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No, we are not suggesting you need an umbrella-like haircut to do a water audit. We are saying, though, to cut the scope and cost of your water audit and invest that money into smart metering instead. Why?

 

Traditional water audits spend an excessive amount of time – and thus money – counting toilets and other water-using fixtures of a facility,  only to come up with the obvious; if they are grossly inefficient, you should upgrade or replace them. You do not need an expensive consulting engineer to tell you that. Common sense will do.

Instead, and this may be different to what you might have expected, at WaterGroup, we advocate for a more pragmatic approach. Limit your water audit to understand overall water use across your portfolio over the last two to three years. Group your sites by water use, from highest to lowest. Then, draw a line through all sites that use more than 1,000 kL/yr of water. That is equivalent to an annual water bill of about $3,500. 

Additionally, identify sites with high abnormalities, i.e., periods where the water use was inexplicably at least 30 to 50 per cent higher than expected. Add those sites to the list.  

An experienced water efficiency practitioner can then do a quick and easy sanity check to highlight sites that appear to use significantly more water than one would expect – apart from the group with irregular water bills, of course. If the economic value warrants it, a “quick and dirty” water audit of these sites may be performed. 

We put this in inverted commas because, for us, it does not involve going through your site with a clipboard in hand and counting all the taps and dunnies. Instead, we’d focus on the smoking gun, and understand if there is a good reason for the high use. Are there taps with a flow rate well over 8L/min? Are there high-volume single (or dual) flush toilets? Is the urinal flushing inefficient or faulty? What about calling towers, pools, irrigation, washing, and other high water use activities? 

We’d usually do this in close cooperation with site staff/the local FM. In our experience, this leads to better, more reliable, and cheaper results. It builds the first step of any successful water efficiency program; it creates buy-in from the relevant party. It thus makes the platform required for the next step, which is to find funding support and the resources to drive action on the site.

This process usually identifies critical actions that should happen right away, in a fraction of the time and at a much lower cost. They are generally straightforward to implement, with little-to-no impact on on-site operations, a high return on investment, and a very positive perception.

However, and here is the clincher, the only way we know to make this successful is to implement a monitoring program in parallel – and ideally right away, before you make any changes on the site. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It establishes a clear defensible baseline – and it readily records from any savings you make from day one.
  2. We can guarantee that it will identify some sites with high baselines, i.e., where water use, even at night, never drops below 5-10L/min, even though there is no justification for continuous water use between, for example, 2 and 4am. We avoid classifying these as leaks because experience has told us that a high baseline can be caused by so many more things than just a pipe leak. Examples include faulty valves at cooling towers or top-up tanks, urinals, or operating settings.
  3. Thirdly, the most important point – leaks and abnormal usage keeps coming back. It’s like wanting to visit a hairdresser once and expecting that your hair will not grow back. Like the guy in our picture, you must keep cutting it, or it will get out of whack. Your water use is no different. The real secret is to actively monitor and have an ongoing, sustained, self-funded smart water metering management program like WaterGroup’s AWARE service.

Hence, the solution is to do both: smart water audit and smart water metering – often for a cost not much more than a conventional full audit! 

WaterGroup style audits, as described herein, are great for getting a quick overview of the overall inefficiencies of the business. However, all that provides is a snapshot. It does not tell you how a site may perform tomorrow. For this, you need to combine it with smart water metering. That is the only way to ensure your water usage will continue to be monitored and managed way into the future.

To drive the point even further, imagine if you fix a leak identified in an audit, but then you get another high water bill next quarter. With smart water metering already in place, you can ensure the leak is fixed well before the next bill, which means millions of litres of water can be saved and a massive water bill avoided. 

We always recommend following this simple rule for any water-saving initiative. Monitor, monitor, monitor – watch your data and act on it.

Whether you do an audit or follow our advice, you still need an action plan. Before you start, you need to ask yourself:

  • Why are you doing this? 
  • Who will benefit? How?
  • How will actions be triggered? 
  • Who will take responsibility for these?
  • Who will perform the work on-site?  
  • How will the program be funded?
  • How can the program be set up to sustain the outcomes for at least three years, ideally forever, while the return on investment is positive? 
  • How will knowledge be retained?

We have had some great success with our water audits style, combined with smart metering, giving excessive water bills a big haircut – if there is a clear plan and commitment in place from the get-go, it’s clear how to address findings. Remember, until somebody goes to the site and does something, nothing is saved! Discover how this has worked for some of our clients in our leak files.

Would you like to discover how big corporations with multiple sites do water audits at less cost and save more water? This paper on how to do a Corporate Water Tree may also help.

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by WaterGroup. For more information, visit www.watergroup.com.au/.

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