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Water: The Back Seat Driver

Posted May 07, 2010 11:24 AM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: Water Wise Guys

Welcome to our new blog dedicated to the issues of water, water efficiency, and water policy.

When we talk about the environment and environmentally responsible building, it’s almost always energy that takes the spotlight, with water pretty far down the list. But it’s not hard to see just how much of a back seat driver water can be:

  • Water and sewer infrastructure costs: We don’t have any substitutes for clean water and we use a ton of it every day. Actually, more like a ton and a half; the typical U.S. household uses 400 gallons of water a day and that’s about 3,200 pounds! (Source: EPA WaterSense)
  • Impact fees: Even in areas of the country with long histories of more than 40 inches of precipitation a year, we can be just a few short years away from not enough water to support our needs. Atlanta averages more than 50 inches of rain a year but it was just a few short years ago that Atlanta was experiencing a severe prolonged drought. (Source: US Drought Monitor)
  • Water rates: In many areas of our country, the connections between water and energy are deep—in the state of California, more than one-sixth of all energy consumed is related to meeting water demands. Nationwide, about 80% of municipal water processing costs are for electricity. (Source: Center for Sustainable Systems)

And water is essential to more than just environmental quality; it is increasingly becoming a driver economically as well:

  • EPA reports that updating our water and sewer infrastructure could cost nearly $500 billion over the next 20 years. (Source: EPA)
  • In 2009, the impact fees for a water hook-up alone (not including sewer) averaged $3,582 in Florida; $5,792 in Virginia; $6,879 in Colorado. And forget about beautiful Oro Valley in Arizona—hook-up fees for new homes there are a whopping $27,381 per lot. (Source: National Impact Fee Survey: 2009)
  • In general, we have pretty low water rates, but that’s not true across-the-board. Typical monthly water bills for both Seattle and Atlanta are well over $70, and in Santa Fe are over $120. (Source: The Price of Water: A Comparison of Water Rates, Usage in 30 US Cities)

In this column, Alex and I will be covering everything from products to practice to policy. That means key information on the most advanced water-conserving toilets, how to avoid water waste with hot-water distribution, better ways to manage stormwater, and that complicated issue of water rights, particularly in the West.

Alex is the executive editor of Environmental Buildings News (EBN) and the founder of BuildingGreen. You can keep up with his various musings and articles by following him on Twitter. In 2008 for the first time ever, EBN had a special year-long focus on a particular—we addressed water. You can access his three feature articles on reducing water demand, alternative water supplies, and water conservation policies at

I’m Peter Yost—director of our residential program at BuildingGreen. Along with many years of work in the building science field, I’ve been very involved with residential water efficiency issues. And even in the fairly damp state of Vermont, I’m one of those people who takes “military showers” (turning off the flow when soaping up to save water)!

Alex and I promise to do our best to keep our reporting anything but “dry,” covering water from both the front and the back seat!

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