Water shortages, reuse in contractors’ future

SAN FRANCISCO — “It’s pretty clear now over the last few years that a lot is happening in the water field,” understated engineer, author and green guru Jerry Yudelson at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America annual convention here in late March.

Why water? Water is blue gold, Yudelson said.

Various green standards and the standards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Engineers, such as Standard 90.1-2007, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, and Standard 189.1-2009 for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, have gotten the energy issue under control, he said.

“We know how to design for energy efficiency,” said Yudelson. Now water has come to the fore.

Yudelson of Yudelson Associates, Tucson, Ariz., is the author of “The Green Building Revolution” and “Green Building A to Z,” two books that should be required reading for plumbing and mechanical contractors.

He also wrote the white paper, “Water Efficiency Technologies for Mechanical Contractors: New Business Opportunities,” for MCAA’s Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation. His latest book, “Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis,” is due out in June.

Just as much of our energy-saving technology has been pioneered in Europe, much of what we know about urban water conservation comes from Australia. Australia’s water use target is 150-liters/day/capita, while ours is 150-gals./day/capita. Water and energy are inextricably linked since water is needed to cool power plants that provide the electricity to clean water, pump it, and heat it and cool it in buildings.

“The international experience can be easily adapted,” he said.

The means plenty of opportunities for plumbing and mechanical contractors in graywater and rain-water recovery and reuse.

On the surface, Yudelson noted, it seems as if we have plenty of water.

He recounted that he lived in Portland, Ore., for 15 years, one of the wetter locales in the country. Yet our supply of fresh water is inherently limited. The earth will add two billion people by 2050.

In Third World countries, two and a half billion people have to walk somewhere for water. Water is a significant reason for women being second class citizens in the Third World as women and girls as young as eight spend much of the day carrying water, Yudelson noted.

Global warming means much of the western U.S. is getting dryer, said Yudelson. All of the Colorado River water was allocated by in the 1920s. Lake Mead will never be full again. Significant portions of the country — most of California, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, Atlanta — experienced drought in the last several years. The Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted. Water will be the focal point of urban vs. rural disputes, as almost all existing water sources have been allocated. Even Chicago is considering what to do in years ahead when the city has maxed out its allocation of Lake Michigan water. A recently passed water bill in California is the first significant piece of water-related legislation in 50 years, Yudelson said.

The situation could be worse overseas. India, which depends on the monsoon, may outgrow China in population.

In a crisis, everything is on the table, Yudelson noted, including desalination and water recycling at homes and businesses. Exotic solutions can be tried and evaluated and some new technologies might be mandated.

Many of them have already been tried out. Yudelson, for example, showed schematics for Dockside Green, a LEED Platinum mixed use commercial, residential and retail development in Vancouver, B.C., that recycles its water. The Vancouver, B.C., Convention Centre both recovers rainwater and treats blackwater onsite. Many of these solutions are available for sale today. Yudelson showed an installation of a BRAC graywater system that can also be used for rainwater recovery. The packaged commercial CGW-19800 system has a capacity of 4,590-gal. and can produce 13,192 gal./hour at 71 psi.

The Separett Villa 9000 Urine-Separating Composting Toilet makes nitrogen fertilizer from urine. Pontos, a unit of the Hansgrohe division of Masco Corp., makes the Pontos AquaCycle Gray Water System, a packaged system for residential or commercial use.

Water recovery, reuse and treatment can go all the way to the Living Building concept, which has been called “LEED on steroids.”

The idea is that the building is filled with water once, when it’s built. After that, the water doesn’t leave. Sewage is treated onsite. Any new water needs come from rainwater or from condensate coming off of cooling coils.

The upshot for mechanical contractors is that there will be plenty of business changing out fixtures and fittings, installing separate piping for rainwater, graywater and blackwater systems, recovering condensate and using recovered water for the cooling towers.

All of these systems have to be designed and installed as an integrated whole. Contractors should look for new laws, regulations and mandates, Yudelson said. Expect failures along the way.

Yudelson ended with a quote from 19th century writer Victor Hugo: “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”