Alliance for Water Efficiency

One way that we can make our existing water supply work more effectively
for our society is conservation. Through efficient use of fresh water supplies,
it is possible to stretch our existing resources further and preserve them for the
future. While there are many novel concepts and technologies that could make
a substantial impact toward conserving our water a challenge has been sharing
that information with the broader community of regulators, planners, contractors,
and appliance makers so that national policies might be developed. All of these
groups have a direct influence in implementing water conservation technologies
but lack of a common forum appeared to impede progress historically. In a proactive
move to change that trend, in 2006, the US EPA announced the formation of the
Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE). AWE’s primary mission is to serve as an
advocate for water efficiency research, evaluation, and education by bringing
local, state and federal regulators together with utilities and industry
representatives to the same table.

Many of the initiatives publicized by AWE seem like common sense; that said,
without the national clearinghouse that AWE offers, few would know of these
efforts, much less benefit from them. Take low-flow toilet testing for example;
everyone generally sees the value that low-flow toilets bring to water
conservancy but many consumers and home builders are hesitant to embrace
the technology because they wonder “will it work?” There were a variety of
proprietary tests that we performed by manufacturers touting their own solutions
and even a test conducted by Consumer Reports magazine but few of these tests
were performed with realistic media and accurately represented how the toilet
would perform with human waste. The MaP (Maximum Performance) project was
undertaken to address this; by working with water conservation experts and toilet
fixture manufacturers, the MaP project developed a test that used soybean paste
as a test media. The MaP testing report now includes information on over 700
models of toilet, 200 of which are rated as high efficiency toilets (HET); the test
report rates each fixture by the amount of waste cleared in a single flush and
includes other useful information such as water usage per flush and the model’s
compliance with various efforts and standards.

Most consumers and homebuilders would never be aware that such efforts have
been made to provide the information that’s they need to make a conscious choice
to buy a low-flow toilet; the Alliance seeks to change that – and consequently
make an impact in reducing water usage. Beyond just toilet testing, AWE offers
a substantial residential efficiency library. Compiling information and standards on
many areas including showers, dishwashers, irrigation and swimming pools, the
Alliance seeks to educate home builders and home owners so that smart decisions
can be made by both groups.

At the other end of the spectrum from consumer education is drought planning
and response; AWE tackles this as well. AWE rightly links water conservation
and drought as two drivers of water policy and planning; while water
conservation will not completely prevent drought, it can forestall acute crises
and reduce demand, allowing the natural water cycle to ‘catch up’ to human
usage patterns. The Alliance offers the State of California’s Urban Drought
Handbook (published by the state’s Department of Water Resources) as a
practical roadmap for communities currently dealing with drought and those
who see the value in establishing a plan before a crisis occurs. The handbook
is an extremely concise resource for state and local governments and offers a
complete roadmap for managing a drought including identifying demands,
alternate sources and establishing triggers that can be a sort of early warning
system for water planners and elected officials.

Additionally, AWE offers information and education through newsletters and
press releases. Scouring the lay-media as well as the professional and academic
journals, AWE finds articles that range in sources from local newspapers to
Scientific American magazine. The Alliance is putting together a comprehensive
portal for water conservation, technology and real world issues. AWE couples
this library of information and articles with a convenient search tool which allows
users to quickly identify and locate information specific to their situation – whether contractors, planners or consumers – everyone benefits. What’s more, AWE
does not restrict access to this database of information, it exists to be used by
any and all who are interested.

Until the EPA chartered the Alliance, water conservation efforts were local and
disparate. The AWE offers a national platform and voice to advocate for the
best of these programs. Through increased education and advocacy of smart
policies, the AWE represents a huge step forward for sustainable water planning
and use in North America. Its members are hard at work, shaping the future of our
water policy.