How Water Conservation is Impacting the Apartment Industry

Water Conservation Multifamily


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the U.S. has made substantial progress against the drought that has persisted in recent years. In January, 71.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. had no drought, compared to 53.6 percent a year ago. Water reservoirs are back to normal or exceeding capacity in some parts.

Water conservation efforts in the apartment industry

So, is it time to let up on water restrictions and conservation efforts? No, say leaders of The Golden State. In fact, the first of more efforts to conserve water have gone into effect in California, a place with some big drought worries.

The apartment industry should continue to implement strategies that not only save water but also help the bottom line.

“It’s still important for properties to continue to work with suppliers to save resources and operating expenses through water-efficient practices,” says Jennifer Lester, RealPage, Inc.’s Vice President of Supplier Management.

New California standards aim to save even more water

Water Consumption

Before El Niño became a blip on the map, California Gov. Governor Brown issued Executive Order B‐29‐15 on April 1, 2015, authorizing the California Energy Commission to adopt emergency regulations to establish standards that improve the efficiency of water.

As of early 2014, California had more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets, and 1 million urinals that consumed 443 billion gallons of water a year.

In January, the first of new standards to improve the efficiency of kitchen faucets, public lavatory faucets, toilets, and urinals went into effect. In July, showerheads and some lavatory faucets and aerators will have to meet new flow rates. Updated guidelines for other faucets and aerators will go into effect in September.

The new requirements are expected to reduce consumption by allowing less water to be dispersed or flushed. Toilets for California residences and businesses, for example, will use 1.28 gallons per flush instead of the 1.6 gallons per flush mandated in 1994 when water conservation went to new levels.

Study shows that using less water in the lavatory yields big savings

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently completed a study of the impact of reducing the maximum flow rate for lavatory faucets from the previous standard of 2.2 gallons per minute to 1.2 gallons per minute. CEC also analyzed savings for implementing a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute as part of a proposal put forward by Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) to provide a temporary fix until manufacturing could meet anticipated demand for lower flow products.

In both scenarios, the amount of water savings is impressive.

At 1.2 gallons per minute, California will save about 4.5 billion gallons of water, 16.0 million therms of natural gas, and 118-gigawatt hours of electricity this year. Implementation of a 1.5-gallons-per-minute maximum flow rate will save about 3.4 billion gallons of water, 12 million therms of natural gas, and 89-gigawatt hours of electricity.

Also, the new fixtures are cost-efficient and readily available, helping to dispel a consumer myth that low-flow water appliances are not only more costly but harder to find. CEC’s analysis concluded there was no incremental cost between a 1.5 GPM faucet and 2.2 GPM faucet.

Conservation programs are still important for apartments and their residents

Water Saving Showerhead

The new California standard is a good thing, but simply calling for the manufacturing and sale of low-flow water appliances on new installations will only make a dent in water conservation.

PMI says the biggest savings won’t come from designing and manufacturing new water-efficient faucets, toilets and urinals but, instead, from replacing many of the fixtures that were installed to meet 1994 standards. Just upgrading to new technology even outside of California’s standards elsewhere in the U.S. will make a difference. Replacing old technology with WaterSense® products in hotels, apartments, homes and other buildings, PMI says, will save three billion gallons of water a day.

Also, replacing antiquated water infrastructure could save billions of gallons each year. PMI estimates that the U.S. loses 17 percent of its publicly treated water through 240,000 annual water main breaks.

Apartments have become diligent stewards of saving water in recent years. Anybody knows from the agendas at local, regional and national multifamily conferences that water conservation not only lowers operating costs but sends a message that apartments are an ambassador to conserving earth’s natural resources. For some residents, that’s a reason to join a community or continue staying.

So, just because the rain gauge is looking fit doesn’t mean it’s time to stop conserving and remove capital projects to reduce water consumption from the budget. Consider that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program has helped consumers save a cumulative 1.1 trillion gallons of water and over $21.7 billion in water and energy bills.

Those numbers are too much to ignore, even on a rainy day.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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