A Fluid Asset in Your Backyard: Water

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When we think of high-performance homes, we usually think in terms of producing or conserving heat or electricity. But it‘s also important to conserve another resource that impacts our health and our environment: water. Across the world, water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. The demand for water increases as the population grows; meanwhile, urbanization is spreading, wetlands are decreasing, climate change is creating more frequent droughts, and many municipal water pipes and treatment plants are old and leaky. We can‘t afford to take our water supply for granted.

Even where water seems abundant, watersheds are often stressed; rivers and their tributaries, along with reservoirs, run dangerously low in some places. Here in Texas, for example, because we‘ve received a fair amount of rain in recent months, many people don‘t realize the region is still in a drought. By consuming too much water-whether for drinking or irrigation, we‘re inadvertently drying up the local rivers; the entire ecosystem of the watershed is stressed.

The environmental consequences are substantial, but what about the economic costs of wasting water? Many of us are accustomed to a steady, easy, and cheap supply of water. But whether it comes from a private well or a municipal agency, it costs money to collect, treat and deliver water to our commercial and residential taps. Furthermore, it takes lots of energy to manage water; according to an article in SmartGridNews, “…50% to 75% of the total capital costs at public utilities go to supplying energy for water supply and treatment. At the same time, the U.S. loses 1.7 trillion gallons per year to leaky water pipes.” Consumers pay a price for all that energy used to treat and deliver water. (The environment takes another hit because water treatment plants are usually powered by fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.)

There are some alternatives. According to a Ceres report published in January 2012, Charting New Waters: Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure, “Historically, water utilities have functioned as monopolies with no competition in delivering water resources or treating wastewater. Additionally, in many places drinking water providers have been distinct from stormwater and wastewater treatment providers. But utilities‘ business environment is changing. Emerging technologies like closed-loop water designs can enable buildings, city blocks, and neighborhoods to be completely “off the grid.” In the coming decades, those technologies may undermine the monopolistic structure of the sector and force utilities to approach their mission as service providers instead of movers of water.”

Capturing and managing water “where it falls” is more efficient. One way to do this is through rainwater harvesting, which is a safe, affordable and effective way to conserve water and save money on your water utility bills. Here are two GEM case studies of homes that use only rainwater:

It‘s worth considering the economic and ecological benefits of rainwater harvesting. When we reduce our water usage through better technology and conservation, we not only help the environment, we also save money on our water utility bills. Even if you capture rainwater only for irrigation, doing so may save you hundreds of dollars per year in water utility bills. Furthermore, rainwater harvesting not only saves money for the homeowner, but also saves money for the municipal water agencies because they don‘t have to manage as much infrastructure to both treat stormwater runoff and deliver clean, potable water.

The Ceres report also states (page 4), “Alternative market-based solutions should be explored and evaluated for scalability. These solutions could include: properly valuing and pricing ecosystems services, which provide enormous value yet are largely unaccounted for in the present system; developing securities to aggregate customer-financed projects such as greater “where it falls” water management; and creating private investment opportunities for efficiency gains from such things as retrofitting and closed-looped water systems in order to reduce system impacts and improve efficiency at both the building and neighborhood levels.”

We agree wholeheartedly. At GEM we know it‘s possible to transform water systems on a grand scale, one home or one neighborhood at a time; and we facilitate this transformation by making it easy for homeowners, builders, appraisers and lenders to properly plan, design, assign value, and finance “off the grid” water systems. Contact us today to learn more!