Water Recycling

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By M.B.- Arlington Heights - Ill.

We are discussing water recycling programs at our facility. What are some things I should know before embarking on this adventure?

M.B., Arlington Heights, Ill.

Historically, the United States has been considered water-rich, and most Americans have taken water – an abundance of inexpensive water – for granted. However, the country has had its droughts, to be sure. Texas is currently experiencing one of the most serious droughts, of the past 20 years. And the 1930s Dust Bowl, in which large portions of the Midwest essentially turned to dust due to lack of water, was one of the most severe and long-lasting droughts to ever impact any part of the world in modern history.

Unfortunately, this country’s era of inexhaustible and inexpensive water appears to be coming to an end…and far more quickly than many Americans realize. According to author Klaus Reichardt, who is also CEO and founder of Waterless Co., LLC, in less than a decade, California will face a shortfall of fresh, potable water equal to the amount now used by all of its key cities and towns.

“In some areas of the country, we are also depleting underground water, especially water used for irrigation and landscaping, faster than [it is] being replenished,” he says. “And Lake Meade, which supplies most [of] southern Nevada with the bulk of its water, is expected to be dry in the next four to 10 years.”


It is for these reasons that healthcare administrators and managers of all types of facilities throughout the United States must become more aware of how they use water and how much they are consuming and start looking for areas in which they can conserve water and use it more efficiently. To that end, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of some of the basic terms used to discuss water, water conservation and water recycling.

Words Have Meaning

See if you know the answers to these questions:

  • Is an area that is “abnormally dry” the same as one that is experiencing “moderate drought conditions”?

  • Is a “severe” drought worse than an “extreme” drought?

  • Is an “exceptional” drought worse than a “severe” or “extreme” drought? (Answers appear at the end of the article.)

Words matter. In 1833, military strategist and author Karl von Clausewitz stated that the first task in any endeavor “is to clarify terms and concepts…only after agreement has been reached regarding terms and concepts can we hope to consider [an] issue and expect others to [understand and] share the same viewpoint.”

What the author was saying, simply, is that we must establish terms so that we are all on the same page when we discuss any issue, including water. Accordingly, here are some key terms facility managers should be aware of when discussing water in general:

  • Commercial water use: water used for commercial facilities such as healthcare locations, stores and office buildings

  • Depletion: the loss of water from water reservoirs at a rate faster than it is being recharged

  • Domestic water use: water used for household purposes

  • Drought: an extended period with below-average precipitation

  • Effluent water: untreated water

  • Freshwater: low-salt water, containing less than 0.5 parts per thousand dissolved salts

  • Groundwater: water below land surface

  • Per capita water use: amount of water used per person in a standard amount of time

  • Potable water: water that is suitable for drinking

  • Reclaimed water: water that is treated and can be used for irrigation

  • Surface water: water on the surface, such as in lakes and streams

  • Treated water: water that has been filtered and/or disinfected

  • Wastewater: water that has been used in homes or commercial facilities that is not for reuse unless it has been treated

There are probably another 50 or more terms we could mention, but these are some of the most commonly used when discussing water issues. And most of these have been in use for decades. Newer water terminology has been developed to address what is now known as water “reuse” and “recycling.” Some of these terms are less than a decade old, reflecting the emergence of water-conservation concerns in recent years.

Among these terms are the following:

  • Gray water: reusable wastewater derived from residential, commercial and industrial facilities, typically used for landscape irrigation, not human consumption; may meet up to 50 percent of a facility’s water needs

  • Planned water recycling: projects developed with the goal of beneficially reusing a recycled water supply (e.g., gathering rainwater for later irrigation or using equipment, such as carpet extractors, engineered to recycle water during operation)

  • Unplanned water recycling: treated wastewater discharge from rivers and streams that originates in upstream communities

  • Water recycling: the reuse of treated waste-water for safe and beneficial purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, toilet flushing, and industrial applications

  • Water reuse, reusable, reclamation: terms often synonymous with water recycling, referring to the use of treated and in some cases untreated water that can be reused safely for other purposes

Water Management

Once aware of these terms, managers have a better understanding of water issues and can begin establishing a water-management program. Typically this begins by conducting a water audit. Essentially, this means identifying where water is used in a facility and along with that where it can be reused or recycled with the goal of conserving water and using it more efficiently.

When a water audit is conducted, managers first find areas of their facilities where water is being wasted, often as a result of leaking fixtures, leaking toilets or urinals, or faulty landscape irrigation pipes. Next, the audit identifies where water must be used but might be used more efficiently. Typically, this is in the facility’s restrooms.

Toilets and urinals more than a decade old can be replaced with fixtures using far less water than is currently required by government regulation. Some newer technologies, such as compressed-air toilets that use forced air to flush waste down toilets and no-water urinal systems, are proving to be exceptional at using water more efficiently.

Digging deeper, the audit can look into other areas of facility management. For instance, even when it comes to cleaning, water can be saved. Low-moisture floor machines, especially cylindrical brush floor machines, use as much as 30 percent less water than machines manufactured a decade ago. And instead of using carpet extractors that can use more than a gallon of water per minute, facility managers can select recycling extractors that use a fraction of the water while still maintaining high performance standards.

Although there are some dire predictions when it comes to water shortages around the world, new technologies – for everything from irrigating golf courses to cleaning using water far more sparingly and efficiently than systems did years ago – offer a great deal of hope.

Answers: The National Drought Mitigation Center, Lincoln, Neb., has established intensity levels to describe water shortages and droughts. In order of strength from weakest to most severe, these are the five intensity levels:

  • Abnormally dry

  • Moderate drought conditions

  • Severe drought conditions

  • Extreme drought conditions

  • Exceptional drought conditions



March/April 2012