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Water Counts

15 April 2007

A Malayan proverb says, "Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm". Similarly, just because it has rained hard over the winter don't think all the problems experienced with water last year have vanished, as Mark Carter explains

LIKE ENERGY, WATER IS BECOMING AN INCREASINGLY SCARCE and valuable commodity. However, unlike energy, water's rising cost and reduced availability has not been a priority for most FMs. Why is this? We have already seen increasing insurance claims and costs as a result of water related damage (both flood and drought) to property and business operations. Also, reduced, intermittent or even no water supply, will severely disrupt your normal business operations and compromise health and safety. Air conditioning, cooling towers, washrooms, catering and gardens, all would be affected. In addition the price of water is continuing to rise steeply, taking a bigger slice from your budget.

All ten of the driest summers on record occurred in the last 30 years, and last year was the third driest on record - drier even than the drought year of 1976. Things are unlikely to get better of their own accord. Issues with water will continue into the future, partly as a result of past emissions, partly because we use more water. Water demand is predicted to rise by approximately 10 to 12 per cent over the next 25 years. Twenty years ago the average person used 140 litres a day. This has risen to 160 litres today and in 20 years' time it is forecast that every individual will use a further 20 litres every day.

The impact of climate change is predicted to be more acute in London and the Southeast. The region has about 10 per cent of the land area of England and Wales, but nearly a quarter of the population. London already has less rain per head of population than Istanbul or Madrid, and demand for water is predicted to rise substantially. Apart from climate change and growing individual demands water usage will escalate due to increased population. London's population is projected to increase by 800,000 by 2016 - the equivalent of Leeds moving to London - and there are plans to build 580,000 new homes in the region by 2026.

There are some tough challenges in the coming years, and while the south-east is facing an immediate problem with its water supply, in a few years the whole country is likely to be affected. Water companies are planning six new or extended reservoirs in the southeast. But these alone are unlikely to meet the anticipated demand. Plans for a desalination plant, which would produce supplies for 900,000 people in London in times of drought, have been rejected Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

What about water companies fixing the millions of gallons lost each day by leaks from their pipes while telling customers to conserve supplies? According to Ofwat, last year more than 3.5 billion litres of water were lost daily through broken and leaking pipes in England and Wales. A quarter of all water is leaking away before reaching the taps. Not quite the whole story. Water from leaking pipes will drain downwards to the water table from which is then extracted again. In effect it is re-cycled and does not greatly affect the overall supply of water.

The September 2006 Environmental Agency report concluded that large scale water transfers from wetter parts of the country would be more expensive and environmentally damaging than measures already in water companies' resource plans. The cost of building expensive new capacity, and the infrastructure needed for the increasing urbanisation, means the cost is ultimately borne by the consumer. Britain already pays one of the highest prices for water in the world. But there have been suggestions that treating water as a commodity and increasing the price will reduce the growing demand. In effect, rationing by price - a position that is both politically and economically unappealing.

The end result is that we cannot just build, transport or buy our way out of the water problem. Demand for water must be met through alternative and more efficient use by people and businesses. There are four very good reasons why facilities managers should review their water systems sooner rather later. They can be easily summedup in four's - Cost, Compliance, Continuity, and Care.
....Cost: UK businesses saw the cost of water grow by nearly 8 per cent during the past 18 months. In total, prices for water have increased by nearly one third over the last five years. Britain now has the third most expensive water in the world. Unlike energy, you cannot just change provider to get a better deal on your water supply. Therefore the only effective way to reduce water costs is to reduce usage - and waste. With forecasters predicting a further 4 per cent increase in prices over the coming 12 months, reducing water consumption has never made such financial sense.
....Compliance: Reduced or intermittent water supply could also have implication for health and safety compliance. It could for instance result in flushing regimes being ignored, leading to an increased risk of Legionnaires' disease.
....Continuity: Water is often an aspect overlooked in an organisation's business continuity plan. Intermittent or even terminated water supply ¨C possibly triggered by non essential usage (NEU) or drought orders - could result in problems with the operation of critical water facilities. Other important issues arise from water rationing such as fire protection, drinking water contamination and the inability to carry out food preparation or cleaning operations. These could even result in short term closure. Conversely, flooding can result in access difficulties, contamination, and information loss. By developing plans that will allow buildings to remain functional regardless of climatic condition, you will also assist your company to mitigate risks and maintain business continuity.
....Care: Better water management is good for the environment, good for your image and good for your commercial responsibilities. Good water management plays a key role in providing a sustainable environment and will assist with Corporate Social Responsibility reporting. Reputation and the importance of sustainability are clearly linked. The inclusion of a 'sustainability' aspect to the company annual report can be the ethical differentiator that provides a commercial advantage.

As with any project, before launching into a round of feverish, scattergun activity you should establish exactly just what is your current status. Conducting a Water Management Review (WMR) that looks at everything from policies to records will ensure you make informed decisions based on accurate information. With a good water management system in place, water usage can be reduced significantly giving substantial cash savings - every year.

The WMR must include goals, a water usage audit and a review of refurbishment and development plans. Risks need to be assessed and profiled,(e.g. continuity, legionella, drinking water and fire protection). This should also take into account all identifiable business, safety, health and environmental risks associated with the normal operation of your business. It should also identify what is working well and what can be improved. In the process, if any business critical facilities are identified as at risk, a clear action plan to maintain their operation is needed. The process should also ensure that legal compliance is maintained.

Many of these suggestions are simple, lowcost actions that afford immediate savings. Even larger schemes like rainwater harvesting can be cost-effective enough to provide short payback periods, especially for anyone with high volume usage, and/or grounds with the potentially high cost of re-planting.

A Water Management Review will provide your company with a strategic breakdown of your existing water position, and will give you the information needed to help improve and enhance it. By this method many organisations can save water, reduce costs, sustain safe and healthy business continuity, and be environmentally friendly.

What's in a Water Management Review?
....What are you currently using?
....Where is excessive water is being used?
....Are there any leaks, can washers be replaced or overflows fixed?
....Is the water flow adjusted to maximum and can flow be reduced?
....Are 'Save Water' stickers located appropriately?
....Do you have an educational programme to modify people's behaviour?
....What types of taps are fitted? Can they be cost effectively changed to a selfclosing variety that cuts off the supply after a set time?
....Check and adjust the flushing on urinals ¨C can they be turned off at the weekends or changed for more efficient 'on-demand' activation
....Investigate using a displacement device to reduce toilet cistern volume
....Is the dishwasher/ washing machine in your canteen always fully loaded when used?
....If you have grounds ¨C can the supply come from a separate meter so you do not have to pay the normal sewerage charges?
....Investigate local abstraction?
....Consider drinking water sources such as vending machines, bottled water dispensers and water fountains
....Look at the possibility of rainwater harvesting
....Recycling can provide direct savings and avoid other potential losses
....Don't forget to monitor progress against action plans

....Mark Carter is Marketing Manager at ems, a leading UK expert for independent environmental workplace management consultancy.

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