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 15–50 percent.

This 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. Most water efficiency projects payback in less than two or three years, even without funding assistance from water suppliers or energy providers.

How to become more efficient

A water audit provides an accurate understanding of the best methods to conserve water for their unique facility. Many 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. 

Both have similar water consumption issues, with the biggest waste coming from restrooms, washing machines, cooling and heating systems, and lawn irrigation. Most of their savings is gained in upgrading to more efficient equipment and systems, detecting leaks, and smart irrigation and landscaping practices. Some are listed below at the bottom of the page under "Quick summaries."

Educational institutions also have the opportunity to educate while conserving. Hospitals and senior citizen housing facilities should also mitigate potential hazards of legionella outbreaks. 

The EPA WaterSense website has sources for several kinds of commercial and institutional water use. Each directs you to which sections of the above "WaterSense at Work" guide to concentrate on. 

Industrial water users

Industrial users include facilities like mining, gravel extraction, bottling plants, and pulp mills. Performing a facility water audit will reveal how and where to apply site-specific engineering modifications to water-using equipment, whether the water is from local public utilities or is self-supplied from surface or groundwater sources. 

See the EPA guide on water efficiency programs.

Quick summaries


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

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

    Establish routine leak detection and reporting programs. 

    Upgrade to more water efficient fixtures within restrooms such as water efficient toilets, urinals and faucets.

    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 to more efficient models with pre-rinse valves. This can save as much as 7,000 gallons of water a year and between $115 and $240 a year. 

    Upgrade clothes/linen washing machines to newer and more efficient models.

    Encourage guests to reuse hotel linens and towels.

    Heating and cooling systems

    Updgrade from older cooling and heating systems that have single-pass cooling systems or leaky steam and ventilation systems. 


    Using more water efficient irrigation nozzle heads.

    Provide regular maintenance to prevent irrigation leaks.

    Install smart irrigation controllers for irrigation of large areas, such those with as rain or soil sensors that water only when necessary.

    Water more deeply and less frequently.

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