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Reclaim for the future

Spiking utility costs and an antiquated infrastructure make water reclaim vital for continued carwash success.

September 28, 2012
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Two territories wage war over precious water. The enemies fight on multiple battlefields over a number of years. As one side battles to bring more water to a sprawling, growing metropolis, the other fights to protect its wildlife and natural resources. Sure, it sounds like the summation of a science fiction novel, but it is a true story. Unfortunately the future is finally here.

Finding enough clean, fresh water is now a growing global concern. As carwash owners in Atlanta, GA, Texas and the U.S. heartland can attest, drought conditions are a definite threat to carwash operations. This summer’s “exceptional drought” in the center of the U.S. threatens to have a number of long-lasting effects on the economy. In this industry, it has crippled some businesses by curbing operational hours and even closing washes completely.

Thankfully, over the past few years, various groups have successfully defended carwash water usage in the political arena. Many municipalities now understand that tunnels, in-bay automatics and self serves use a fraction of the water that driveway washing requires. Mainly this is due to the futuristic filtration provided by water reclaim. These water recycling systems allow washes the flexibility to use wash water again and again.

Reclaim evolution

Water reclaims systems work by capturing, filtering and treating water that has already been used in a carwash bay or tunnel. Recent advancements and improvements in reclaim technology now provide operators with multiple benefits. Gary Hirsh, president of New Wave Industries, explained that the systems reduce costly fresh water consumption and minimize expensive sewer discharge costs. The results are water and sewer utility savings of 75 to 95 percent without any negative impact wash quality.

The water cleaned by a reclaim system can be used for all wash applications that would otherwise require fresh water, with the exception of some chemistry and the final rinse, Hirsh stated. The advanced filtration process used today allows systems to produce optimum, clean, odor-free 5-Micron water quality that can feed all wash components including high pressure pumps.

What are the latest advances in water reclaim systems? “Technologically speaking, today’s reclaim systems are engineered to provide the targeted wash with optimum water quality, are user friendly and require minimal maintenance,” Hirsh said. “Physically speaking, today’s reclaim systems are designed to fit into a considerably smaller footprint as opposed to their predecessors.”

Further, the more advanced systems incorporate variable frequency drives (VFDs), programmable logic controllers and human machine interface (HMI). These advances help the systems operate efficiently and cost effectively, and they keep the operator informed about the status and progress of all processes, functions and programmed commands at a glance. Simply put, today’s reclaim systems are engineered to be “smart,” user-friendly systems with a reduced cost of ownership.

Combating costs

When it comes to the future of utility costs for carwash owners, the outlook is definitely bleak. “Water and sewer costs are rising at exponential rates; our current municipal infrastructure is antiquated and is simply not capable of supporting the growing residential and commercial demand,” Hirsh said.

“Incorporating a well engineered reclaim system into a wash will [allow] the operator to control his or her utility costs by effectively substituting reclaim water for fresh water,” Hirsh continued. “Most operators will realize a return on investment in less than two-and-a-half years.”

Carwash owners considering new construction should also add sewer tap fees, or water and sewer access charges, to the intimidating tally. These access charges are special, one-time fees that are added simply for the privilege of connecting to the municipal water and sewer systems. Hirsh revealed that these connection fees can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands.

The ability to recycle water can help carwash owners here too. These impact fees typically can be reduced if a carwash is designed to include a water reclamation system. Hirsh said, in many cases, the savings realized in discounted fees will far outweigh the cost of the actual reclaim system.

Thinking outside the tunnel

Reclaim water can be used for a number of uses outside of the tunnel as well. One example Hirsh provided is site irrigation. Reclaimed water can easily be integrated into existing irrigation systems, and this will further reduce the demand for fresh water and represent additional savings for an operator. Current advancements in water recovery technology will also allow an operator to effectively utilize reclaim water to feed chemistry.

Harvesting rainwater is another effective and relatively inexpensive method of supplementing a carwash’s fresh water supply. Hirsh pointed out that certain regions of the country are better candidates than others due to potential rainfall volume, but he noted that some washes have incorporated harvesting systems into their businesses. “We view harvesting rainwater as a viable option and anticipate a number of operators incorporating harvesting systems as water costs continue to escalate,” he said.

Though the list of potential uses for reclaimed water outside of a tunnel or bay is long, these other uses may require additional permitting. Hirsch recommended checking with the municipality where a carwash is located to find out if additional permitting is required.

Future thoughts

Looking to the future, Hirsh feels that water reclaim will be critically important in the carwash market. Water is a finite natural resource and many cities, counties and state have severely undersized water systems. There may be no way these systems can meet the commercial and residential demand for water.

“Some municipalities have already instituted water recovery requirements, and although I don’t believe we will see across the board mandates to reclaim, I anticipate the impetus of exponential increases in water and sewer costs to drive operators to incorporate water recovery systems into their wash sites,” Hirsh said.