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Saving money and water in healthcare

With more droughts and heat waves expected in upcoming years, it’s time for hospitals and clinics to be more water-conscious

Climate change is making the world hotter and drier, with more intense heat waves and droughts expected in upcoming years. While this can lead to more intense wildfires and hurricanes, it also impacts our most basic necessity—water.

Roughly 73.6 million Americans were experiencing a drought during the week of October 7–13, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, with droughts deemed “extreme” and “exceptional” in 22 states from the West Coast to New England. You can see maps of your area’s current drought status and forecasts at: www.drought.gov/drought/data-maps-tools/current-conditions.

In addition, as clean water becomes harder to find, it becomes more expensive. And healthcare facilities use a lot of water.

The EPA says healthcare facilities account for 7% of all commercial and institutional water use, making them the third largest water consumers of all buildings in the U.S. One study found that hospitals use about 570 gallons of water per bed per day, compared to the 150 gallons the average citizen uses per day.

“You can see that whatever we do in healthcare facilities is going to have an outsized benefit in reducing water consumption overall in the country,” says Daniel Colombini, PE, principal and director of plumbing and fire protection engineering at Goldman Copeland, a New York–based consulting engineering firm with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing service focuses.

Obviously, healthcare facilities have non-negotiable needs regarding sanitation, heating and cooling, and equipment that requires a lot of water. According to the CDC, water system interruptions for a hospital can degrade patient care capability by 99% within two hours.

“It’s not actually their fault [they use so much water]. It’s just that they’re open 24/7, their operations are very water intense. They’re like little cities,” says Charles Bragdon, founder and president of the California-based Water Saver Solutions, which works with healthcare systems to improve water efficiency.

While hospitals and clinics will always need water, finding ways to conserve will become more important as temperatures and water prices rise. But there are many ways to make your facility more water conscious, and even some financial incentives to do so.  

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