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Best Practices

In This Section

EPA facilities draw on the following best practices to design, implement, and evaluate their water conservation efforts.

Sustainable Facilities Practices Branch’s Top Ten Water Management Tools

EPA’s Sustainable Facilities Practices Branch (SFPB) developed this list of techniques that have proven helpful in managing water use at facilities throughout the Agency.

Best Management Practices

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are designed to consider all of the various uses of water and maximize conservation. BMPs can be categorized to either maximize water efficiency or minimize water use. Following are 14 BMPs as recommended by the Federal Energy Management Program, and common ways in which EPA facilities accomplish them:

photo of water management plan coversBMP #1 - Water Management Planning

A successful water management program starts with development of a comprehensive water management plan (WMP). This plan should provide clear information about how a facility uses its water, from the time it is piped into the facility through its ultimate disposal. Knowing how water is used and what it costs enables facilities to make the most appropriate water management decisions.

A full list of EPA facilities that have developed WMPs, along with the plans themselves as downloadable PDF files, is available on the water management plans page.

BMP #2 - Information and Education Programs

Education is important for water conservation programs to work. New operation procedures, retrofits, and replacements are most effective when employees, contractors, and the public know what the new technology or methods are and how to use them properly. 

EPA facilities commonly implement BMP #2 by prominently displaying EPA’s “Every Drop Counts” water conservation poster or the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) “Lead By Example” poster series.  In addition, facility employees are educated on water and other resource conservation topics.  Some facilities, like the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, share their laboratory water and energy conservation achievements at conferences and other public forums.  Other facilities, such as the New England Regional Laboratory in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, regularly open the facility to public tours and produce bulletins and posters highlighting water and energy conservation achievements. 

BMP #3 - Distribution System Audits, Leak Detection and Repair

A distribution system audit, leak detection, and repair program can help facilities reduce water losses and make better use of limited water resources. Some older facilities may lose 10 or more percent of their total water production and purchases to system leaks or poor metering practices. Regular surveys of distribution systems should always be conducted prior to obtaining additional water supplies.

EPA facilities commonly implement BMP #3 by training facility staff to report leaks and malfunctioning water-using equipment to the facilities manager. Reported maintenance problems are assigned a work order, which is completed promptly by the facility operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel. Work orders are tracked through completion and closeout. In addition, at many facilities O&M personnel perform daily visual inspections of the mechanical rooms and corridors.

Most EPA facilities have conducted screening level system reviews to determine what percent of water consumption is accounted for by known water uses.  This aids in determining whether there are leaks and other water efficiency issues that need to be addressed.

BMP #4 - Water-Efficient Landscaping and BMP #5 - Water-Efficient Irrigation

Photo of native landscaping at EPA's RTP campusWater-efficient landscapes using native and other "climate appropriate" landscape materials can reduce irrigation water use by more than 50 percent, stand up better to drought, reduce drought loss or damage, and require less time to maintain, lowering maintenance costs. Reduced turf and other irrigated areas can also significantly reduce time and money spent mowing, fertilizing, removing green wastes, and maintaining landscapes.

When irrigation is used, it must be used in an efficient manner.  Some experts estimate that more than 50 percent of commercial and residential irrigation water is wasted due to evaporation, wind, poor management, and/or improper system design, installation, or maintenance. For optimal irrigation system performance, water efficiency should be considered from the inception of the system's design, through the installation, followed by consistent management and maintenance.

Because EPA facilities are located in different climates and settings across the country, they differ widely in their implementations of BMP #4 and BMP #5.  Some facilities have maintained or returned facility land to natural conditions that do not require supplemental water use.  For example, EPA facilities at the ORD Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon and the Science and Ecosystem Support Division Laboratory in Athens, Georgia plan to convert their landscaping to xeriscaping and discontinue irrigation water use.

Other facilities that do irrigate implement BMP #4 and BMP #5 by reviewing the irrigation needs of the facility’s vegetation and supplying only the quantity of water necessary for plant health. These irrigation systems can also be equipped with rain or moisture sensors or other devices to prevent irrigation when sufficient moisture is available from natural precipitation. For example, EPA facilities in Ada, Oklahoma, Houston, Texas; and Golden, Colorado have conducted audits by WaterSense certified professionals, and plan to optimize their irrigation based on the recommendations from the audits.

BMP #6 - Toilets and Urinals

Since toilets and urinals account for nearly one-third of building water consumption, the potential for savings in this area is significant. At old facilities, toilets and urinals are likely consuming much more water than necessary. Current federal law requires that commercial toilets manufactured and sold after January 1, 1997, must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) and urinals must use no more than 1.0 gpf.

EPA facilities typically implement BMP #6 by ensuring that all newly installed toilets and urinals meet current water-efficient design standards.  For older, non-efficient toilets and urinals, facilities investigate whether it is cost-effective and practical to retrofit these toilets and urinals with water-efficient designs. For example, toilets and urinals were retrofitted with high-efficiency models at the ORD Laboratory in Athens, GA, and the Atlantic Ecology Division Laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and dual-flush toilets were installed at the Environmental Science Center in Fort Meade, Maryland.

BMP #7 - Faucets and Showerheads

Photo of automatic faucet at EPA's Potomac Yard facilityTremendous amounts of water and energy are wasted using inefficient faucets and showerheads. Current standards require that faucets use no more than 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm). In addition, metering faucets—those that, when activated, dispense water of a predetermined volume or for a predetermined period of time—must discharge no more than 0.25 gallons per cycle (gpc). Showerheads must use no more than 2.5 gpm.

EPA facilities typically implement BMP #7 by ensuring that all newly installed faucets and showerheads meet current water-efficient design standards.  For older, more-inefficient faucets and showerheads, facilities investigate whether it is cost effective and practical to retrofit these faucets and showerheads with water-efficient designs. In addition, facilities maintain building water pressure within the range needed for optimum system performance. Learn more about EPA’s Lavatory Faucet Retrofit Project.

BMP #8 - Boiler/Steam Systems

Boilers and steam generators are commonly used in large heating systems, institutional kitchens, or in facilities where large amounts of process steam are used. This equipment consumes varying amounts of water depending on the size of the system, the amount of steam used, and the amount of condensate returned.

To implement BMP #8, EPA facilities will typically monitor boiler water systems to prevent system corrosion and optimize steam condensate reuse. For example, EPA’s RTP Main facility plans to adjust tempering flow to boiler blowdown drains in FY 2009. Boiler water quality parameters such as chlorides, hardness, pH, conductivity, alkalinity, and biological growth can be monitored and controlled through periodic testing and chemical treatment.

BMP #9 - Single-Pass Cooling Systems

Reducing single-pass or once-through cooling provides an opportunity for significant water savings. In these systems, water is circulated once through a piece of equipment and then is disposed down the drain. The types of equipment that typically use single-pass cooling include: CAT scanners, degreasers, hydraulic equipment, condensers, air compressors, welding machines, vacuum pumps, ice machines, x-ray equipment, and air conditioners. To remove the same heat load, single-pass systems use 40 times more water than a cooling tower operated at 5 cycles of concentration.

To implement BMP #9, EPA facilities typically modify single-pass cooling equipment to recirculate water or, whenever possible and cost-effective, eliminate it altogether. For instance, single-pass cooling was eliminated at two laboratories at EPA’s RTP Main campus.  Learn more about the water conservation projects at RTP Main.

BMP #10 - Cooling Tower Systems

Cooling towers regulate temperature by dissipating heat from recirculating water used to cool chillers, air-conditioning equipment, or other process equipment. Heat is rejected from the tower primarily through evaporation. Therefore, by design, cooling towers consume significant amounts of water.  There are, however, ways to reduce cooling tower water use.  The most significant one is to carefully monitor and control the quantity of blowdown water, which is water released from the cooling tower to maintain proper water mineral concentration.

To implement BMP #10, EPA facilities commonly perform regular quality, performance, and water chemistry reviews of cooling tower operation. Chemical treatment is provided to control scale and corrosion. Cooling towers are typically equipped with a conductivity monitor and automatic blowdown control system set to result in the most efficient use of water.  Cooling towers may be equipped with a water flow meter so trends in cooling tower water can be monitored by facilities personnel.

EPA’s facilities at Gulf Breeze, Florida, and the National Health & Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the RTP Campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, optimized cooling tower operations.  In addition, as a water conservation measure, the cooling tower at RTP High Bay was taken offline and other cooling options were explored.

BMP #11 - Commercial Kitchen Equipment

Some EPA facilities have commercial kitchen equipment such as dishwashing appliances or pre-rinse spray valves installed. Commercial kitchen equipment water efficiency is especially important because the high volume applications typically require the use of mostly hot water. Therefore, making sure commercial kitchen equipment uses water efficiently affords both significant water and energy savings.

To implement BMP #11, EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina is retrofitting pre-rinse spray valves with high-efficiency models, and the Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center (AWBERC) in Cincinnati, Ohio removed its water-cooled ice machines.

BMP #12 - Laboratory/Medical Equipment

Laboratory equipment can use significant amounts of water, but it also offers the opportunity for substantial water savings by making a few small changes to how and when the water is used by the equipment. EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) recognize the importance of incorporating water efficiency products and practices in laboratory settings. These Agencies have teamed up under a program called Laboratories for the 21st Century (Labs21®) to provide architects, engineers, and facility managers with information about technologies and practices that can be used to create and maintain sustainable, high-efficiency laboratories. Focusing on reducing water use from equipment such as water treatment systems, sterilization/disinfection systems, photographic and x-ray equipment, vacuum systems, glassware washers, and vivarium equipment such as automatic animal watering systems and cage-and-rack washers can go a long way toward helping federal facilities achieve water efficiency goals.

To implement BMP #12, EPA facilities must examine their laboratory equipment and identify potential water savings opportunities.  For instance, staff at the Region 10 Laboratory in Manchester, Washington, identified the laboratory’s autoclaves as a potential water savings opportunity.  Autoclaves use cooling water to temper steam condensate discharged from the autoclave to the laboratory drain. The autoclaves at the Region 10 Laboratory are designed to discharge cooling water whenever the autoclave is in the “on” position. By changing laboratory practice with respect to maintaining the autoclaves in “standby” rather than “on” mode, the laboratory reduced autoclave cooling water use by 75 percent, from 80,000 to 20,000 gallons per year.

In addition, in consultation with EPA safety and health staff, the Region 10 laboratory reduced the eye wash flush frequency from once per week to once per month. This change is estimated to have reduced eye wash flush water consumption from 22,000 gallons to 5,000 gallons per year.

At EPA’s RTP Main facility, the operating schedule and operating sequence of the animal cage washers was optimized to minimize the consumption of water by adjusting the washing schedule from five days a week to four days a week.  The optimization project results in water savings of approximately 1.6 million gallons of water per year.

BMP #13 - Other Water Use

Many other high water-using processes are found at federal facilities including vehicle wash systems, maintenance facilities, cleaning/laundry services, single-pass air conditioners, water softening systems, and others.

During facility water audits, these high-water using processes are inventoried and operational characteristics are analyzed to determine if any efficiency improvements can be made on a facility-by-facility basis. For example, at the Child Care facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, clothes washers are used to clean laundry at the facility. By 2015, EPA intends to replace the current clothes washers with high-efficiency models.

BMP #14 - Alternate Water Sources

Many facilities may have water uses that can be met with non-potable water from alternate water sources. Alternative water sources potentially include municipally supplied reclaimed water and treated grey water from on-site sanitary sources.  Common uses for these sources include landscape irrigation, ornamental pond and fountain filling, cooling tower make-up, and toilet and urinal flushing.

EPA facilities implement BMP #14 by examining whether any of their water needs can be met through the use of alternate water sources.  For instance, the Region 6 Laboratory in Houston, Texas, and the Science and Ecosystem Support Division Laboratory and the ORD Laboratory, both in Athens, Georgia, recover air handler condensate for reuse as cooling tower make-up water.

Another example can be found at the Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is equipped with three animal cage washers that operate in batch mode. Each washer has a wash cycle, rinse cycle, and final rinse cycle. The washers are set up to reuse final rinse water as wash water for the next batch, saving approximately 80,000 gallons of water annually. 

At the Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas, a unique rooftop rainwater recovery system captures and filters rainwater for use in wastewater fixtures, reducing the need for treated domestic water by approximately 50 percent and reducing site runoff by 40 percent. An estimated 735,000 gallons of water are saved by this unique system. The excess water collected by the rainwater recovery system is used to provide make-up water for the building's cooling towers.

Facility BMP Progress

To see a list of which facilities implement each of these best management practices, view the EPA facility water management progress matrix.


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