US hospitals are considered one of the most water intensive facilities. The healthcare industry has traditionally been slow to adopt water conservation strategies. However, more and more hospitals are exploring the implementation of sustainable water management practices. These practices help to increase water resiliency and reduce overall water demand, especially those in water stressed communities.

Hospitals require water for not only heating and cooling requirements, but also for toilet flushing, landscaping, medical equipment and the well-being of its patients. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, “Water used in hospitals and other health care facilities comprises 7 percent of the total water use in commercial and institutional facilities in the United States.” [1] Over the last few years, hospitals have begun to analyze water use and best practices related to water use.

Water supply risks associated with municipal service disruptions along with consistent drought have aided the healthcare industry to focus its efforts on implementing water conservation strategies. An EPA report states that utilizing water-efficient strategies in commercial facilities, such as hospitals, can help reduce water use by approximately 15 percent. [1] St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Washington is able to save nearly 6 million gallons of water annually through the use of water efficient equipment. These strategies also enable the Hospital to save $1.5 million over ten years. [3] Additionally, the installation of new low-flow fixtures at Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center saves over 1.4 million gallons and $12,900 annually. [6]

Municipal service disruptions, even just one, could cause detrimental effects to not only the hospital’s operations, but the thousands of patients it serves every day. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Emergency Water Supply Planning Guide for Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities, hospitals nation-wide have been affected by water service disruptions. [2] The CDC itself also experienced these effects. In July 2015, the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia was forced to shut down due to a municipal water main break. [7]

Without the use of a more extensive water management solution, healthcare facilities are still exposed to various water supply risk. However, a number of hospitals nation-wide are turning to more strategic ways to secure their water supplies, like water reclamation and reuse.  At the University of North Carolina (UNC), a water reclamation system supplies reclaimed water to chillers at UNC Hospitals, which account for 90 million gallons annually. [5] Additionally, Clovis Community Medical Center uses reclaimed water strategies to recycle an average of 42 million gallons of water per year for irrigation. [4]

By implementing reclamation and reuse strategies, hospitals have the ability to drastically reduce their dependence on municipal water and improve overall water resiliency. Having a second, redundant water source helps mitigate future water crises, allowing for more attention to be focused on medical research and innovations. Healthcare facilities, along with various other commercial industries, are beginning to take a step forward to shape the way our nation utilizes water.

Published: May 31, 2016

[1] Environmental Protection Agency. Saving Water in Hospitals. Environmental Protection Agency, November, 2012. Web.

[2] Center for Disease Control. Emergency Water Supply Planning Guide for Hospitals and Health Care Facilities. Center for Disease Control, N.D. Web.

[3] Environmental Protection Agency. Hospital Installs Water-Efficient Laboratory and Medical Equipment. Environmental Protection Agency, July 2014. Web.

[4] Clovis Community Medical Center. Landscape Recycled Water Usage. Clovis Community Medical Center, May 2015. Web.

[5] The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Water Management. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Web.

[6] American Society for Healthcare Engineering and Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence. Environmental Sustainability in Hospitals: The Value of Efficiency American Society for Healthcare Engineering and Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence, May 2014. Web.

[7] DeKlab Water Saga: Boil Water Advisory Lifted., July 27, 2015. Web.

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