LONG BEACH, Calif. — California is in the midst of one of its biggest droughts in history and has been looking for creative ways to cut water usage without completely altering daily life. As hospitals are some of the highest water users in most communities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they are in a unique position to help fight the drought by focusing on more water-saving operations.
Jonah Schein, a technical coordinator for the EPA’s WaterSense Program, said that the drought is shifting the focus of utilities’ efficiency from energy to water, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Water efficiency in a lot of facilities has really been ignored,” Schein told the Los Angeles Times. “When you go in and do [water usage] audits, you often find that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit.”
Hospitals throughout California have taken note to this, including Oceanside’s Tri-City Medical Center in northern San Diego County. They have recently joined many other hospitals in the state that are using audits to help evaluate water usage and make appropriate modifications to improve efficiency.
Chris Miechowski, Tri-City’s director of facilities, reached out to Long Beach-based Water Saver Solutions in order to pinpoint exactly what could be done to help save water during the state’s notorious drought, according to the Los Angeles Times. In a recent walk-through at Tri-City, William Cordray, Water Saver Solutions’ general manager, noticed a few standout inefficiencies that he claims are often too common in hospital settings:
PROBLEM: Old sterilizers
Sterilizers are usually kept running around the clock so surgical instruments can be steam-cleaned as needed, which causes hot water vapor to condense inside the devices and the resulting water must occasionally be purged. Dumping it directly into the sewer would damage the pipes, so sterilizers are designed to keep a continuous flow of cold water, a gallon or more per minute, through the pipes to offset the occasional scalding water.
SOLUTION: Newer sterilizers
New retrofit kits include special holding tanks that let hot water cool before being discharged into the sewer, allowing hospitals to shut off the wasteful trickle of cold water. While newer sterilizers for years have had these features built-in, Cordray said he still encounters plenty of decades-old models trickling away and that they can indeed be refurbished.
For years, hospitals used aerators to restrict water flow when taps were opened, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, studies found that those aerators were a source of infection. Each time a faucet was used, the devices held back a small amount of water, creating a tiny reservoir where harmful bacteria could multiply. After a death at a New York hospital was linked to Legionnaires’ disease found in a hospital’s water supply, many facilities nationwide removed their aerators entirely, allowing faucets to gush at the maximum number of gallons per minute.
SOLUTION: Flow Restrictor
A type of flow restrictor called a laminar includes an antimicrobial coating that, if properly maintained, can eliminate bacteria and allow safe flow reduction. Though these devices have been allowed by California building codes since at least 2008, Cordray said in a statement that many hospitals have not installed them.
Although some hospitals may have more specific issues, it is easier to see exactly what the problem is after the audits take place, and then Water Savers is able to provide manageable solutions. After Tri-City’s inspection, Water Savers was able to come up with a plan that is estimated at saving more than 10 million gallons of water annually. The plan includes installing laminar flow restrictors, retrofitting sterilizers, changing the cooling tower operation, upgrading showerheads and toilets, and replacing refrigeration compressors, according to Miechowski.
“We’re going to be able to take care of it within our existing budget through the savings we’re going to see in utility costs,” he said in a statement.