Industrial facilities consume nearly 25 percent of the world’s water, according to recent estimates. In some countries, this figure is considerably higher, approaching 60 percent of all water usage. And these estimates are expected to rise in coming decades.*

A shortage of clean, potable water is a risk to future security, growth and independence. Greater awareness of these challenges is spawning new technologies, more efficient water use, greater resourcefulness and new policies encouraging water usage sustainability. There is no better example of this than what the nation of Israel has accomplished during the past 15 years.

Lessons from Israel
Built in the desert in one of the driest areas of the world, Israel survives despite chronic water shortages, droughts and an inability to access water from nearby countries.
  • Israel has 31 desalination facilities that convert ocean and seawater to potable water; estimates indicate as much as 20 percent of the water consumed in Israel is derived from these facilities.
  • Israel purifies and reuses almost 70 percent of its wastewater each year for agricultural use.
  • Israel developed water metering systems that monitor how much water is used and where it is used.
  • Water-saving devices, such as dual-flush toilets and low-flow or no-flow urinals, are required in most new commercial, industrial, and residential Israeli buildings.
The Israeli government has also required some plants and large facilities to recirculate cooling water and steam, to treat and reuse industrial wastewater, and to develop pressure-reduction strategies to protect pipes and prevent leaks. According to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, despite accelerated growth in industrial activity, industrial water use has not increased substantially.

A plan for industrial facilities
Reducing the water needs of an industrial facility is a bit complicated. First, conduct a water-use audit to establish usage benchmarks: 1) prepare a schematic — an overview of water flow and usage in the facility; 2) determine if and where water is being wasted; 3) prepare an inventory of all water-use systems, processes and operations; 4) set up a “water balance” system to quantify water losses; and 5) provide information on the overall water quality required by and discharged from each unit of the facility.

Next, establish water conservation goals. Many facilities use a “three-bucket” decision-making process to help prioritize changes. Decision-makers place action items that can be corrected quickly and at relatively little cost in the first “bucket.” This includes repairing leaks and establishing an ongoing leak-repair program. Another immediate action item: conveying the water conservation message to all building users in the form of flyers, meetings, messages, etc.

Items that have a marginal cost and may take up to a year to implement but will also result in considerable savings should be placed in the second “bucket.” This could include: installing high-efficiency toilets, low-flow or no-flow urinals, low-flow showers, and automatic timers and controls on water systems.

More costly changes that should be attended to within one to three years are placed in the final “bucket.” Some examples: replacing water-cooling systems and condensers with technology that uses very little or no water; and catching rainwater runoff for use in landscaping.

Once a facility begins its water conservation journey, there can be a tendency to jump into new technologies that are designed to use less water but may still need further development. For instance, some no-water urinal systems can prove costly to maintain, eliminating savings achieved through reduced water use.

Building managers must thoroughly investigate all aspects of a water-reducing technology before deciding what will be appropriate for their facility. Managers should ask distributors or manufacturers if they can test new technologies before purchasing.

* Source: GE Water & Process Technologies