With so much buzz surrounding the modern green movement – grant money, tax credits, and an ever increasing market demand – there is an important question of the associated role of water and where it stands. Energy, for the most part has been a topic that has elicited an enormous political response, especially, at the federal and state level, with generous incentives and subsidies to homeowners encouraging investment in their own residential energy systems. These energy savings in green buildings are of course very beneficial and are predicted to save approximately 45 million metric tons of carbon output within the next four years. This is the equivalent of taking 8 million cars of the road! But, what is also very astounding is the amount of energy that can be saved by de-centralizing water systems, capturing and using on-site water resources for outdoor purposes, as well as for toilet flushing and washing machines. This practice can equate to a 60-80% percent decrease in annual water use which also entails huge energy savings. California, the second highest energy using state in the U.S., shockingly uses approximately 30% its energy to move and treat water. Most people don’t realize that the water coming out of their faucet originated hundreds of miles away. If homes can be furnished with independent energy systems using governmental incentives than why can’t independent water systems be under the same umbrella? … pun intended. Using alternative energy to supply power to small residential pumping systems supplying water for 60-80% of a building’s total water needs, equates to an astounding energy savings of approximately 21-28 million metric tons of carbon output per year! In four years, this adds up to 84-112 million metric tons of carbon or the equivalent of 14.8-19.6 million automobiles off of the roads. The profound implications of water and its relation to energy or “watergy” has unfortunately been held under the radar for far too long.
These numbers, though substantial, are still only taking into account residential water use and corresponding energy savings. Utilizing rainwater for cooling and toilet flushing in commercial office and retail buildings, public institutions and hospitals could increase energy savings by much more. When the continuing threat and impact of global climate change has been simplified to an over abundance of carbon in earth’s atmosphere an important question to ask is this: What is the carbon footprint of a glass of pure rainwater caught from the clouds supplied via gravity, versus, the carbon footprint of a desalinated glass of water filtered from a high saline source and pumped miles to your faucet?
Though the topic of this discussion has primarily been about energy, the other, more apparent issue is water scarcity. By being aware of water use and supply in any development or future development, and taking certain steps to limit unnecessary water waste as well as harnessing on-site water resources, we can tackle the looming issue of a water crisis. There are numerous projects that have incorporated water saving strategies as well as on-site rainwater or greywater reclamation systems that have been documented to have reduced water usage by 60-70%. The most notable examples of these projects are in Australia, where it is common place to utilize rainwater for interior as well as exterior purposes. It is also important to note that only 10 years ago there was almost no legislation of this practice which now is considered mainstream. Water sustainability can be accomplished in most old and new developments as long as a comprehensive approach is taken. Given our dwindling groundwater supplies, ever increasing population, reduced snowpack and state budget woes, large scale solutions to water shortages cannot be depended on to solve the problem.
“We can obtain real water from a Virtual River of water efficiency, trimming water waste, recycling wastewater, and capturing rainwater in urban areas before it flows into storm drains. There’s more water available from these sources than we’ve ever exported from the Delta.” – Doug Obegi
This quote sums up the potential solutions to water availability and is very profound given all of the political issues that constantly come up regarding water rights and diversion debates. A top down effort and decentralized approach to natural resource conservation and management is of the utmost importance in the focused efforts of the 21st century’s green movement. All energy and water systems are inextricably interconnected in nature, and the same goes for modern society. Water and energy are the two main driving factors for life on earth and should continue to be, as we responsibly carry on humanity through sustainable development for centuries to come.
Bobby Markowitz, founder of Earthcraft Landscape Design, has been designing rainwater harvesting systems and educating professionals for nearly a decade. A licensed Landscape Architect, Accredited Professional by the American Rainwater Catchment System Association, Certified Permaculturist (taught by Founder Bill Mollison), Mr. Markowitz has advanced the viability of water conservation systems into the forefront of landscape architecture. A graduate of Rutgers University, Mr. Markowitz’s work is influenced by his study abroad in Japan and advanced water harvesting workshops in Australia. A frequent guest lecturer and keynote speaker for numerous Landscape Architecture and Rainwater Catchment System Associations, Mr. Markowitz has provided valuable insight into the design of sustainable sites and water conservation systems. In addition to his practice, Bobby Markowitz also teaches “Rainwater Harvesting System: Principles and Design” at Cabrillo College.