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Water Conservation

Between 1950 and 2000, the United States population nearly doubled while the demand for water more than tripled. Water is not an inexhaustible resource, and it is essential that we take responsibility for our water usage and set goals to reduce the amount of water we consume in our everyday lives. A single person uses approximately 100 gallons of water a day and our resources are diminishing rapidly. While it may appear that there is an abundance of water on earth, the fact of the matter is that less than one percent of the world’s water supplies are available for human use. Conservation is key.

Need help with your water conservation plan? See the water conservation items below for definitions, benefits, examples and resources for finding products and vendors.

DISCLAIMER: References and links to commercial products or services do not constitute or imply an endorsement by DEQ or the Commonwealth of Virginia of such products or services, or their providers. DEQ and the Commonwealth of Virginia are not responsible for the content of external sites.

Tracking water use and setting reduction goals

Definition: Keep monthly records of water and/ or wastewater use either from utility bills or by reading water/ wastewater meters.
Benefit: Some of the benefits of successful water conservation include the direct cost savings one will see on water bills, cost savings through reduced energy requirements for heating, pumping, and treating water, lower sewer utility costs through reduced wastewater production, and increased productivity and process efficiency through optimized production cycles. 
Resources: Track your water use and benchmark your performance online with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (free)

Preventative maintenance

Definition: Preventative maintenance involves the periodic inspection of faucets, showerheads, toilets, sprinkler systems, etc. 
Benefit: Preventative maintenance can uncover cracks, leaks, or other conditions that could result in waste. For example, a leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year (US EPA).

Water flow meters and monitoring

Definition: Flow meters can be used to measure current water use and monitor changes in consumption. 
Products and vendors:

High efficiency dishwashers

Definition: Under countertop, single tank door type, single tank conveyor, and multiple tank conveyor machines are all eligible for the ENERGY STAR certification. Qualified models must meet maximum gallons per rack requirements during the final rinse and use less energy while idling between wash cycles.

Benefits: Commercial dishwashers that have earned the ENERGY STAR certification are on average 25 percent more energy efficient and 25 percent more water efficient than standard models. Each ENERGY STAR qualified commercial dishwasher can save businesses about 90 MBtus, and an average of $850/year on their energy bills. In addition, businesses can expect to save more than $200/year and 52,000 gallons/year due to reduced water usage.

Products and vendors: list of Manufacturers of ENERGY STAR Commercial Dishwashers 

Low flow bathroom faucets and showerheads

Definition: Federal regulations mandate that new showerhead flow rates can't exceed more than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at a water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch (psi). New lavatory faucet flow rates can't exceed 2.5 gpm at 80 psi or 2.2 gpm at 60 psi. High-efficiency lavatory faucets exceed the federal standard by 32%, reducing maximum flow to 1.5 gpm.   

Benefits: Low-flow fixtures can achieve water savings of 25%–60%. 

Products and vendors: list of WaterSense labeled low flow bathroom faucets and showerheads

Low flow/high efficiency toilets

Definition: Since 1992, all new toilets installed in the US must be low-flow, using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less. High-efficiency toilets (HET) use about 20% less than the current federal standard. To ensure efficiency claims along with satisfactory performance, the U.S. EPA awards the WaterSense label to high-efficiency toilets that complete a third-party certification process, so look for the WaterSense label when purchasing new or replacement toilets.

Benefits: If the toilets in your facility are from 1992 or earlier, you probably have an inefficient model that uses between 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush. New and improved high-efficiency models use less than 1.3 gallons per flush—that's at least 60% less than their older, less efficient counterparts (US EPA).

Products and vendors: list of WaterSense Labeled High-Efficiency Toilets

Composting toilets

Definition: A composting (or biological) toilet system contains and processes excrement, toilet paper, carbon additive, and sometimes, food waste. A composting toilet system relies on unsaturated conditions where aerobic bacteria break down waste. This process is similar to a yard waste composter.
Benefits: The composting toilet is a nonwater-carriage system that is well suited for (but is not limited to) remote areas where water is scarce, or areas with low percolation, high water tables, shallow soil, or rough terrain. Because composting toilets eliminate the need for flush toilets, this significantly reduces a facility's water use and allows for the recycling of valuable plant nutrients. Composting toilet systems have low power consumption. 

For More information: Brock Center - Making of a Green Building.

Landscape Management

Definition: Landscape management involves basic principles involving protection of natural existing areas to the greatest extent possible (wetlands, woodlands, stream corridors, natural buffers). Management activities include planting native plants (and not invasive species), practicing soil and water conservation, reducing use of pesticides, insecticides and turf, using compost and mulch on the site and many more.

Benefit: Traditional landscaping often places a heavy toll on environmental and human health and require extensive use of mechanical equipment, unnecessary consumption of our limited natural resources (water and fossil fuels), frequent application of fertilizers and pesticides, and the generation of significant quantities of solid waste. As a result, our surface and ground waters are being polluted and destructive flooding is more commonplace. Furthermore, the biodiversity of our ecosystems is suffering from the introduction of invasive exotic landscape plants.

For more information: US EPA's Beneficial Landscaping website

Native species

Definition: A native species is a species that has evolved in a particular region for thousands of years. They are well adapted to the local conditions associated with the region and thrive with the least care. Native plants in particular have evolved in unison with other plants and can result in the provision of a habitat for a wide-variety of native wildlife species. In choosing landscaping options, they are much more favorable for use than non-native plants which are those that have been introduced into a population and can convert landscapes into a monoculture. Invasives are often known to push out native species and exhaust the resources of an area. 

Benefits: Native species have proven to be extremely beneficial to the environment, and oftentimes require less maintenance. As these species are established, they can reduce the need for fertilizing chemicals, pesticides, water, and lawn management equipment. Additionally, they can help reduce air pollution and provide food and shelter for native wildlife. By reducing pesticide and chemical use, you are making an investment in avoiding the detriments to human health associated with chemical use. Native plants promote biologically diverse surroundings and allow for the environmentally sound production of landscapes filled with Virginia’s beautiful native resources.

Examples and vendors:

The Garden Club of Virginia (A Virginia Green Partner) encourages the conservation of Virginia’s natural resources and the use of native Virginian species in gardening and landscaping efforts.

The Virginia Native Plant Society offers a comprehensive list of local vendors that sell native Virginia plants.

Plant Virginia Natives website is hosted by the Virginia Native Plant Marketing Partnership as a hub for information about Virginia's native plants and the marketing and education resources the partners have to offer.  

Metering and rain gauges

Definition: Rain gauges and metering are mechanisms by which liquid precipitation can be accounted for. The simplest forms of rain gauges are graduated cylinders which measure the amount of precipitation received in an area during a specified period of time, and modern technology has evolved in the production of wireless digital rain gauges. Most lawns and gardens need about an inch of water supply on a weekly basis, and a metering system can help supply an accurate reading depicting how much water your lawn has received for a given time.

Benefits: Metering your lawn or purchasing a rain gauge for any landscape is vital for the health of your lawn or garden. Without such a tool, one may be stuck in a bind where they are unable to track the water input that a landscape has received, which can lead to overwatering of a landscape. Overwatering increases the risk of pollution from products such as fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. Also, it wastes water resources and impacts water supplies. When a lawn is overwatered it is a waste of time and money. Finally, overwatering can encourage shallow root systems and can increases plant’s susceptibility to disease. Water is a valuable resource that is not of unlimited supply, thus it is important that consumers are conscious of this and are not wasteful.

Rain gardens

Definition: A rain garden is a man-made depression in the ground that is used as a landscape tool to improve water quality. It is a bowl-shaped or saucer-shaped garden, designed to absorb storm water run-off from impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots.
Benefit: 1) It collects the storm water, retains sediments and nutrients that otherwise go to the storm water management systems. 2) Increases groundwater renewal. 3) Provides habitat for birds and insects.
Products and vendors: Virginia Department of Forestry's Rain Gardens Guide

Minimize impervious areas

Definition: Impervious surfaces are areas of the earth that have been covered by any material that impedes the infiltration of water into the soil. Areas of land covered by pavement or buildings are impervious to rain water. Concrete, asphalt, rooftops and even severely compacted areas of soil are considered impervious.

Benefits: 1) The addition of impervious cover decreases the amount of ground water recharge and increases the amount of storm water runoff. This can cause depletion of ground water resources and flooding of local streams and rivers 2) Storm water runoff that directly runs in to the storm water drains also carries suspended solid particles that can increase siltation problems in the water bodies and could also cause eutrophication. Eutrophication harms the aquatic organisms by reducing the amount of oxygen in the water.

Green Roofs

Definition: Green roofs are vegetated roof covers, with growing media and plants taking the place of bare membrane, gravel ballast, shingles or tiles. The number of layers and the layer placement vary from system to system and green roof type, but at the very least all green roofs include a waterproofing layer, drainage, growing media and the plants, covering the roof deck surface.

Benefits: Green roofs have many environmental benefits: 1) Green roofs can reduce and slow storm water runoff in the urban environment; they also filter pollutants from rainfall. Green roofs can detain and use 50 to 75 percent of a typical 1-inch (2.5cm) rainfall event. 2) Green roofs lower rooftop temperatures from 130 degrees Fahrenheit or greater to approximately 75 degree F during a summer day. Less heat is radiated to the surrounding environment, helping to reduce the urban heat island effect. 3) Smog forming chemicals such as oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, as well as carbon dioxide are taken up directly by plants, lowering their concentrations in the air. 4) The cooling and shading properties of a green roof can significantly limit the heat flow into a building, thus lowering the load placed on air conditioning equipment and reducing energy consumption. 5) Green roofs can reduce the levels of indoor sound by as much as 40 decibels, making for a healthier work or living environment.

More information: See US  EPA's Using Green Roofs to Reduce Heat Islands

Rain Barrel

Rain Barrels and Cisterns

Definition: A rain barrel or cistern is a rainwater collection system that stores rooftop runoff to be used later for activities such as lawn and garden watering, car washing, and even window cleaning. A cistern is similar to a rain barrel, but has much greater storage capacity, and requires a little more engineering. A cistern can be installed to collect rainwater from your roof, filter the water, store it, and reuse it for your lawn and garden, or in your house for toilet flushing, clothes washing, etc. A cistern is considerably more expensive than a rain barrel, but can provide for more of your water needs, and may pay for itself in the long run. Water collected in rain barrels and cisterns is not potable and cannot be used for drinking purposes.

Benefits: 1) Catching and saving rain water can reduce the need to use treated, drinking-quality water to irrigate landscaping;  2) these systems can also slow and reduce the storm water runoff leaving your property; 3) on-site rainwater reuse saves the energy used to treat and transport municipal water, and 4) rainwater is free!

Success story: Virginia Green Restaurant member Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, VA has installed a rain barrels that are directly connected to the irrigation system of their hop farm (pictured at left).

Drip Line Irrigation

Definition: Drip, or micro-irrigation, technology uses a network of plastic pipes to carry a low flow of water under low pressure to plants. Water is applied much more slowly than with sprinkler irrigation. Low volume application of water to plant roots maintains a desirable balance of air and water in the soil. Plants grow better with this favorable air-water balance and even soil moisture. Water is applied frequently at low flow rates with the goal of applying only the water plants need.

Benefits: Drip irrigation systems use between 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional in-ground sprinkler systems. They are also much more efficient than conventional sprinklers because no water is lost to wind, runoff, and evaporation (EPA). Drip irrigation delivers water slowly, immediately above, on or below the surface of the soil. This minimizes water loss due to runoff, wind and evaporation, allowing it to be operated during the windy periods too.

Vegetative Buffers

Definition: A vegetative buffer is an undeveloped area directly adjacent to a body of water. Buffers can be comprised of existing plants on the site and/or new plantings. Buffer zones include aquatic plants in shallow water, moisture-loving plants along the shore, and upland plants in dry soils. This vegetation is the last line of defense before polluted runoff reaches water. Without buffers, polluted water runs directly into waterways picking up even more sediment as it erodes unvegetated banks.

Benefits: 1) Reduce runoff by increasing storm water infiltration into soil. Less runoff means fewer nutrients and other pollutants entering the water -- excess nutrients are the primary cause of algal blooms and increased aquatic plant growth. 2) Stabilize soils with plant root systems. 3) Reduce shoreline erosion due to wave action. 4) Purify water with aquatic vegetation. 5) Improve wildlife and fish habitat by providing food, shelter, and shade.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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