Developing an effective water management system

By Tunde Obileye


Given that buildings or facilities will change over time from their original design or use, there is a huge responsibility on facility management practitioners in the area of water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

These have a massive impact on health and prevention of diseases. As a facility manager, it is imperative to keep up with changes in the development of water quality strategy and risk management requirements in relation to water supply and sanitation monitoring. Water related diseases include cholera and legionella.

It is possible to think that water is often not seen as a high business risk based on its relatively low cost, but the risk lies in the security of its treatment, supply and distribution which is paramount to the continued enjoyment of a residential property or productivity in a workplace.

If the water supply to a building is cut off for more than a few hours, then the building becomes uninhabitable due to public health issues, and in turn becomes unproductive.

In order to build confidence with clients, it is paramount to ensure a water strategy is implemented.

It can be applied to any commercial, residential, industrial and/or public sector facility where, in the event of water failure, any water-reliant systems i.e. fire protection systems, cooling systems, wholesome drinking supply and sanitation are fully considered.

Understanding water usage behavior can assist in providing an informed plan of action which can be further developed to mitigate risk.

Such plans should include the detection of leaks and upgrade of ageing water infrastructure, as well as proactive measures and not reactive maintenance requirements.

Issues associated with ageing infrastructure, such as pipework and sanitary fixtures often escalate and can require immediate action. When undertaking these upgrades, reactive or quick fix practices should be avoided as they will inevitably cause more financial burden than relief.

Taking a proactive approach to upgrades is beneficial.

For example, replacing out of date, inefficient plumbing fixtures with low-flow outlets or alternatively providing fixtures with aerators to reduce water consumption are effective methods of addressing water efficiency issues.

There can be significant savings associated within a complex building with multiple fixtures and fittings.

However, the full extent of other consequences should be considered. For example, installing low flow fixtures within existing extensive horizontal high level sanitary drainage runs can cause blockages.

Retrofitting waterless urinals may seem an effective solution but requires waste pipework to be fully assessed, as urine is acidic and can quickly corrode existing copper waste pipework.

This quick solution is potentially an expensive problem requiring pipework replacement and is rarely budgeted for, therefore straining an already limited facilities budget and causing frustrations for facility managers and their tenants. Any water strategy needs to look at mitigating risks and maximizing opportunities.

It should be noted that opportunities can also present unanticipated costs or risks. For example, when considering the opportunity to implement and retrofit systems, the full life-cycle cost needs to be considered, and water is just one cost.

The energy required to pump the water from the basement to all WC fixtures within a high rise office building can have a significant impact on electrical loads and costs.

Energy efficient pumps may help, however the full impact should be assessed, with consideration to the location of the water systems.

Facility managers must adopt a robust water strategy that focuses on operational measures, as well as both short and long term engineering solutions.

It must also be integrated with other strategies, for example energy management. A building is a complex network of interconnected systems that cannot operate in isolation of one another.

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