Water reclamation and regulations - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Water reclamation and regulations

Water is the lifeblood of the planet, without it, life would cease to exist.

Water is the lifeblood of the planet, without it, life would cease to exist. That being said, one of the most glaring problems facing the world today is access to fresh water. Water is considered a ‘renewable’ resource, it makes it back into the hydrologic cycle so it can be used again and again; however, pressure on the resource is growing. Pollution of surface and groundwater further reduces the supply. The availability of and access to fresh water supplies has been highlighted as among the most critical natural resource issues facing the world:

  • Thirty-one countries are facing severe water stress
  • Over 1 billion people have no access to clean water, and
  • By 2025, researchers are predicting water will be shipped around the globe like gas is today, through pipelines and tankers

In spite of all this, water use continues to increase. Between 1972 and 1996, Canada’s water usage increased by 90 percent while the population increased only 33 percent. Water consumption has tripled in the last 50 years. U.S. water consumption has increased six-fold since the 1900s, twice the rate of population growth. The problem is compounded when we take a look at the ageing infrastructure. The infrastructure supporting water utilities across the globe are being stressed beyond their limits. It’s estimated that $335 billion is needed to fix the outdated systems in the U.S. alone. The U.S.'s drinking water system is so troubled, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a grade of D in its, “2013 Report Card of America's Infrastructure” that is up from the D- given in 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in the biggest municipalities over 30 percent of the water pipes are 40-80 years old and, 10 percent of those are older than that. Our wastewater gets a D as well, so not only do we have difficulty treating the fresh water that we have for human consumption, we also have a difficult time cleaning the water that we use to be released back into the environment. Environment Canada states that the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card 2012 suggests a possible need for as much as $80 billion to replace aging water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure that is already appraised as being in ‘fair’ to ‘very poor’ condition. It has been estimated that Canadian municipalities currently face some $31 billion to repair and maintain the existing capital stock, and an additional $56.6 billion for new infrastructure. According to the 2011 Municipal Water Pricing Report produced by Environment Canada, water and sewer rates have risen 25 percent on average since 2006 and will continue to climb.

What carwash owners need to know

Not only are rates going up but municipalities are switching over to volumetric charges vs. flat rate charges which means customers will be charged for every liter or gallon of water used and sent down the drain. What does this mean to carwash operators? Water and sewer bills will continue to skyrocket. The use of water reclamation can save an operator anywhere from $8,000 to over $20,000 per year in water and sewer costs.

If you ever built anything that required a permit from a government entity, you have been exposed to a multiplicity laced with contradictions and always confusing regulations. These regulations will control everything from how the exterior of your building will look, to how your restrooms will be configured, to how many lights are in your parking lot, to how the light is capped to prevent ‘light pollution’ in the night sky. Carwashes are no different. Since this article is about water regulations we will stick to the swamp that is the sticky morass of rules concerning water and waste water.

The impact of impact fees

Back in the day when municipalities and water and sewer districts were starting to get concerned about their ability to deliver water and process wastewater for their customers, they developed a means to collect revenue to help offset needed improvements. These were called impact fees. These fees were calculated to charge the user that would have the most need for water and sewer services the most money. Often car washes were targeted. Water reclamation systems were developed to counter these fees. Water and sewer districts would often set aside most or sometimes all the impact fees based on the carwash customer having a water reclamation system, these systems were often never used. Nowadays while there are still impact fees, the water and sewer authorities are also charging by the volume of water you take in and calculating from that your sewer discharge, these rates are sky-rocketing. So while any ‘reclaim system’ may get you by the impact fees, you are going to want one that works consistently and provides a high quality wash to keep your operating costs down.

An easy solution to this problem is water conservation; do more with less. In the carwash industry this means: (can these be check marks?)

  • Ensuring there are no leaks in the equipment room or wash bay
  • Using zero degree nozzles
  • Using high efficiency reverse osmosis (RO) systems in conjunction with RO reject recovery
  • Eliminating the use of water softeners (they typically dump over 750 liters or 200 gallons of brine water per regeneration)
  • Replacing old equipment with more environmentally-friendly equipment, and
  • Implementing water reclamation systems.

All of these efforts will save water usage, but implementing a properly designed water reclamation system can save 80-85 percent on water and sewer bills and can qualify for rebates from local municipalities.

Last year in California a bill to require newly built carwashes to recycle their wash water was introduced. This ultimately became a law that requires the carwash to reuse 50 percent of their water. As a resident of California I can tell you a law that is not punitive or business crippling but achievable and actually helpful happens so rarely that it is noteworthy. As stated, this was a very simple law, it certainly could have been worse, for example they could have put water quality restrictions on this reuse water like they do in Wisconsin. Or they could have required the water reclamation equipment to be state approved, which includes a renewal every three years, again as required in Wisconsin.

Meeting the standards

In an earlier article I touched on a site discharging the overflow from the carwash to the ground via the storm drain and how the requirement for the water quality needed to be higher than just letting it run out of your last separator tank. This required the reclaim system to not only filter the water for reuse but also filter and control the volume of water being discharged. In parts of the Northeast where septic systems are common and you are limited by the size of your leach field as to how much water you can discharge, carwashes are constantly struggling to meet both volume and quality discharge standards (see example of these quality standards for an area of Long Island on page XX). I will point out that there are a multitude of these areas and the standards are different based on the area’s soil absorption capabilities and the watershed, the area stream, river or ocean where the water eventually ends up.

It is common sense that when you use recycled water in a carwash at the points where the reclaimed water and the site’s fresh water intersect, that you put in a means to prevent the reclaimed from contaminating the fresh water. In most cases this is a simple check valve, in some provinces in Canada it requires a break tank and repressurization pump. A break tank has a fill valve through which fresh water keeps filled and when you need fresh water delivered within the carwash the fresh water repressurization pump delivers it. This is yet another example of bad regulation 

What’s the good news?

The good news is there are many programs similar to Toronto Water’s and SAW’s; the bad news is other many municipalities are not near as progressive. While some parts of the U.S. and Canada mandate the use of reclaim in carwashes (Quebec City, most of Florida and California comes to mind), other parts actually prohibit it. Alberta’s plumbing code prohibits the use of reclaimed water and requires that carwashes operate with potable water and drainage to sanitary sewer. They fear contamination of water could be a health risk factor as they compare carwash reclaim water to toilet bowl flushing.

In reality, carwash reclaim water is notwastewater as it does not contain discharge water from toilets, urinals etc. In fact, with a properly designed reclaim, the treatment of carwash reclaim water greatly improves the quality of the water, making it safe for human exposure and discharge to the environment and putting less of a burden on the local municipality for the treatment of that wastewater.

This article is collaboration between Charles Borchard and Denise Wight, the VP of Operations and Director of Corporate Accountsfor New Wave Industries PurClean / PurWater respectively. Between them they have 50 years of experience in the carwash industry and 35 years of experience in the water treatment for carwashes industry.

Education is the key, we in the carwash industry need to work with local municipalities to educate them on the benefits of an environmentally friendly carwash, it not only benefits the carwash, it benefits the municipality. We hope that this information is helpful please contact us if you have questions about water regulations for your local area. Charlie can be reached at [email protected] and Denise at [email protected].

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