Newsletter and Technical Publications
of Alternative Technologies for Freshwater Augumentation
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PART B. TECHNOLOGY PROFILES
4.5 Other Water Conservation Practices
The importance of water conservation and water loss reduction should
always be an integral part of the management of freshwater resources and
needs to be given prominence in freshwater resources planning. As is
suggested by the three interlinking arrows in the recyclable materials
symbol, reduction of waste is the first of the several means of resource
conservation (the other means being reuse and recycling, both of which are
covered elsewhere in this volume). An excellent reference book is Efficient
Water Use, edited by Hector Garduño and Felipe Arreguín-Cortés.
For water management purposes, the community can be divided into two
basic groups: system users (such as households, industry, and agriculture)
and system operators (such as municipal, state, and local governments and
privately owned suppliers). These users have a choice of a number of
different practices, which promote or enhance the efficiency of their use.
These practices fall into two basic categories: engineering practices,
based on modifications to hardware (e.g., plumbing and fixtures) and/or
water supply operational procedures, and behavioral practices,
based on changing water use habits.
Engineering practices are generally technical or regulatory measures,
while behavioral practices typically involve market-oriented measures.
Collectively, these measures, which affect water use and reduce waste and
loss from the source, are known as "demand management" measures.
Such measures include leak detection; waste reduction (encouraging
consumers to cut out wasteful uses); investment in appliances, processes,
and technologies that reduce water input without reducing consumer
satisfaction and/or output; treatment of industrial effluents and
wastewaters to a standard suitable for recycling and reuse; and
reallocation of freshwater resources to the area of greatest social good.
The policies that encourage demand management include pricing water at an
economic rate, charging for pollution or community-based pollution control
practices, regulating and restricting specific water uses, exhorting and
informing the consumer of the ways and means of use reduction and
recycling, and encouraging water trading among and between users.
Figure 42: Typical Breakdown of Interior Water Use.
USEPA, Cleaner Water Through Conservation, Washington, D.C., 1995
(Report No. EPA- 841/B-95-002).
Water conservation practices can be followed by residential users,
industrial and commercial users, and agricultural users. They can also be
followed by local utilities and/or regional water supply plants. Table 22
shows some of the more common practices recommended for use by the
different user groups. A brief description of the most common conservation
TABLE 22. Recommended Water Conservation Practices.
|| Behavioral Practices
Toilet tank volume
Gray Water reuse landscaping
|Changing water use habits Pricing
Public information and
education Lawn irrigation scheduling
Drought management practices
Low volume irrigation technologies
reuse and recycling Soil management
| Irrigation scheduling
|Industrial and commercial
||Water reuse and recycling
Cooling water recirculation
|Monitoring water use
Enforcing water use practices Educational
programs on water
Source: USEPA, Cleaner Water Through Conservation,
Washington D.C., 1995, (Report No. EPA-841/B-95-002).
Users Conservation Measures
Low-flow plumbing fixtures and retrofit programs are permanent, one-time
conservation measures that can be implemented with little or no additional
cost over the lifetime of the fixtures. In some cases, these fixtures can
even save the residents money over the long term. The most commonly
recommended low-flow plumbing fixtures are pressure reduction devices,
faucet aerators, toilet displacement devices, low-flush toilets, low-flow
showerheads, and plumbing modifications for gray water reuse. A typical
breakdown of residential water use is shown in Figure 42.
Pressure Reduction. Homeowners can reduce the water pressure in
a home by installing pressure reducing valves. A reduction in water
pressure can save water in other ways: it can reduce the likelihood of
leaking water pipes, leaking water heaters, and dripping faucets.
Faucet Aerators. Faucet aerators, which break the flowing water
into fine droplets and entrain air while maintaining wetting
effectiveness, are inexpensive devices that can be installed in sinks to
reduce the volume of water used. Aerators are easily installed and can
reduce the volume of water use at a faucet by as much as 60% while still
maintaining a strong flow. More efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets
that use only 7.5 l/min, in contrast to standard faucets, which use 12 to
20 l/min, are also available.
Toilet Displacement Devices. Non-toxic bricks or plastic
containers (e.g., milk jugs filled with water or pebbles) can be placed in
a toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush. By placing
between one and three such containers in the tank, more than 4 l of water
can be saved per flush. A toilet dam, which holds back a reservoir of
water when the toilet is flushed, can also be used instead of the
displacement device to save water.
Low-Flush Toilets. Conventional toilets use 15 to 20 l of water
per flush, but low-flush toilets use only 6 l of water or less. Since
low-flush toilets use less water, they also reduce the volume of
wastewater produced. A schematic of a low-flush toilet is shown in Figure
43. Even in existing residences, replacement of conventional toilets with
low-flush toilets is a practical and economical water-saving alternative.
Low-Flow Showerheads. Showers account for about 20% of the total
indoor water use in an household. By replacing the standard 18 l/min
showerheads with 10 l/min showerheads, which cost less than $5 each, a
family of four can save approximately 80,000 l/year. Properly designed
low-flow showerheads, currently available, are able to provide the quality
of water delivery found in higher volume models.
Gray Water Use. Domestic wastewater composed of washwater from
kitchen sinks and tubs, clothes washers, and laundry tubs is called gray
water. Gray water can be used by homeowners for home gardening, lawn
maintenance, landscaping, and other uses that do not require potable
water. The level of contamination of gray waters is minimal; however, the
plumbing modifications needed to make use of this water should not allow
its contamination by wastes from the toilets, which have the potential to
spread disease, cause undesirable odors, and result in aesthetic
degradation of homestead yards and gardens.
1. The 6 liter flush design of this
gravity toilet has a different flush mechanism.
2. Steep bowl sides
and a narrow trapway to allow the siphoned water to gain velocity for more
effective removal of waste.
3. This is where the water pushes waste
into the trapway.
4. Stored water flows into the bowl.
Figure 43: Gravity Design of a Low-Flush Toilet.
USEPA, Cleaner Water Through Conservation,
Washington D.C., 1995
(Report No. EPA-841/B-95-002).
Water Conservation Practices
Drought-Tolerant Plants. Water conservation in landscaping can
be accomplished through the use of plants that need little water, thereby
saving not only water but labor and fertilizer as well. Careful landscape
design can significantly reduce water use; it can also take advantage of
native plants which have evolved water-saving or water-tolerant
characteristics ideally suited for the local climatic conditions. Use of
native plants can also help to minimize the spread of exotic plant species
that disrupt local ecosystems. In addition to the selection of the plant
species to be used in landscaping, practices such as the use of low
precipitation rate sprinklers that have better distribution uniformity,
bubbler/soaker systems, and/or drip or point irrigation systems can also
conserve water used for landscaping purposes.
Xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is an innovative approach to
landscaping that promotes water conservation and pollution prevention.
Traditional landscapes might incorporate one or two principles of water
conservation, but xeriscaping uses planning and design, soil analysis,
selection of suitable plants, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation,
use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance to create an appropriate
landscape for a given climatic condition. Xeriscaping is most successfully
practiced in arid and semi-arid areas, where it has proved useful for
minimizing irrigation and external maintenance needs while presenting an
Water Conservation Practices
Water saving irrigation practices fall into three categories: field
practices, management strategies, and system modifications. Examples of
these practices include, respectively, the chisel plow aeration of
extremely compacted soils, furrow diking to prevent uncontrolled runoff,
and leveling of the land surface to distribute water more evenly. A number
of these practices have been previously detailed in chapters 2 and 3.
Irrigation Scheduling. Improved irrigation scheduling can reduce
the amount of water required to irrigate a crop effectively by reducing
evaporative losses, supplying water when most needed by the irrigated
plants, and applying the water in a manner best suited to the plants being
irrigated. A careful choice of the rate and timing of irrigation can help
farmers to maintain yields with less water. In making scheduling
decisions, irrigators should consider:
- The uncertainty of rainfall and the timing of crop water demands.
- The limited water storage capacity of many irrigated soils.
- The finite pumping capacity of most irrigation systems.
- The price of water and changes in water prices as additional
operators increase water demand.
Irrigation Management. Management strategies involve monitoring
soil and water conditions and collecting information on water use and
efficiency. The methods include measuring rainfall, determining soil
moisture levels, monitoring pumping plant efficiency, and scheduling
irrigation. Typical system modifications include the addition of drop
tubes to a center pivot irrigation system, retrofitting wells with smaller
pumps, installing a surge or demand irrigation system, and/or constructing
a tailwater or return flow recovery system.
and Commercial Users Water Conservation Practices
Water recycling is the reuse of water for the same application for which
it was originally used. Recycled water might require treatment before it
can be reused. Cooling water recirculation and washwater recycling are the
most widely used water recycling practices. The following guidelines
should be used when considering water reuse and recycling in industrial
and commercial applications:
- Identification of water reuse opportunities: Are there areas within
the factory or in the production process that currently use water only
once that would be amenable to reuse?
- Determination of the minimum water quantity needed for the given use:
Are there areas within the factory or in the production process where
more water is being supplied than is needed to accomplish the purpose?
- Identification of wastewater sources that satisfy the water quality
requirements: Does the process require potable water or water of a
lesser standard? Can the same result be achieved with lower-quality
- Determination of how the water can be transported to the new use:
What modifications, if any, in the process or factory may be needed to
permit recovery and recirculation/recycling of the water currently sent
to waste? What additional treatment may be necessary to reuse this
water? What is the relative cost of the required modifications versus
the cost of the raw water over the life of the modifications?
Cooling Water Recirculation. Recycling water within a
recirculating cooling system can greatly reduce water consumption by using
the same water to perform several cooling operations. The water savings
are generally sufficiently substantial to result in an overall cost saving
to industry. Such savings can be even greater if the waste heat is used as
a heat source elsewhere in the manufacturing process. Three cooling water
conservation approaches are typically used to reduce water consumption:
evaporative cooling, ozonation, and heat exchange.
Washwater Recycling. Another common use of water by industry is
in the use of fresh or deionized water for removing contaminants from
products and equipment. Deionized water can generally be recycled after
its first use, although the reclamation treatment cost of recycling this
water may be as great as or greater than the cost of purchasing raw water
from a producer and treating it. The same processes required to produce
deionized water from municipal water can be used to produce deionized
water from used washwater. It is also possible to blend used washwater
with raw water, which also would result in an overall water saving. The
reuse of once-used deionized water for a different application within the
same factory should also be considered as a water conservation option. For
example, used washwater may be perfectly acceptable for washing vehicles
or the factory premises.
Conservation Practices for Water Utilities
Common practices used by water supply utilities include metering, leak
detection, repairing water lines, well capping, retrofitting programs,
pricing, wastewater reuse, and developing public education programs and
drought management plans.
Metering. The measurement of water use with a meter provides
essential data for charging fees based on actual customer use. Submetering
may also be used in multiple-unit operations such as apartment buildings,
condominia, and mobile homes to indicate water use by individual units
within a complex. In such cases, the entire complex of units might be
metered by the main supplier, while the individual units might be
monitored by either the owner or the water utility.
Leak Detection. It has been estimated that in many distribution
systems up to half of the water supplied by the water treatment plant is
lost to leakage; even more may be lost due to unauthorized abstraction.
One way to detect leaks and identify unauthorized connections is to use
listening equipment to survey the distribution system, identify leak
sounds, and pinpoint the locations of hidden underground leaks. Metering
can also be used to help detect leaks in a system. It is not unusual for
unaccounted water losses to drop by up to 36% after the introduction of
metering and leak detection programs.
Water Distribution Network Rehabilitation. A water utility can
improve the management and rehabilitation of its water distribution
network by a well-planned preventive maintenance program based on a sound
knowledge of the distribution network. This knowledge is often embodied in
a distribution system database that includes the following data:
- An inventory of the characteristics of the system components,
including information on their location, size, and age and the
construction material(s) used in the network.
- A record of regular inspections of the network, including an
evaluation of the condition of mains and degree of corrosion (if any).
- An inventory of soil conditions and types, including the chemical
characteristics of the soils.
- A record of the quality of the product water in the system.
- A record of any high or low pressure problems in the network.
- Operating records, such as of pump and valve operations, failures, or
leaks, and of maintenance and rehabilitation costs.
- A file of customer complaints.
Through the monitoring of such records, advance warning of possible
problems can be achieved. For example, excessive water use, or numerous
complaints or demands for spare parts, could be early warning signs of an
impending breakdown in the system. This system should also include a
regular program of preventive maintenance to minimize the possibility of
Well Capping. Well capping is the sealing of abandoned wells. In
the case of artesian wells, rusted casings can spill water in a constant
flow into drainage ditches, resulting in evaporative loss or runoff
losses. In non-artesian wells, uncapped abandoned wells form points of
entry for contaminants into the groundwater system.
Pricing. Placing an economic value on freshwater is the
principal means of achieving water conservation. Pricing provides a
financial incentive to conserve water. Rate structures may be variable
and/or graduated, with prices fixed on the basis of class of service
(residential versus industrial or agricultural, for example) and quantity
used (for example, the unit price for quantities below 400 l/day might be
significantly lower than for quantities which exceed that amount for a
single-family residence). Pricing has the advantage of minimizing the
costs of overt regulation, restrictions, and policing, while providing a
high degree of freedom of choice for individual water customers.
Retrofit Programs. Retrofitting involves the replacement of
existing plumbing fixtures with equipment that uses less water. The most
successful water-saving fixtures are those which operate in the same
manner as the fixtures being replaced; for example, toilet tank inserts,
faucet aerators, and low flow showerheads do not significantly change the
operation of the systems into or onto which they are placed, but they do
result in substantial water savings.
Water Audit Programs. Various types of audits can be undertaken.
For example, residential water audits may involve sending trained water
auditors into participating households, free of charge, to encourage water
conservation efforts, or providing them with record sheets to note down
their water use for external analysis. Water audits may also be undertaken
in commercial and industrial facilities, and may be combined with an
assessment of the potential for implementing water reuse and recycling
programs. A pre-implementation and post-implementation water audit in
factories adopting a reuse and recycling program would be a valuable means
of demonstrating and quantifying the water savings achieved.
Public Information and Education. Public information and
education programs can be undertaken to inform the public about the basics
of water use and conservation. Programs should be developed for specific
applications and may be targeted at specific user groups or age groups;
for example, at housekeepers, to encourage domestic water conservation, or
at schoolchildren, to provide information on the wider implications of
water conservation for future consumption, the environment and other uses.
Basic information should include the following:
- How water is delivered and how wastewater is disposed of.
- The costs of water and water supply services.
- Why water conservation is important.
The programs should provide guidance on how the user groups and
individuals can participate in conservation efforts. It should be noted
that there is a large body of public information and education materials
available, particularly in the United States, which may be obtained from a
variety of public agencies and NGOs at little or no cost and form the
basis of a local public awareness initiative.
Given the vagaries of the modern climate, in this period of climate
change, it seems that droughts may be more severe or extensive than is the
past. Many water conservation projects constructed to alleviate
drought-induced water shortages are themselves victims of drought. Whether
this may simply reflect changes in land use within a watershed that allow
less water to infiltrate into the groundwater system, or results from
population growth, which places greater demands on finite water resources,
is not clear and rarely proved. In any case, many communities are
currently experiencing a need to have drought management plans in place to
ensure the greatest possible availability of freshwater during periods of
below average rainfall.
Drought Management Planning. When rainfall is less than usual,
there is less water to maintain normal soil moisture levels, stream flows,
and reservoir levels and to recharge groundwater. Because of these varied
sources and the multiple demands placed upon freshwater resources, a
drought management plan should address a range of issues, from political
and technical matters to public involvement. Some of the components of a
typical drought management plan include the following:
- Identification of the available water resources.
- Tabulation of the multiple sectoral demands for freshwater.
- Description of possible shortfalls between supply and demand.
- Definition of the management measures required for various
eventualities, and an agreed allocation schedule in the event that water
rationing becomes necessary.
- Provision for user and public involvement in the drought management
- Promulgation of legislation, agreements, rules, and procedures to
ensure a timely and equitable response to the onset of drought
- Issuance of a drought management event plan and public information
materials to make it known.
Demand Management. Demand management is closely linked with
water conservation practices. Table 23 shows, in summary form, short-term
measures that can be used to reduce demand during periods of drought and
the expected levels of reduction. These measures may also be considered in
concert with other conservation measures noted above.
TABLE 23. Short-Term Measures to Reduce Water Demand and Their
|Creation of Public Awareness: 0-15%
||Voluntary Measures: 15-25%
||Mandatory Measures (after a drought determination):
|Explain water conservation practices.
public information program.
|Encourage voluntary restrictions on use.
water audits of water-intensive customers.
conservation-related rate structures.
|Adopt regulatory measures.
Develop water rationing
Restrict annexations and new connections.
Source: Ramesh Bhatia, et al., Water Conservation
and Reallocation: Best Practice Cases In Improving Economic Efficiency and
Environmental Quality, Washington, D.C., World Bank, 1995 (A World
Bank-ODI Joint Study).
Extent of Use
Water conservation measures have been practiced primarily in the United
States, although some Latin American countries have implemented specific
measures. For example, in Brazil, the pharmaceutical, food processing, and
dairy industries were required to pay effluent charges that contributed to
reductions in water use and wastewater production of between 42% and 62%.
In Mexico, increased water prices contributed to an increase in wastewater
reuse and the recycling of cooling water.
Chile is the only country in the region with a comprehensive water law
that has encouraged the development of water markets. The 1981 National
Water Law established secure, tradable, and transferable water use rights
for both surface and groundwaters. As a result, during periods of low
rainfall, farmers shift from the production of water-intensive crops, such
as corn and oilseeds, to higher-valued and less water-intensive crops,
such as fruits and vegetables.
Water recycling is used at a Container Corporation of America Mill in
Santa Clara, California (U.S.A), that manufactures paperboard from the
recycled fibers of newspapers, corrugated cardboard clippings, and ledger
paper. Historically, water has been used in this process for a variety of
purposes. In recent years, however, the mill has begun recycling water
used in its rinsing processes after clarification. The mill has also
installed a closed loop cooling tower, which has resulted in an additional
reduction in water use. These water conservation and use efficiency
practices have resulted in an estimated saving of approximately 2.8
million l/day, compared to its 1980 water use rates. These water
reductions amount to approximately 900 million l/year and saved the
company approximately $348 200 per year.
Operation and Maintenance
Given the variety of measures that might be undertaken to address
conservation needs within a specific geographic area, of which a number
are mechanical but many may be technological or informational, it is
difficult to identify specific operational requirements. However, some of
the more obvious requirements include the following: low-flow water
conservation devices require periodic maintenance and repair; leak
detection equipment and meters require periodic testing and repair;
drought and water conservation management strategies, such as pricing and
user charges, require monitoring and enforcement; and well-capping
programs require monitoring and trained personnel in order to be
effective. Maintenance requirements range from regular inspections of
mechanical devices to the review of legislation and conservation plans to
ensure their continued relevance.
Level of Involvement
The installation and maintenance of low-flow household and irrigation
devices may require governmental incentives in order to be accepted. In
some cases, employees of the water utility may install and maintain these
systems at little or no charge in order to effect the desired water
savings. Alternatively, government regulations may be necessary to provide
incentives for the implementation of industrial and agricultural water
conservation measures. Government action is required in the promulgation
of plumbing codes for new construction that will contribute to the
adoption of residential water conservation measures. Government or utility
involvement is also needed for leakage detection and the repair of
distribution systems. Metering, in addition to requiring technical
personnel and equipment to be effective, generally requires governmental
action to implement and government authority to establish or regulate
water tariffs. However, community participation and voluntary conservation
are a key element if this technology is to be effective.
The cost of water conservation measures varies with the cost of
any equipment required and with size and location. The cost of replacing a
conventional toilet with a low-flush toilet is about $250 per unit.
Low-flow showerheads, in contrast, cost about $5 each. Meter installation
costs range from about $200 for interior meters to $500 for external
meters. Leak control has been estimated at $40/million liters.
Costs associated with water conservation are often offset by cost
savings incurred after implementation. For example, the use of treated
wastewater for cooling at an industrial plant in California, U.S.A.,
resulted in a saving of $150 000 in 1989, while modifications to the sinks
in a computer manufacturing plant in Denver, Colorado, resulted in a
saving of $81 000, also in 1989. Close monitoring of water use in a
packing facility in Santa Clara, California, produced an annual saving of
$40 000. Elsewhere, the introduction of water markets in Chile in 1993
increased agricultural profits by $1.5 billion.
Effectiveness of the Technology
Water conservation measures are highly effective. However, this
technology may not be too popular with consumers, who may be asked to pay
a higher price for the water they consume, and can be, politically, very
unpalatable. Nevertheless, studies carried out in Seattle, Washington,
U.S.A., reported the following results from water conservation measures:
- According to detailed data on the performance of low-flow water
devices in 308 single-family residences, indoor per capita water use
dropped 6.4% after low-flow showerheads were installed.
- Easily installed aerators reduced water use at a faucet by as much as
60% while still maintaining a strong flow.
- A reduction in water pressure from 100 pounds per square inch (psi)
to 50 psi at an outlet resulted in a water flow reduction of about
one-third of the pre-existing use.
- Gray water reuse saved a volume of water equivalent to that needed to
supply more than 7 000 residences and businesses.
- Outdoor water use was reduced by restricting watering times to the
early morning or late evening; watering on cooler days, when possible,
also reduced outdoor water use. All these measures contributed to
reduced evaporative losses.
- As many as 600 l of water were saved when washing a car by turning
the hose off between rinses; additional benefits and water savings were
achieved by washing the car on the lawn, which both watered the lawn and
- Sweeping sidewalks and driveways, instead of hosing them down, saved
about 200 l of water every 5 minutes.
In other studies, such as an industrial water conservation project in
California, the conversion of an industrial process from a single-pass
freshwater cooling system to a closed-loop cooling system, with
circulating chilled water, has saved an estimated 20 000 to 28 000 l/day,
while cities in the hemisphere that have large, old, deteriorating
systems, leak detection programs have been especially efficient in
minimizing water losses.
Water conservation measures are suitable and recommended for all public
water supply systems, industries with high water use, agricultural
enterprises, and individual residential users in Latin American countries
and the Caribbean islands.
Residential water users:
- Low-flow devices result in water use savings of 20% to 40%.
- Pressure reductions save up to 33% of the water normally consumed.
- Conservation-based landscape irrigation practices also produce
significant water use savings.
- Water recycling greatly reduces water use.
- Deionized water can be recycled after its first use at little or no
additional cost, using the same equipment used to produce the deionized
water from the municipal supply.
- Proper scheduling of landscape irrigation optimizes water use by
minimizing evaporative losses.
- Water savings can be achieved through a combination of field
practices, monitoring, and system modifications.
- Wastewater reuse can produce significant water savings.
Water supply plants:
- Widespread leakages and illegal connections may account for 30% to
50% of the water loss in a distribution system.
- Metering allows for greater accountability and assists in the
development of a pricing structure that is fair and appropriate to the
individual water supply system and that provides incentives for
- Equipment repairs to water mains and valves, and capping unused
wells, can reduce unnecessary water loss, and prevent contamination of
both piped water and groundwater.
- Retrofit programs can produce long-term savings of water and money.
- The initial cost of low-flow devices can be high.
- Changes or modifications in water use habits are not readily
- Low-volume irrigation systems may be costly in some cases.
- The use of wastewater for irrigation may pose potential health risks.
- Modifications to manufacturing processes may be required in some
cases, incurring an initial capital charge to the user.
- Changes in the piping system within a plant can be costly.
Water supply plants:
- Implementation of leak detection, control and metering is
- Meters and leak detection devices require regular maintenance.
Most conservation measures have been applied in response to government
regulations or conservation programs. As was noted above, public
acceptance is limited despite the economic benefits.
Further Development of the Technology
Improved equipment for use in leak detection and metering is required.
Such devices need to be more robust and less costly. Meters should be able
to withstand tampering. It would also be desirable for low-flow plumbing
devices to be more cost effective so as to be more attractive to
consumers. Implementation of educational programming on the necessity and
the economic and environmental benefits of water conservation is also
likely to lower consumer resistance to water conservation technologies.
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