“Do you want water savings with your order?”
You probably won’t be asked that question during the next visit to your favorite eatery. However, the commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) sector offers many opportunities for water conservation.
The hospitality industry is the second largest CII sector in the United States, according to EPA WaterSense Program Manager Veronica Blette.
Of this, the majority of water use is for kitchen and dishwashing purposes (52%); domestic and restroom use (31%); other uses (12%); landscaping (4%); and cooling and heating (1%).
“Restaurants have a lot of products that use water and many can have high consumption rates,” Blette said. “The food service industry also provides a great opportunity to engage customers in water conservation efforts,” she said.
Blette said owners understand water conservation cost benefits—but the focus on customer service may increase shortcuts or other practices that result in water waste. In addition, franchise policies, employee hours, and staff turnover may add other obstacles.
She cited a 2016 American Water Works Association study that indicated less than 25 percent of utilities have a formal water conservation program for CII customers.
Representatives from Long Beach, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Athens shared insights about their restaurant water conservation programs during a panel discussion at the recent WaterSmart Innovations 2018 Conference.
Long Beach, CA
Restaurants represent the third largest CII water usage in Long Beach, CA. Because of this, Long Beach Water Department has a Certified Blue Restaurant program recognizing those establishments that voluntarily meet high-efficiency water requirements.
“These restaurants must meet specific water efficiency requirements. As an example, installed pre-rinse spray valves must produce 1.1 gallons of water per minute or lower. There are similar requirements for kitchen hand sinks, restroom faucets, toilets, dishwashers, ice machines, food steamers, and dipper wells,” said Jenyffer Vasquez, assistant administrative analyst for water resources.
Long Beach Water has completed 90 water efficiency surveys since the program’s inception in August 2017. This resulted in 38 Certified Blue Restaurants in the city. Approximately 285 water saving devices were installed, which saves 403,661 gallons of water annually. The Certified Blue restaurants get special online recognition and in social media posts.
As part of its outreach program, Long Beach Water held a “Certified Blue Restaurant Crawl” this year. This allowed six restaurant owners an opportunity to discuss their water conservation efforts with the public.
“Drought, uncertain climate, aging infrastructure, and continued population growth reinforce our understanding that water is a finite resource,” said Christine Chavez with City of Santa Fe Water Conservation.
The city’s population has increased from 68,000 in 1995 to 84,000 in 2018. However, water consumption dropped from 168 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) to 90 gpcd during the same period.
Santa Fe is a long-time leader in water conservation efforts. Much of this success is due to automated meter reading (AMR); rebate programs for clothes washers, dishwashers, toilets, and rainwater harvesting equipment; landscape codes; water banking; tiered water rates; and land use requirements.
A new “Make a Reservation to Save Water” pilot project began in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 to incentivize water efficiency in the restaurant sector. The program includes a partnership with the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce and endorsements of EPA WaterSense and the Santa Fe Restaurant Association.
“The City is working with 30-40 local restaurants to offer ways for them to save water and money. Partners receive a free commercial water audit to help them understand where and how they can be more water efficient. The results will help generate ways to create rebate incentives,” said Chavez.
She added that the California Energy Commission estimates restaurants use about two million gallons of water per year. “Santa Fe has more than 300 restaurants. This equates to about 635 million gallons of water per year using this formula. Our pilot program resulted in direct savings of 450,000 gallons of water per year with aerators alone. This could jump to 1.5 million gallons of water saved per year if all recommended actions are taken,” she said.
Like Santa Fe, El Paso is balancing population growth with limited water resources.
“El Paso is the 20th largest city in the United States and the sixth largest city in Texas. Approximately 50 percent of its water supply comes from the Rio Grande River, 28 percent from the Hueco Bolson aquifer, 19 percent from the Mesilla Bolson aquifer, and three percent from desalinated groundwater. Unfortunately, river conditions are subject to drought,” said Norma Guzman-Kennedy with El Paso Water.
Water conservation ordinances, rebates, and incentive programs reduced El Paso’s consumption from 205 gpcd in 1985 to 128 gpcd in 2018. However, there was a need for additional water savings.
A certified Water Conservation Partner program for restaurants began in spring 2017. It targets four key areas: 1) Fats, Oil, and Grease (FOG) compliance; 2) kitchen water use efficiency; 3) restroom water use efficiency; and 4) other practices, such as providing water to customers. Restaurants receive bonus points for outdoor water conservation practices.
As of October 2018, 54 restaurants were certified. “This is 71 percent of our target goal, which is still a small percentage of the total restaurants in El Paso. El Paso Water hopes to expand the Water Partner program and assess the best opportunities for additional water savings. We will circle back to those restaurants that did not receive certification and encourage them to complete their water efficiency improvements,” she said.
The positive publicity has been good for participating restaurants. “They receive window clings, website mentions, and free promotion through social media. In addition, a Conservation Hero Award goes to the certified water partner with the top score from evaluations. The presentation takes place at an El Paso Chihuahuas minor league baseball game. A video is shown on the stadium’s video screen and on the El Paso Water website,” she said.
Athens-Clarke County, GA
Athens-Clarke County (ACC) has a population of about 127,000 with an additional 37,000 students enrolled at the University of Georgia. The base population may increase to 154,000 by 2035.
“The North Oconee and Middle Oconee Rivers, as well as the Bear Creek Reservoir, are the surface water resources in the region. Recurring droughts are a constant threat,” said Laurel Loftin, Water Conservation Office Coordinator with the ACC Public Utilities Department.
Beginning in 2013, the “Certified Blue” program is a voluntary water conservation effort for restaurants, bars, and fast food establishments served by ACC Public Utilities.
“The program provides education to business owners on opportunities for water use reduction. The ACC Water Conservation office conducts a water use assessment. Owners/managers must repair any leaks or issues found during the inspection. They must agree to implement water saving practices from a specified list and incorporate at least two public education strategies,” said Loftin.
Participants also receive high-efficiency pre-rinse spray valves, sink aerators, water conservation signs, coloring placemats and crayons for children, Certified Blue beverage napkins, and a window decal. Participants are included in print promotions and social media posts.
Currently, there are about 30 Certified Blue locations in Athens. Of these, 17 are restaurants, eight are fast food restaurants, and five are bars. The average water use in restaurants was approximately three times that of bars and fast food establishments.
“The Certified Blue program resulted in a noticeable water use reduction (-5%) as compared to non-participants (+1.2%). If you look at restaurants only, there is a 10.1% reduction in water use as compared to a 1.5% increase for non-participants,” said Loftin.
She said there is a recommendation to continue the program with emphasis on restaurants. “Certified Blue should still be available for bars and fast food establishments—but the focus may be more on educational materials.”
All panelists encouraged everyone in attendance to consider whether a water conservation certification/recognition program for restaurants would work in their respective communities.