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The Untapped Water in Buildings: Onsite Recycling Saves Costs and Resources

Katy Lackey

Senior Program Manager, US Water Alliance

Hidden water – and savings – are waiting to be tapped in our buildings and homes. The idea is simple: capture water, treat it on location, and reuse it nearby or within a single building. The result? Water conservation, reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and saving money.

Instead of watching water go down the drain, we need to see it as a potential gold mine of recycling opportunities. You may be familiar with rain barrels that collect roof runoff to be used for watering the lawn or plants. But water from our sinks, dishwashers, laundry, toilets, and more can all be treated and reused too.

Untapped potential

Up to 95 percent of water used in commercial buildings and 50 percent in residential buildings is not for drinking water purposes, but right now we are treating all water up to drinking water standards. If we recycle water for non-drinking purposes within buildings, we can reduce overall urban energy consumption and costs. Flushing toilets, irrigation, cooling towers, and more could all be safely achieved with onsite water reuse and recycling. A building that recycles water also improves efficiency and resilience during a drought or other natural disasters.

One example is San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center. The building is partnering with the local water utility and public works department to install a treatment system and recycle up to 15 million gallons per year from the building’s foundation, condensate, and rainwater. The treated water then gets reused to flush toilets, water the Yerba Buena gardens, and clean streets downtown.

The truth is all water on earth is already “recycled” and “reused” water. Nature purifies it, as do chemical processes. Recycling water in a building just speeds up that process and can be done safely and effectively with new technology and innovations. As we all explore ways to conserve more, making the most out of the water we’re already using will be key to our sustainability goals.

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