Building Professionals Play Major Role in Staving Off a Water Crisis

By Jay Peters, Executive Director, International Code Council PMG Group
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It is said that water is quickly becoming the new oil—and rightfully so.  It is the stuff of life, literally. Our bodies are comprised of about 70 percent water. We need it for agriculture, cooking, bathing and most everything else that touches our lives every day.
Although this life-sustaining element covers most of our planet, only three percent is fresh water and most of that is ice. This means that less than 0.007 percent of all water on Earth is available to drink.

While water conservation initiatives have existed for decades around the world, there is no more important time than now to dramatically escalate these efforts. Although this has been essential in regions where adequate water supplies have always been lacking, as populations begin to grow and water shortages loom in more and more areas, every person on every part of our planet needs to change their water mindset. It almost certainly will not be abundant forever, even in areas where it has never been scarce, so we need to make major adjustments now to ensure there is an adequate supply everywhere for future generations.

While people waste water in most countries where it is relatively plentiful, Americans are the worst offenders. According to a Water Resources Group study, the average water usage per capita in China is 186,000 gallons. In the United States, that figure jumps to 656,000 gallons, with a global average of 365,000.

Water conservation efforts have two key components: personal attitudes and habits towards using and wasting as little water as possible, and building infrastructures and other related conservation solutions.

Plumbing professionals have been trying to help change their customers’ attitudes towards water conservation for years. Thankfully, the threat of global warming launched a huge green movement that is seemingly here to stay. So convincing customers that they need to implement water efficiency measures has become much easier.

That said, old habits are hard to break, but we are definitely making major inroads with regard to acceptance of simple efficiency measures. This change in mindset is resulting in a substantial increase in installations of low-flow toilets and showerheads, low-water landscaping, rainwater collectors and graywater systems, to name just a few water efficiency measures that are seeing dramatic growth.

While conserving water is important, not wasting it is just as critical. Fathom this: if all the leaky pipes and faucets in the United States were fixed, it could save well over a trillion gallons of water each year -- the equivalent of the water supply for Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami combined. The adage “every little bit helps” certainly resonates with that statistic. Leaky faucets are part of the equation, but the bigger problem lies with antiquated infrastructures. Combined, they are responsible for trillions of gallons of water waste each year.

Also, since water is still a relatively abundant natural resource in many parts of the world, it is also a very inexpensive one. Unfortunately, this means we often take it for granted. We assume that it will always be readily available, always cheap, always okay to waste. As referenced above, this mindset is beginning to change, but we have a long way to go before people who have never experienced water shortages start respecting it like those who already cherish this precious resource.

Most daunting is the fact that the population continues to explode, even in areas where water is an ever-growing concern. Drinking, sanitation and irrigation for farming, among other uses, are putting a tremendous strain on water supplies worldwide and will become an even greater problem as the population continues to grow -- unless we start making great strides in water conservation right away.

There is no better-equipped group than the construction industry at every level--government, implementers and manufacturers--to lead change by recommending and implementing solutions for greater and greater water conservation. The International Code Council’s (ICC) water conservation and efficiency provisions in the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) and other I-Code resources are excellent references for building professionals at every level.

Manufacturers are not only developing ever more efficient products, but many are also advocating and educating consumers about the importance of water conservation. American Standard’s “Responsible Bathroom” program is an excellent initiative that provides simple water conservation tips and other ideas consumers can easily implement. They have even taken their program on the road with a mobile walk-through showroom that is touring 300 locations across the United States. As exemplary corporate stewards, American Standard's goal is to conserve over two billion gallons of water annually because of its education efforts.

Changes in consumer attitudes towards water also require concentrated and collaborative efforts by government, educators ((teaching children now will change their behavior and their parents’),  advocacy groups and other influencers and implementers.

Everyone needs to minimize the amount of water used in his or her everyday life and become much more conscious of its use and conservation. Now that consumers have finally gotten on the green bandwagon, they are listening more intently to recommendations plumbers and other building professionals have been giving them for years. They are actually demanding increasingly more efficient fixtures and other water conservation, capture and reuse applications in their homes and businesses.

It’s a proud time to be part of the building industry, as we continue to develop codes, products and other applications that save greater amounts of our most precious resource. It is up to us to a great degree to continue to be strong proponents of water conservation well into the future. Let’s keep leading the charge as advocates, influencers and implementers in an effort to help stave off a potentially disastrous water crisis.

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