Guest Column | September 9, 2022

Utilities And Water Efficiency: Taking A Leadership Role

By Lynda DiMenna

American Water

Water is an essential resource, and utility customers’ lives count on a reliable flow of it coming out of their tap. In order to protect natural resources, a utility must be responsible and manage water wisely, while still operating at a level that supports all the needs of customers. The first step is talking about water efficiency.

While images of vast oceans and torrential rains might imply an abundance of water, the fresh water needed for human and animal consumption, agriculture, and other parts of life is quite limited. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation,1 even though water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface, only 3% of it is fresh water and 2.5% of that is unavailable for human use. The scant 0.5% remaining results in a challenging situation, and that’s not taking issues such as overuse, pollution, and drought into consideration. Without an adequate focus on water conservation, we could risk diminishing this limited resource even further, with consequences such as rising costs, reduced food supply, health hazards, and environmental impacts.

As water utilities, we are in a unique position to make an impact. We connect the water source to our customers’ taps. This allows for a significant reach and influence on water efficiency in our country and an important responsibility to be a steward, advocate, and leader for the conservation of one of Earth’s most essential resources.

Utilities Should Protect Water

It’s a common misconception that, in reference to water conservation and efficiency, we mean doing with less or sacrificing. In reality, we know that it is actually about helping make sure there is enough safe, clean water at any given time to meet our needs. Water efficiency means being more productive, reliable, and affordable. It means better water availability, better water service, and supporting jobs and growth — at lower cost, with less disruption, restriction, waste, and pollution. It means using improved technologies and practices that deliver equal or better service with less water. It saves consumers money, protects the environment, and enhances the economy.

To help ensure access to clean water, and the water sources that we depend on, we must first acknowledge the threats against them. And one of the most critical is water use itself. When it comes to water, we have all that we will ever get. While using water doesn’t ultimately remove it from the cycle, it does redistribute it and impact the amount that is readily available for use. So, by implementing efficiencies in operations and in the lives of customers, we can help reduce water waste.

Utilities Should Educate Customers About Water

Despite increased efforts toward awareness of water scarcity, the average American continues to use anywhere between 80 to 100 gallons2 of water per day, which adds up to roughly 29,000 to 36,500 gallons per American per year.

With this in mind, there is significant power in utilities educating customers. In fact, research3 has shown that public education programs can assist in helping reach the goals of a water utility’s conservation strategy, and even help increase consumer participation in programs that utilities may be implementing. With education also comes wiser water usage decisions from customers.

American Water, for example, is committed to educating consumers about the value of water, using it wisely, and conserving this precious resource for generations to come. The company has a long-standing partnership with the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program to help its efforts. Environmental leadership is a core value aligned with performance metrics for American Water employees.

Customer education can include the creation and distribution of various tool kits for customers, with resources on the importance of water efficiency and conservation, how they can make small changes to conserve water in their daily lives, and what your organization is doing to address these issues. Utilities might also consider developing print or online reminders of the value of water and wise water use. For example, American Water has released informational content for Fix a Leak Week, Earth Day, and summer high water use, among others, to engage with customers about water efficiency. By including access to educational programs and webinars, or the contact information of someone at the organization, customers have an additional resource if they’re interested in learning more. In addition, many water utilities partner with external experts to develop customer educational sessions aimed at indoor/outdoor wise water use, discovering leaks, and other efficiency initiatives.

This advocacy can spread beyond a utility’s immediate customer base. By expanding access to educational materials to the greater public and supporting continued research in water conservation, utilities can contribute to greater education and public awareness efforts.

Utilities Should Be Leaders In Water Conservation

When it comes to conservation, we need to lead by example. Water and wastewater professionals also need to make a commitment to water efficiency throughout existing facilities. By evaluating all water use practices and the efficiency of treatment systems overall, we can practice what we preach. Further measures can include putting an emphasis on efficiency and implementing new technologies to accurately meter, and to monitor and track, water consumption data to help identify any consumption that might indicate an increase in water usage. For example, one of American Water’s environmental goals is a commitment to meeting customers’ water needs while simultaneously saving 15% in water delivered per customer, by 2035, compared to a 2015 baseline. American Water has already accomplished a 5% reduction in water delivered per customer.

According to the American Water Works Association4 (AWWA), utilities should use comprehensive, integrated resources to make full use of conserved water in supply planning and participate in regional coordination and integration efforts. It is critical to view conserved water as a source of water that provides multiple benefits such as growth, environmental flows, and expanded economic uses. In some cases, water conservation is the least expensive option for a new source of supply, and utilities should also consider working with other agencies to adopt and implement efficient and wise water-use practices and land-use policies. For example, American Water contributed to a 2019 Water Research Foundation report5 that found that by diversifying supply portfolios through measures such as incorporating alternative and para-supply strategies, water utilities can reduce the pressure on traditional sources and even increase supply availability for environmental use.

The time to take a stand is now. According to the EPA,6 at least 40 states in the U.S. anticipate water shortages by 2024. As water utilities, we have a responsibility to use our influence and be a proponent for, and practitioner of, water efficiency across the board.



About The Author

Lynda DiMenna serves as vice president and chief environmental and safety officer for American Water. In her current role, DiMenna is focused on environmental stewardship and making critical safety improvements to help American Water achieve zero incidents and injuries. Through her expertise in environmental leadership, she will also strengthen the company’s commitment to building a culture that makes tangible progress on water quality, water management, and system resiliency, as well as other environmental, social, and governance issues. DiMenna earned an MBA from the Hagen School of Business, Iona College, in New York, and a bachelor’s degree in business management and human resources from Dominican College in New York. She has earned multiple operations licenses and certifications.