Blog Post

Water We Thinking? 4 Ways to Respond to the Water Crisis

The endless availability of fresh, clean water is an illusion—and not just in drought-stricken places. Here are some ways in which building professionals can step up.

Josey Pavilion Texas Lake|Flato constructed wetland

This Biohabitats-designed constructed wetland at the Josey Pavilion in Texas treats all the building's blackwater onsite.

Photo: Casey Dunn
Seriously, what are we thinking? Lush golf courses, thirsty almond groves, and huge metropolises in the desert. More sprawling cities built on flood plains. And we wonder why water is dangerously scarce in some places and destructively abundant in others.

We are out of balance with natural water cycles, and we pay for it—billions of dollars per year—when wildfires and floods result.

But it’s not just wildfire- and flood-prone areas that need to practice resilient, sustainable water management. Here’s why:

  • Drinking water requires considerable energy to produce, and wastewater treatment adds more energy consumption.
  • Hardscapes and turf pollute rainwater, which runs off into local waterways.
  • With climate change at work, areas that have not historically experienced these conditions can be hit with water shortages and flood events.

Our latest report for premium members, Resilient, Sustainable Water Management: A Holistic Approach, puts solid advice, new insights, and exemplary case studies about water conservation and rainwater management in one place. Written by our products & materials specialist, Brent Ehrlich, and me, the report dives deep into water and four ways in which we can start to restore our balance with nature by using less, avoiding water use, and reusing non-potable water.

1. Rethink plumbing

Low-flow faucets and showers should these days be a given in any building—including existing buildings, where retrofits are cheap and easy.


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But be careful not to go too low! It can be deadly. Follow our included product guidance to ensure safety and high performance with low-flow fixtures.

2. Stop flushing toilets with drinking water

Toilets are one of the highest water users in commercial buildings—and the highest in homes.

In new construction, there is seldom an excuse for using potable water for sewage conveyance. As mentioned above, this wastes energy twice—once for processing the drinking water and again for processing the blackwater. Rainwater and graywater are both good options for toilet flushing, and you can almost completely avoid water use with composting toilets.

In existing buildings, it’s worth it to completely replace high-gallon-per-flush toilets. (Our founder, Alex Wilson, has even proposed a federal “bounty” on older toilets to make replacement more affordable.)

3. Reconsider the cooling tower

With toilets and showers in the forefront of people’s minds, it’s less common to think of the HVAC system as a water consumer. But surprisingly, in buildings with a cooling tower, that’s by far the biggest water user.

There are lots of ways to reduce or completely avoid that water consumption, which you can read about in the report.

4. Mind the landscape

There are two water-management issues when it comes to landscapes: how you irrigate (or avoiding irrigating) your plantings, and how your design deals with rainwater. The report looks at both of these, with tips on reducing water use and working with natural cycles to fully manage rainwater onsite.

Read the full report online or download the PDF spotlight report.

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Published October 1, 2021

(2021, October 1). Water We Thinking? 4 Ways to Respond to the Water Crisis. Retrieved from

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