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Hidden Costs and Liabilities of Mismanaged Water

When it comes to water, hidden costs abound. You’re just scratching the surface when you just consider the water bill itself. There are good reasons – financial, labor efficiency and beyond – to more closely manage your water usage. Better visibility and ongoing monitoring is the prudent and smart way to understand and contain your organization’s water usage.

Water rates are growing faster than that of energy, rising an astounding 41% since 2010.1 It’s simple: waste precious water and your organization will add to what is likely already a substantial bill. But wasted water is actually costing you far more than just the cost of the water – you’re exposing yourself to a whole host of additional costs and potential liabilities.

Hidden Cost #1: The Effects of Overwatering

Overwatering is the cause of the vast majority of issues experienced by plants and trees, particularly disease. By better managing the placement and amount of water used for landscape irrigation, you won’t have to replace your plant material or hardscape (retaining walls, wooden fences, masonry, etc.) as often.

Overwatering also reduces the life span of your asphalt and paved surfaces. An advantage of tighter water management is that you won’t spend as much time or money repaving and patching parking lots, walkways or conducting other costly maintenance. In addition, overwatering can cause soil consolidation, a leading cause of concrete slab foundation problems and failures.

Shortening the life of your pavement can easily add 10 – 20% to your parking lot maintenance costs.

Hidden Cost #2: Wastewater

The American Water Works Association bi-annual rate study shows that sewer rates across the US have climbed in excess of 11% every year since 2008. In 2008 and 2012, rates increased a hefty 15%. Without careful water management, you’ll produce more wastewater and will be charged at rapidly rising rates to dispose of it.

Sewer rates are climbing at a double-digit pace, even faster than water rates.2

Hidden Cost #3: Fines and Fees

There are several reasons your organization may have to pay fines and additional fees. Many parts of the US are parched due to the lack of rain. In response, numerous cities and states have implemented water restrictions and regulations. Not adhering to them can result in your organization paying fines for non-compliance, often running into the thousands of dollars each month depending on locale.

You can also be fined for runoff pollution, usually the result of overwatered landscape. Runoff carries pollutants – motor oil, fertilizer, animal waste and more – into storm drains, which flow untreated to the ocean. The problem is so severe the Environmental Protection Agency includes urban runoff and storm water discharges as part of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

Hidden Cost #4: Potential Liability

Slip-and-fall accidents are one of the most common causes of personal injuries and accompanying lawsuits. According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, falls are the second most costly cause of injury, costing US businesses nearly $14 billion each year. These types of accidents, commonly the result of wet pavement, are the primary cause of lost days of work, costing companies billions of dollars every year on top of any monies owed due to lawsuits.

At 25%, slip and fall injuries are among the most frequently reported work accident claim.3

Community associations, in particular, have a long history of lawsuits for negligence based on a duty to maintain outdoor areas. These lawsuits are frequently based on injuries resulting from slipping and falling on wet parking lots and sidewalks.

Water intrusion, leaks, breaks and the resulting mold can cause significant damage in any type of building, and often result in legal action as well. Personal injury claims due to mold infestation brought by employees, contractors, landlords and tenants continue to rise.

Hidden Cost #5: Erosion in Brand Equity

Consumers are increasingly thinking green and showing concern over water waste. Don’t underestimate the damage done to your corporate image when water is spewing onto sidewalks, standing water is apparent on landscape, or sprinklers are running during a rainstorm. It’s analogous to having a poor customer experience with a phone provider – some unhappy users will switch brands and/or take to social media to voice their disapproval.

Hidden Cost #6: Unknown Leaks

Slow leaks can go undetected for weeks, months or longer. According to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, nearly 14% of the water used is wasted from leaks. The EPA estimates that a single leaky toilet can cost over $2000 per year in water alone. Additional funds must be spent fixing whatever damage the leak rendered and conducting maintenance to ensure it doesn’t happen in that particular spot again.

MalfunctionEstimated Water LossEstimated Cost of Water Loss
Leaking toilet21,600 gallons/month$2,100/year
Stuck cooling tower float valve216,000 gallons/month$21,000/year
Broken 1” irrigation line648,000 gallons/month$93,300/year4

1 Circle of Blue
2 American Water Works Association
3 US Department of Labor
4 Environmental Protection Agency