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Can A Sign Help Reduce Water Consumption?
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 10/15/2018

Glass water In 2015, when the worst of the California drought was gripping the state, correctional facilities were under enormous pressure to reduce water consumption. And according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials, they were very successful. "We have been able to conserve roughly 1.5 billion gallons of water per year," says CDCR spokesperson Bill Sessa. "We have reduced watering schedules for all kinds of ornamental lawns and plants. We don't wash cars anymore. We don't even rinse the dishes in the kitchen anymore. We scrape them."

Among other steps the Department has taken, which have also proven successful is the installation of flushometers. These limit how often a toilet can be flushed in a specific period of time, usually around five minutes. Plus, they can be adjusted to reduce the amount of water released per flush. "This has helped us reduce water usage by as much as 30 percent in some prisons," says Sessa.

Another step they have taken is to reduce the number of showers inmates can take and how long they can shower. Unless they are involved with culinary activities or assist in the medical department of the correctional facility, all inmates are now allowed three showers per week for five minutes each.

According to Klaus Reichardt, CEO and Founder of Waterless Co., Inc., they have taken another step that may be more powerful than correctional administrators realize. "They have posted signs in the [correctional] facilities, urging inmates and staff to be more cognizant of water and to use it wisely and sparingly."

For instance, at the Sacramento County Jail, the following signs are posted in strategic areas of the facility:
Please Do Your Part To
Limit your time in the shower
Only run water as needed
Only flush toilets when necessary
Together we can make a difference

Why does he think signage like this might help? Reichardt points to a study conducted in Florida in which signs were posted in one residential section of a local community, advising homeowners when they did not need to water their lawns due to recent rains. The signs were regularly updated based on rainfall events and amounts.

"Just so we know how much water this can be, it is estimated that each homeowner uses about 150,000 gallons of water per year to water their lawns. If there are 20 homes on the block, all irrigating their lawns the same way, that's three million gallons of water per year just for watering lawns on just one city block."

A few weeks after the study began, the researchers started measuring how much water was consumed at each home. "There was, what was termed, an 'astonishing' 61 percent decrease in lawn watering, saving millions of gallons of water per week. [Further], the homeowners continued to use about 41 percent less water even after the study was completed. This indicates that a water conservation pattern had developed among the homeowners."

Can such a thing happen in a correctional facility. The researchers believe it can. They say the signs created “a greater sense of environmental stewardship that could be tied to everyday activities,” all of which could help reduce water consumption in all types of locations, potentially decreasing water use considerably.

However, as potentially powerful as signage can be, Reichardt advises correctional administrators they need to do more to reduce water over the long term. For instance, he suggests the following:
  • Instead of rinsing dishes in kitchens, scrape them before putting them in the dishwasher
  • Reduce or eliminate outdoor irrigation
  • Update laundry equipment if funds are available. "One of the main features of newer washers is they use considerably less water."
  • Install low-flow toilets or regulate flushometers, if installed, to use less water per flush. "Avoid using low-flow kits found in hardware stores. These can be effective in homes and small commercial facilities, but not in correctional facilities."
  • Select shower heads that reduce water use by as much as 30 percent; "these are very cost effective and may save even more water than reducing showering to just five minutes."
  • No-water urinals can be another cost-effective option. One waterless urinal saves 35,000 gallons of water per year, "so installing several can reduce water consumption dramatically." In correctional facilities, waterless urinals are usually found in common area restrooms, visitor restrooms, and staff restrooms.
"Reducing water consumption in a correctional facility requires a team effort," says Reichardt. "Staff and administrators can't do it alone, they need inmates involved as well. Just like the sign [above] says in the Sacramento facility, 'together we can make a difference.'"

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the corrections industry.


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