to address not only our current and future challenges with water but also understand the link between water and energy.

Each year in the United States, power generation represents more than 3% of our nation’s total water consumption, whereas, 13% of the energy produced in the US is used to treat and transport our water. Conserving water saves energy and conserving energy saves water. The nexus is complex, but at its basic level, our resources are deeply intertwined.

Water Footprint Audit Assessment

In an effort to help institutions gain a better understanding of their water footprint, Sustainable Water has developed a new tool for your campus: the Water Footprint Audit. The term “water footprint” refers to the campus’ total amount of water used for consumption, sanitary use, heating, cooling, irrigation, and maintenance. Our Water Inventory is designed to analyze, benchmark, and yield near-term improvement opportunities to reduce your campus’ overall water consumption.  The result is a more water conscious campus, with monetary savings that can be used for additional sustainability related projects.

The study will also separate potable water demand (safe for consuming) from non-potable water demand (not of drinking quality, but safe for other purposes) to determine if there is an alternative solution for water consumption.  In terms of non-potable demand end-use, the focus will be on utility and irrigation water, as they are typically the largest single point consumers of water. Utility and irrigation water represents on average up to 60% of a campus’ water consumption.

Once the study is finalized, Sustainable Water will determine the feasibility of installing an on-site water reclamation and reuse facility to address non-potable demand. Water reclamation significantly decreases potable water intake, and saves money and energy. At the same time, reusing water helps reduce wastewater discharge and watershed pollution and provides a local, dependable supply of water during times of drought.

In a society where water typically falls secondary to energy, The Water Inventory takes a proactive approach to water sustainability. The study allows campuses to be a better community member, save money, and save resources. Our promise is simple: we help you conserve water while simultaneously saving money. 

For more information about the Water Inventory, please email For more information about Sustainable Water, see

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