Drawing water from the desert

Hospital Safety Insider, February 4, 2016

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Hospitals in California are struggling to do their part to conserve water as the Golden State is in the middle of a record-breaking drought that has it with a "rain debt" of about 20 inches, or one year's supply of rain.

Last April, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive ordering cities to reduce their water consumption by 25%, and although hospitals are exempt from the order, facilities are trying to be good neighbors by taking actions to keep their consumption down. That's not an easy task, as the facilities tend to be among the biggest water consumers in a community due to their needs to maintain cleanliness, HVAC cooling mechanisms, and other facility processes. According to a study by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, a single hospital can use up to 139,214 gallons per day. Here are some takeaways that you can apply to your own facility if you're looking to conserve water:

Conduct a water audit.
You run a hospital's facilities and you've been given a budget to make the building more water efficient. However, funds are limited and you have to choose between installing low-flow plumbing or buying more sustainable sterilizers. How do you determine which option will save the most water and the most money?

A water audit should be the first step of any facility looking to reduce water consumption. It will allow you to make informed decisions on how much water you're using, what you're using it on, and how much you're paying for it. The audit can find unaccounted expenses such as leaky plumbing and identify the areas where conservation will be most effective.

Plant desert plants and grasses that aren't thirsty. Everyone wants a green lawn, but the problem is that most grasses need a lot of water for that healthy green shine. Most lawns need about 1 to 2 inches of water per week and irrigating a 1,000 square-foot lawn with one inch of water uses about 660 gallons. That also doesn't include the costs of maintaining bushes, trees, and flower gardens on your campus as well. Much of the conservation work done at LPCH is aimed at making their grounds more sustainable. Almost all of the plants on the hospital's 3.5-acre campus are drought- and heat-resistant, and all their water needs are met by giant underground water cisterns.

Upgrade to low-flow faucets
. Showerheads, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, sterilizers, sprinklers, refrigeration compressors, and other appliances can use a lot of water. If you're living alone with a sink in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, upgrading your faucets won't give you a huge return on investment, but if you're running a hospital with sinks in all your patient rooms, operating rooms, public and private bathrooms, locker rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and maintenance areas, your return on investment will probably be more noticeable.

Upgrading to more efficient models will help reduce water consumption throughout the hospital. Some older model surgical sterilizers lose 1 gallon per minute of water when purging their systems. Some types of sprinkler heads only get 50% efficiency, with half the water misting into the air instead of watering the plants below. If your hospital has 50 sinks and each one drips once per minute; that's roughly 1,735 gallons lost down the drain per year.

Recycle non-potable water.
Just because water isn't pure enough for a person to drink doesn't mean it's useless. Collecting the free condensation collected from air conditioners, distilled water from dialysis machines, and storm water in cisterns can drastically reduce the costs of landscaping. Cooling alone accounts for up to 53% of a hospital's water usage, according to statistics from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. A hemodialysis machine used for four hours results in roughly 50 gallons of water that is no longer usable for drinking or sanitation. Reclaiming some of that liquid for landscaping can be key to savings. By installing a series of pipes to collect air conditioning condensation, the Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa was able to capture up to 40,000 gallons per year for landscaping.

This is an excerpt from the monthly healthcare safety resource Briefings on Hospital Safety. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Non-subscribers can find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.

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