Industry is the single largest consumer of water in the United States. While there is increasing focus on ways to conserve water at home, most people do not give much thought to conserving water at work. However, there are as many ways for industry to conserve water as there are at home. Combined effort by both industry workers and homeowners can make a huge reduction in the amount of water that is wasted, as well as the energy used to clean and purify it.
Recycling and Reuse
Industries have many opportunities to reuse water within their own plants to minimize their draw on municipal drinking water sources. Water used for one purpose can often be saved and reused for another, especially after filtering. For example, a plant can run gray water from sinks and cleaning through a filter for use as cooling water for machinery. As long as the reused water is clean enough or has been cleaned enough for use in its new role, recycling water this way saves a significant amount of drinking water from being used for jobs that do not require potable (drinkable) water. Many car washes already do this on a smaller scale.
Switching from water-cooled systems to air-cooled systems would have a tremendous effect on total water consumption, as using water to cool hot equipment is one of the largest drains on municipal water systems. Water that has been cleaned and filtered at great expense to a community is not being drunk when it's used as a coolant. Instead, it is going into the atmosphere as steam water vapor. Air-cooled technology is an efficient and practical alternative—in fact, air-cooled radiators in cars replaced water-cooled radiators about 50 years ago. While there are condensation systems that help to reclaim some of that lost water, no system is completely effective. When Pacific Power and Light Company switched cooling systems in Wyoming’s Wyodak Generating Station from water to air, they saw more than a 90 percent reduction in their per-minute use of water.
Another source of huge potential water savings is the rinsing systems used by industries to remove contaminants from equipment and products. Changes in how the rinses are done, such as not overflowing tanks to float contaminants over the sides, combined with using intermittent-flow systems instead of continuous-flow systems, would result in a significantly reduced water usage for these procedures.
Additional Conservation Tips
Many of the same conservation tips for the home apply equally for industry. Irrigating lawns and fields in the morning and only watering when necessary, along with using ultra low-flow toilets, installing sink aerators and repairing leaks promptly can cut the amount of water used by industry significantly. Using brushes and a mop and pail for cleaning instead of a hose and reducing the frequency of building and vehicle washing can save hundreds of gallons per day.