As concerns mount over water supplies, professionals in this industry are always looking for methods of conservation. For most of his career, Dan Theobald of Simpsonville, South Carolina has been showing corporate enterprises and municipalities how to save water, money and the environment at the same time. We were able to talk with him on some of the ways industries waste water and how this problem can be prevented.

Water Technology: What are some typical ways industries waste water when using and handling this resource? And, how can managers implement preventative measures?

Dan Theobald: Water is both plentiful and easily accessible. Therefore, any water use without analyzing water requirements may be potential waste. Here are some examples:

  • In the bathroom of your house, you may not use low-flow toilets
  • You also may use a shower in a timeframe longer than needed and while using your sink you may use more water than required for the task
  • When washing clothes in the laundry room, you may use a volume of water greater than needed to wash the specific load of clothes
  • In the kitchen, you may use more water in the sink than needed for the job.

All of these are noble ways to conserve on water. In industry, the same principles apply. You can, for example, use a certain amount of water for a task and reduce the usage with timers or high pressure flow restrictors. Additionally, a water supply can be reused for certain applications. Preventative measures to minimize or eliminate these wastes can include analysis, which can result in implementing the appropriate measures. In certain cases a task can be completed by using no water at all.


WT: How can industries save costs through water conservation?

DT: There are at least four areas industries can save costs through water conservation. The first source for savings is the cost of incoming water. Local rates vary but consider 1,200 million gallons. The second source for savings is the cost of treated wastewater effluent discharged to the sewer. Using a factor of at least four to one to incoming water, the effluent would cost $5,000 for the same incoming million gallons of water discharged to a sewer system.

The third source for savings is the cost of treating the wastewater prior to discharge into a sewer system. Depending on treatment, the cost may be somewhere around $2,000 for every million gallons of water to discharge into a sewer system. The fourth source for savings is the cost of handling. Depending on the labor intensity, handling cost could be near $1,000 for every million gallons of water.

Ultimately, the dramatic total cost of savings can be $9,000 for every million gallons of reduced water requirements.


WT: Can you share any statistics or cite specific studies to help our readers better understand the severity of the issue?

DT: One of my customers, a food processor, decreased 140,000 gallons of water requirements during each daily usage of 740,000 gallons. During the period of January through March of 2007, having a permitted daily discharge limit of 650,000 gallons, water discharged to the sewer system continued to increase, and the month of March 2007, each full production day the gallons of wastewater effluent was at least 740,000 gallons per day. The daily average for the month exceeded the permit limit of 650,000 gallons.

Midway through April 2007, we received an ultimatum from the regulator to either purchase additional water allocation of $1.00 a gallon as a one-time cost, or conserve on water.

Conserving water was the process undertaken. Throughout the remainder of 2007 procedures to conserve water were implemented and ultimately water requirements reduced to 600,000 gallons a day. Executions resulted in a decrease of 140,000 gallons of the 740,000 gallon daily usage. The cost savings approximated $770 a day or $184,000 a year. This is one example of a specific savings of this application that is continuing through each of these subsequent five-plus years.


WT: For industrial managers who are interested in implementing these best practices, what start-up costs or return on investment benchmarks can they follow?

DT: Start-up costs depend on specific best practices implemented such as these following three examples:

  • The first one is using flow restrictors and entails only the cost of the device for flow restriction. Usually, these devices are relatively low cost items. They could be installed at the water source for specific use, or they can be installed at the end use location. For example, if you’re using hoses, they could be installed on the individual hoses.
  • The second procedure is water reuse, which will often require one-time installation of pumps and pipes to continuously recycle and reuse water. This may cost thousands of dollars to install. It is imperative to identify the quality and quantity of the water to be reused from recycling. There should be certain water analysis expense to actually quantify the physical and the dissolved properties in the water to identify the quality of the water to be recycled and to determine the feasibility of the reuse application. Certain reuse applications may require chemicals or filtration, and some applications may require no special handling at all.
  • The third situation involves more intense practices of purifying water as a replacement of an incoming potable water source, which may involve measurable capital outlays. If the water source contacts an item regulated by the United States Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) more intense practices of ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis could be used, which would require measurable capital outlays. The investment amount depends on the volume and the quality of the requirements.


WT: What incentives, beyond savings, if any, can these industries achieve when using these water conservation practices and how can they promote these achievements?

DT: Noticeable water conservation is an environmental accomplishment which is often acknowledged by local regulatory authorities, and therefore can be promoted by the industry achieving the accomplishment. Just to give a little bit of history about a customer of mine, I started working with them in 1998 and I’m still working with them today in 2013. In 2007 we began implementing water conservation procedures.

The thing that’s so dramatic is that every time I communicate with the regulator they acknowledge this accomplishment. It not only helps my customer but it helps us with our association with the regulator. This attainment is always beneficial to the environment. During these five-plus years this invaluable dramatic benefit has helped everyone involved.


WT: In your opinion, what are the biggest hurdles managers and workers need to overcome to accept these practices?

DT: The biggest hurdle is to recognize the condition exists. Then, identify and execute specific procedures to achieve appropriate results. For example, it was not realized they were exceeding and violating their permit because water was plentiful, they just did not consider or recognize that they could use less water and still fulfill the end result. I think the big thing is to understand the condition and then recognize and accept that there are opportunities for improvement.

We can say this in our home as well. Do we need as much water as we use in the shower? Do we need as much water as we use in our washing machine?

Same thing in industry: Do we need water for a certain timeframe, or can we get the same job done with less water? Do we need city water for this water supply, or can we get the same job done with reused and recycled water? Or, can we replace a potable water supply with a purified water within our facility? Sometimes these things are not recognized as possibilities. Then, once they’re recognized, what are the environmental benefits and what are the cost benefits? I think as these conditions are considered on an individual basis then more people will be able to overcome the hurdles and then implement these procedures.