Water  Background

Water Conservation: Water’s High Cost

Have you noticed your water bill increasing over the last few years? It turns out, you’re not just paying for water, you’re paying for energy too. The city incurs a lot of expense getting water to you and getting rid of it after you’re done with it. That has a cost, and as energy prices rise – so do water costs.

There’s a lot of energy being put into water; if we just look at every time your municipality puts energy into water the costs starts to make sense: the city acquires water, transfers it to a storage location, filters it, pumps it to your house, and then, if you’re on a sewer, pumps it to a treatment facility, cleans it up, and then pumps it again to get rid of it.

That process take a lot of energy to write, not to mention the amount of energy your town is investing to make all that happen. Suddenly some of those bills might start to make sense.

When I learned about this energy-water connection on the municipal level, I thought we better look at our winery operations to see if there is the same connection.  We use mostly well water, so we’re basically acting like a municipality, doing all the A to Z things they do.

To get started we had engineers look into water use at three of our wineries. (In case you didn’t know, we own vineyards from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, and like to make our wines close to the vineyard source.) They examined every instance where we put energy into water. The devil is really in the details and the engineers provided some serious details:

While it’s seems complex, but it really can be broken down into five basic processes:

  • Acquisition: get water from the well or municipality
  • Use: filter it and use it in winemaking processes
  • Collection: pump it to the pond
  • Processing: aerate it to dissipate the bio materials from winemaking (biological oxygen demand)
  • Dispersal: pump it out the vineyards for irrigation or back to the city

Or, if you prefer graphics, check this one out:

After assessing our water use, we added up all the energy use and determined how much it actually costs to use water. The results blew us away. In the past if someone asked how much water cost us we’d say “I don’t know; how much gas did we use in the hot water boiler?” But that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out water costs us about $41 per 1000 gallons and a midsized winery spends around $130,000 a year on water use alone.

We took it one step further and calculated the Green House Gases (GHG) produced from energy used for water. Each 1000 gallons of water use produces almost 300 lbs of GHGs and a midsized winery produces almost 1,000,000 lbs of water related GHGs per year.

Now we know the true cost of water. That means we can tell the finance team that replacing inefficient equipment is both a smart environmental and economic choice. For example, replacing an old water softener not only saves 5% of our water use each year, but will also pay back the investment in two years. We couldn’t do that in the past.

This study is now being used widely across the wine industry to justify water conservation measures. Actually, I’ve seen these slides presented at several conferences after we first published the work. It’s nice to see that by sharing our learning with others it multiplies the benefits for all to enjoy.

Next up – we’ll be talking about our pilot project when we partnered with our utility company to come up with ways to reduce our water and energy use.