A Permanent State of Drought

Despite a reasonable amount of precipitation in the winter and early spring, much of the western half of the U.S. is facing increasingly urgent drought conditions. 

The lack of access to water is having a major impact on community development, driving up water tap fees by a mind-blowing 400 percent in some markets.  Fortunately, innovative technologies like greywater systems are helping to lessen the blow.

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for 39 of the state’s 58 counties. As reservoirs across the Golden State distressingly expose their parched, cracked basins, early wildfires savage spring grasses and thousands of wells that provide water to rural areas are dangerously susceptible to drying up.

The combination of extreme weather and climate change has created a state of constant water scarcity throughout the Western United States, and droughts are now dryer, warmer, and longer than ever before.   

Despite an escalating water crisis, demand for water in the United States continues to grow as our population swells, especially in the thirsty Southwest.  By 2030, experts predict over 100 percent growth in states like Nevada and Arizona, 60 percent in Texas, and upwards of 30 percent in California and Colorado.  

Within the building sector, water has the potential to become the number one limiting factor to growth. Water quality and quantity concerns will increasingly affect the way we address the built environment and will force sweeping changes to codes, mandates, programs, and pricing.  

In markets across the country, builders and developers will soon be required to create water plans for building projects, taking into consideration water challenges as determined by climate change, extreme weather events, ecosystem impacts, and local governance. Some municipalities have already implemented offset programs that require builders to show net-zero demand on aggregate water resources in order to receive a permit.

States and municipalities are adopting net-zero water policies and restructuring water pricing to address water shortages. Santa Fe, N.M., for example, has some of the most stringent water policies and highest water prices in the country, and correspondingly, it also has the lowest daily per capita water usage at 87 gallons per day (Las Vegas, one of the next lowest daily per capita water use cities, is at around 200 gallons per day). California has set its sights on reducing water use per person to 55 gallons per day.

Municipalities and water utilities are also increasing water pricing and tap fees to incentivize conservation. For example, in some markets along the Front Range in Colorado, water prices have soared by an astronomical 400 percent over the past decade, causing home prices to surge and developments to stall.  

Fortunately, the combination of preparedness, enhanced conservation, and innovative water technologies are helping to solve for the mushrooming water crisis.  

On the preparedness front, some municipalities are investing in backup pipelines and wells, as well as advanced weather forecasting tools that can help water managers control dam spillways and infrastructure in order to avoid drought-driven disasters.  

Leak detection and water monitoring systems that learn the water footprint of a home and alert homeowners of leaks or irregular usage, along with smart irrigation systems and innovative technologies like atmospheric generators that pull water out of the air for fresh water supply are enhancing water conservation.  

And innovative technologies like greywater systems, such as the Greyter HOME that capture, treat and filter shower and bath water before it is sent down the sewer so that it can be reused for toilet flushing, are emerging as viable solutions for community-scale builders and developers to solve for water challenges.

According to John Bell, Chief Commercial Officer at Greyter Water Systems, “Onsite water reuse presents the biggest opportunity to save water in new home residential construction. More than 50 percent of all water used in a home happens in the bathroom—showers and baths account for approximately 25-30 percent, and toilets make up about 20-25 percent. By capturing and reusing the shower and bath water so that it can be used again for flushing, we are able to reduce interior household water use by as much as 25 percent.”

Bell confirms that interest in greywater systems is most robust in high-growth states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, where there is increasing demand due to swelling populations.

By including water-conserving technologies like greywater systems into their plans, builders, and developers in some forward-thinking markets can access front-end incentives like discounts on tap fees, density bonuses, allocation incentives, and expedited permits and site plan approvals.

To learn more about how innovative technologies like greywater systems can provide a direct pathway to incentives, check out my recent interview with John Bell from Greyter Water Systems, or visit www.greyter.com.