Home and business owners across the country have been faced with water shortages in the past few years due to drought conditions, particularly in areas of Texas, Arizona and California. Recently, California has acknowledged the severity of the situation by declaring a state of emergency after the driest year in recorded history for the state.

The larger-scale changes necessary for water efficiency are up to government and municipal organizations, according to experts, which need to invest in infrastructure to enable things like water reuse and desalination. But dealers should also play an important role in educating customers.

“Water treatment professionals can be advocates for more efficient water usage,” asserts Kerry Quinn, vice president of engineering for Culligan International.

After all, water treatment dealers have a vested interest in the state of the water supply, says Lance Johnson, business unit director, reverse osmosis at Dow Water and Process Solutions.

“I think the need is for education. It’s hard for the dealers to sell RO units for someone's home if you don't have water coming to your house,” says Johnson. “In order for the dealer to have a thriving business, you have to have water. And so, it really starts to be, with the government, educating the public. And, perhaps dealers can be part of that voice. You do have to invest in government infrastructure in order to have sufficient water to meet the needs.”

While municipal, industrial and government organizations will play the largest role in addressing these water crises around the country, dealers can educate residential and commercial customers on how water efficient lifestyles can make a smaller-scale, yet still significant, difference.

Dealers can have a key role in educating their customers on how long-term water efficiency, even when there’s not a drought to contend with, can help avoid urgent water conservation crises. From providing information on the difference between long-term efficiency and emergency conservation, to recommending water-saving products to helping customers understand where their water comes from, how much is available and the larger-scale changes that need to happen to protect the water supply, dealers can take advantage of their position as trusted sources on all things water.

The true state of our water resources

The first thing dealers should help their customers to understand is the truly fragile state of our water resources. Many people still believe water is an unlimited resource, especially those who don’t live in drought-prone areas, as they can turn on the tap and watch it flow in abundance.

“I do not believe the general public is aware of the severity and quantity of water shortages in the United States,” says Quinn.

A variety of factors are causing the water supply to dwindle all over the world, according to Johnson, Quinn and Peter Yolles, founder and CEO of WaterSmart, a software platform that helps utility managers and customers see how much water they use in comparison to their neighbors (a model known as behavioral water efficiency). These factors include:

  • Over-allocation of existing water resources
  • Increasing pressure/demand on the water supply due to increased population
  • Greater weather variability due to climate change, including slowing water renewal rates (decreased precipitation in some areas).

 “So it’s imperative that all of us learn to live within our means,” says Yolles.

The difference between conservation and efficiency

Living within our means involves knowing the difference between saving water sometimes, and saving it continuously over time. Essentially, this is the difference between emergency water conservation and long-term water efficiency. Dealers can educate their customers on this difference to preserve the integrity of their business in the long run, and market their water-saving products and services based on this education.

Many people, even those in drought-prone areas, know more about water conservation than they do about water efficiency.

“Conservation and efficiency are usually used interchangeably,” says Yolles. “Emergency water conservation is related to steps that we as a community take to avoid running out of water. That often has to do with the weather or the current year, how much precipitation occurred.”

While “extra” water is stored in lakes, aquifers and reservoirs by water resource managers, if demand regularly exceeds renewal then there is less “extra.” That’s when water conservation measures are put in place by water managers to reduce consumption and avoid running out completely, according to Quinn.

You can’t, however, “conserve yourself out of drought situations,” according to Johnson. Conservation is usually a temporary state where people are pressured or even mandated to use less water based on restrictions set out by the local water supplier or municipality. It is often more drastic than most water-efficiency changes, and only makes a difference in the short term.

“Long-term water efficiency is another, and better, way to avoid running out of water completely,” says Quinn, because it “allows more water consumers; people, businesses, agriculture, etc., to reduce their collective demand rate.  At the very least, it extends the time at which water becomes depleted, however, if the collective demand rate can be brought below the renewal rate, long-term water efficiency can actually avoid water depletion altogether.”

Efficiency involves both large-scale infrastructure changes and small-scale lifestyle changes. Johnson discusses two of the large-scale changes that would make a difference in efficiency: Water reuse and seawater desalination. According to Johnson, these are two key parts of a successful water management plan (which should also include conservation and natural water sources), and they are vastly underutilized. Raising awareness of the value of water among consumers could help those technologies to gain more traction among taxpayers, who would foot the bill for the increased cost of water — which is chronically underpriced in the United States — after infrastructure changes.

“[Seawater desalination and water reuse] do cost more money,” said Johnson. “But in reality it's not actually as expensive as it may seem, because water is underpriced. People tend to want to pay for high speed internet but when it comes to paying for water the mindset isn’t there unless you live in drought conditions.”

Whether you are operating on the residential, commercial, industrial or municipal level as a water treatment professional, it is important that your customers understand that long-term water efficiency is essentially a lifestyle change. According to Yolles, the changes involve getting more out of the same amount of water, or doing the same activities and using less water.

“Long term water efficiency has more to do with moving our society to what I like to call a water efficient way of life, which means maintaining our normal enjoyment of our activities, homes and gardens while also reducing the volume of water we use in those activities,” Yolles says. “I would say that conservation often is perceived as a sacrifice, giving something up to achieve reduced consumption, whereas water efficiency relates more to doing more with less and it does not connote a sense of that sacrifice.”

One great way to teach customers the value of their water and allow them to see that efficiency does not require a drastic lifestyle change such as moving to a new house or installing all new appliances and hardware, is to allow them to see just how much water they use and how it compares to others. Multiple studies of behavioral water efficiency have been done, showing great success in helping customers to reduce their water use.

“Behavioral economics,” asserts Yolles, can “persuade people that they should take action to save water at home. When people are presented with a framework in which to think about water they will naturally want to do better.”

Many utilities offer these water monitoring services, and the role of dealers is to help customers understand how others are saving water and saving money in their homes and businesses.

Additionally, behavioral water efficiency tools create long-term customer engagement with their water supply, according to Yolles, which is only beneficial for dealers.

Once they know why, show them how

Implementing changes for water efficiency is “a combination of retrofit and behavior,” says Yolles.

According to our experts, water efficient behaviors include planting lawns and gardens with native landscaping to avoid water-loss in irrigation, only running dish and clothes washers with full loads, setting filters to backwash based on gallons or pressure differential instead of time, setting softeners to regenerate at higher salt dosages (which uses more salt, but much less water, as the unit regenerates less) and hot-side-only softening.

There are also many products dealers can offer that will save a significant amount of water. These include:

  • Low flow fixtures (showerheads, toilets)
  • WaterSense appliances
  • Gray water reuse systems
  • Rainwater catchment
  • Weather-based irrigation systems
  • Drip-irrigation (especially for large-scale commercial or agricultural settings).

“Market saturation [for water efficiency products] is very low today and there’s a huge opportunity for manufacturers and water technology providers,” says Yolles. “A lot of these technologies are fairly new and they’re not widely known. They’re very cost-effective with very short payback periods.”

“Pointing out opportunities for water efficient fixtures and appliances in residential settings — as well as looking for water re-use opportunities in commercial settings can go a long way toward improving water efficiency,” agrees Quinn. “In commercial applications there are often more efficiency improvement opportunities because the water usage and system sizes are larger.”

As Quinn explains, water reuse systems are a great technology to market to commercial businesses. Quinn and Johnson both used the example of a carwash that uses vast amounts of water, which with the correct filtration system, can be reclaimed and used multiple times.

Whatever type of customers you deal with on a daily basis, there are multiple ways to help them understand the value of water and why they should invest in water efficiency. If your customers know the value of water, they will understand the value of your products intuitively and continue to see you as an expert.