Big Water Users Tap Auditors to Meet Cuts


When water authorities ordered a 30% cut in consumption earlier this year, Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation hired an engineering firm from Northern California that specializes in helping large water users cut back.

But, rather than rushing willy-nilly to reduce the facility’s use, the consulting firm studied Scripps’ water patterns before compiling a list of suggested cuts. Water experts describe water audits--in-depth reviews that determine how water is used and how consumption can be cut--as a logical step for industrial, commercial and institutional users who are scrambling to reduce by 50% by April 1.

“Audits are becoming more popular around the country from a standpoint of conservation,” said Jack Hoffbuhr, a spokesman for the American Water Works Assn., a Denver-based professional organization. “Conservation is growing more important, because you’re paying for that water, and you don’t want to waste water through leaks or improper use.”

Companies in San Diego County, that were ordered to cut water use by 30% on March 1, are now scrambling to meet a 50% reduction that was mandated earlier this month by the San Diego County Water Authority. The higher figure apparently will stand despite the recent flurry of storms that has brought rain to California, now in its fifth year of drought.


Only recently, however, has water become a major concern for most companies in San Diego County, said Jim Wright, a San Diego-based office manager for Black & Veatch, an engineering firm that advises clients on water conservation.

Consequently, many companies aren’t sure how dramatic consumption cuts can be achieved, said Wright, whose firm is negotiating with the water authority to present a series of conservation seminars in late April.

“In some ways, the water crisis is like the energy crisis of the 1970s,” said Doug Kobrick, an engineer in Black & Veatch’s Phoenix office. The oil shocks of the 1970s prompted business and industry to pay strict attention to energy needs, but “water simply hasn’t been a major concern for most companies,” he said.

With water availability now in doubt, companies are turning to the handful of engineering and consulting firms in the United States that conduct water audits. Most audits have been done at companies that consume large quantities of water or who must pretreat their industrial-waste stream before dumping it into municipal sewers.


Now the drought has forced many more companies to reconsider how they use water, said Vickie Driver, a water resource assistant with the County Water Authority.

“We’re pointing out to people that, if they reduce water use, they also can reduce their sewer bill, and they can also reduce energy requirements if their (industrial) processes require energy to heat or cool water,” Driver said. “But what we’re really selling is water conservation. . . . The energy and sewage reductions are bonuses.”

The County Water Authority has budgeted $40,000 during the fiscal year that ends June 30 for water conservation seminars aimed at non-residential customers in the county. That total will jump to at least $110,000 during the coming fiscal year, Driver said.

At the series of seminars in late April, industrial, commercial and institutional water customers will be told how to “reduce, reuse and recycle water,” Driver said. The authority will also pay for two water audits, the results of which will be shared with companies throughout Southern California.


Similarly, the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, which supplies all but a small percentage of San Diego County’s water, has hired a nationally known engineering firm to conduct seminars and complete water audits, said Mansour Hojabary, an associate engineer with the MWD.

The MWD has signed a contract with Boston-based Pequod & Associates, one of the handful of firms with an extensive water conservation track record, Hojabary said. Black & Veatch and Pequod are “the two firms that have done the most in terms of water audits and conservation,” Hojabary said. “This is a specialized field.”

While water conservation has taken a back seat to energy conservation, experts predict a rapid surge in the number of firms conducting water audits.

“I think water conservation is about where the energy industry was seven or eight years ago,” Hoffbuhr said.