At the end of the first year of ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program, Water Efficiency chairs Mary Ann Dickinson and Carole Baker detailed how improved technologies, policies, and practices will help achieve new levels of water efficiency by 2020. “Achieving greater water efficiency will require improved technology, reduced hardware costs, consumer behavioral changes, legal and policy changes in health codes, and re-interpretation of some water laws,” they wrote. Have we made any progress? One year later, ECOHOME talks with Dickinson about recent progress and the challenges still facing the industry.

It’s been nearly a year now since you took part in the first Vision 2020 sustainability Summit. What is new at your organization, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, since then? 
Dickinson: We have become very involved in the current perception that water conservation is causing revenue instability in water systems across the country. The long-term sustainability benefits of more-efficient water use are now being disregarded because of the short-term impacts of revenue reduction from reduced water sales. We are conducting a two-year project, partnering with Stanford University and with funding from two foundations, to produce guidance for water utilities on how to manage successful demand-reduction programs while keeping their revenue streams stable at the same time.

Has much changed in your focus area, Water Efficiency?
The issue of conservation being perceived negatively has always been with us, mainly because customers sometimes mistakenly associate conservation programs with water rationing and depriving them of their long shower or their green lawn.  But this new association of conservation causing rising rates is rapidly becoming a national headache that we need to address.

AWE recently released a report about the gaps in the understanding of the relationship between water and energy. What does the report reveal?
The report summarizes the water and energy research that has been conducted to date and identifies gaps in the current research that should be addressed on the federal and state levels.  Some key recommendations include:

  • Collect data on the embedded energy in water to determine the national impact of energy use in the water sector. 
  • Conduct detailed audits of embedded energy demands for an entire water and wastewater system to help determine opportunities for system optimization.  
  • Identify and eliminate regulatory barriers to co-implementation of energy- and water-efficiency programs.  
  • Develop water and energy industry-accepted evaluation, measurement, and verification protocols for efficiency programs.  
  • Assess potential impacts to water supplies and quality from energy-resource development, such as hydraulic fracturing and biofuels development, and identify solutions to mitigate these impacts.

Do you foresee more water conservation and reuse legislation like the bill that was recently passed in Texas?
States are beginning to look at their adopted laws and regulations governing efficiency. Our State Water Efficiency Scorecard report has created discussion across the country about improvement opportunities.  The Texas legislation enacted this year is sweeping legislation that allocates $400 million to water conservation and recycling programs as part of statewide strategy toward water sustainability.  Up until now, only California had allocated this kind of money to water-efficiency issues.  We are hoping that more states will follow.

Have there been any strides in the area of greater acceptance of graywater recycling?
Progress on this is slower than we would like, and mostly because research on the epidemiological issues associated with graywater recycling is still very much needed. Until this research is conducted and proposed national standards are developed, progress will continue to be slow and confined to just pilots in innovative cities. The city of San Francisco has shown significant leadership in this area and its adopted graywater ordinance can serve as a model for the nation.

What are the biggest challenges you’ll be tackling in the next few years?
A stronger connection between water and energy policies and programs. More widespread implementation of sensor-driven technology for controlling water use, particularly in outdoor irrigation. Better management of water leakage in utility distribution systems. Stabilizing water utility revenue streams while still promoting conservation programs. We will be busy.

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability. Track our progress all year as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Sustainability Summit in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.