U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- An Intel Corp. engineer was in an airport
restroom when he noticed something he thought might help the chip
maker save water at its Colorado Springs plant -- waterless urinals.
Under a plea from utility officials to save water, Intel is
testing three of the contraptions to see if it makes sense to install
them plantwide. ``We recognized we were in a drought situation and
wanted to be a good corporate citizen,'' spokeswoman Judy Cara said.
Saving a flush here and there might seem like a small thing, but
businesses across the West have been asked to do their part in
conserving water because a five-year drought has left reservoirs well
below normal. The efforts have become more urgent as water agencies
from California to Colorado consider levying surcharges for
Yet the bigger worry for businesses isn't the surcharges but the
supply of water.
``If you can't get water, it's a much more serious problem than
not getting oil,'' said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist for Wells
Fargo & Co. ``There are substitutes for oil, but no substitutes
Dealing with more scarce and expensive water has become a part of
doing business for many companies:
Some car wash operators reported a 10 percent to 20 percent drop
in business due to drought for the first five months of the year.
``It's a double-whammy for us. We've not only lost business from
people trying to save water by not washing their cars often, but then
we're surcharged for that water,'' said Doug Christ, president of the
150-member Rocky Mountain Car Wash Association.
Sinton Dairy Foods in Colorado Springs hopes to save $2,000 per
month to $3,000 per month from measures that include installing an $8
million plant that will allow it to cut water use by 1 million
``The dollars weren't really the impetus here, because water still
isn't all that expensive per gallon,'' said Bill Keating, Sinton's
vice president of operations. ``It was more a matter of trying to do
Frito Lay, which installed new systems to capture and reuse water
for making potato chips, and Conoco Phillips are among companies that
have agreed to programs in Denver in which they can be rewarded up to
$40,000 for changing processes to save water. The Southern Nevada
Water Authority has been working with Las Vegas casinos and hotels on
Coors Brewing Co. in Golden avoided the prospect of surcharges
because it has its own portfolio of water rights, some of which are a
century old. The company is prepared to withstand three years of
serious drought, spokeswoman Aimee Valdez said.
But farms and ranches are dealing with dwindling crops and feed
for livestock, and water-dependent tourism industries like rafting
and fishing have suffered. That has led to losses at related
``In terms of nonfarm businesses, it is a severe headwind all
around,'' Sohn said.
There has been some temporary relief in Denver, as drought
surcharges are being phased out now that reservoirs are back to 80
percent of capacity following spring storms.
``But with a growing population and the variability of Mother
Nature, these types of situations may become more frequent,'' said
John Reed, a conservation specialist with the city's agency, Denver
At Intel, officials are recycling wastewater from its system for
making flash memory chips for use in its cooling towers. Cara said
Intel already has cut water use 34 percent this past year for a
savings of 78 million gallons a year.
Then there are the urinals. Intel estimates each could save it
20,000 gallons per year.
After Intel ripped out three older urinals to make way for the
waterless ones, it donated the old ones to a YMCA -- which is
watching for results at Intel before deciding whether to go
``We notice when there is a drought, people do try to pull
together and get more involved in conservation,'' said Rita Schmidt
Sudman, head of the Water Education Foundation in Sacramento, Calif.
``But conservation is a yearlong and lifelong process.''
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