Water conservation for commercial, industrial and institutional water users

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Commercial, Industrial and Institutional (CII) facilities use high volumes of water and have many opportunities to conserve and save money. An American Water Works Association Research Foundation study suggests that water CII conservation measures could reduce consumption by 15 to 50 percent. 

Reducing water consumption reduces operational costs, especially for energy expenses associated with hot water or water treatments, such as reverse osmosis. It also limits costs from charges for water capacity, drought surcharges, and fines. The return on investment for most water efficiency projects is less than two or three years.

How to become more efficient

A water audit provides an accurate understanding of the best methods to conserve water for their unique facility. Some cities have programs to assist with water audits. Check with your local water suppliers and energy providers. 

The EPA WaterSense site has an extensive guide to help facilities reduce the water footprint and save money.

The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) (sponsored by the University of Minnesota) connects facilities with an engineering or environmental science intern that spends the summer evaluating the facility for potential water conservation, energy efficiency, and waste reduction projects. MnTap recruits, hires, and trains the interns who are mentored by engineers and scientists to provide quality efficiency assessments.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency has a library of resources for CII users.

Commercial and institutional water users

Commercial users include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, apartments, and office buildings. Institutional users include educational facilities, hospitals, and senior citizen housing. Because they often serve high volumes of people, many of the largest uses in commercial facilities are for domestic purposes such as sanitation. Other significant sources of consumption include:

  • Cooling and heating
  • Landscape irrigation

The following steps lead to water savings and lowered utility costs for businesses.

  • A replacement or retrofit of facility water fixtures (toilets and faucets) to more water-efficient versions  
  • Updating landscape irrigation to more efficient methods leads to significant water savings, especially to facilities with large outdoor landscapes. Consider improving irrigation controllers, nozzles, and moisture sensors.
  • Consistent and preventative maintenance on water infrastructure in the facility catches leaks or problems before they waste much water. Submeters help identify leaks in specific areas. 

Educational institutions have the opportunity to educate while conserving. The EPA WaterSense has sources for several kinds of commercial and institutional water use. To reduce water consumption, see:  

Industrial water users

Industrial users include facilities like food processing, mining, gravel extraction, bottling plants, and manufacturing. Because industrial water consumption has highly variable water use, performing a facility water audit is a good first step for improving water efficiency.

For more tips on how industrial water users can improve their water efficiency, see the following.
•   Using Water Efficiently: Ideas for Industry
•   WaterSense: Commercial buildings 
•   Water Management Plans and Best Practices at EPA
•   Lean & Water Toolkit
•   GEMI® Local Water Tool (LWT) or the LWT overview

Quick summaries


    Update old, inefficient plumbing fixtures and appliances. Consult with a licensed plumber when retrofitting older buildings to prevent clogged pipes. 

    Upgrade bathrooms with the most efficient shower heads, toilets, urinals and faucets. 

    Establish routine leak detection and reporting programs. 

    Switch to automatic faucets.

    Beware of automatic toilets. Studies show that they tend to flush excessively.

    Washing machines: dishes, sheets, and clothing

    Upgrade dishwashing machines and pre-rinse spraying valves to more efficient models. This can save as much as 7,000 gallons of water a year. 

    Upgrade clothes washing machines to newer and more efficient models.

    Encourage guests to reuse hotel linens and towels.

    Heating and cooling systems

    Upgrade older cooling and heating systems that have single-pass cooling systems or leaky steam and ventilation systems. Convert to high-efficiency heating or cooling systems powered by renewable-energy gas or propane.

    Landscape and sports field irrigation

    Provide regular maintenance to prevent irrigation leaks.

    Using more water efficient irrigation nozzle heads.

    Install smart irrigation controllers with soil moister sensors that water only when necessary and connect with weather forecasting.

    Water more deeply and less frequently.

    Inter-seed lawns with more drought-resistant turf grasses such as tall fescue or fine fescue.

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