Audits of any kind are an important part of running a business. Regularly reviewing how a company uses its resources, whether that’s money, energy, or something else, can enable long-term improvements. However, some of these reviews, like water audits, are easier to overlook than others.
Water may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a business’s critical assets or expenditures. Consequently, the reasons for conducting a water audit may not be immediately clear. Does your company really need a water audit?
What Happens in a Water Audit?
The first step in determining whether to perform such an audit is understanding what the process entails. In its most basic sense, a water audit will review a business’s water supply, infrastructure, and drainage to identify inefficiencies and loss.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines three basic steps for water audits:
- Determining the amount of water going into a system over a defined period
- Determining authorized consumption, both billed and unbilled
- Calculating losses by subtracting consumption from system input
Understanding each of these factors typically involves a relatively thorough investigation. Audit professionals may go through water bills, check meters, use equipment to measure leaks and equipment water use, and review maintenance practices. They’ll then likely produce a list of recommended steps to fix any areas where water loss occurs.
Why Conduct a Water Audit?
The audit process can be lengthy, involved, and potentially complicated. Like energy and cybersecurity audits, though, these review processes have several tangible business benefits. Here’s why a company may want to conduct one.
The most straightforward reason to conduct a water audit is to save money. While hiring a third-party auditor will cost money, the process can reveal areas to save that will more than make up for those costs.
Water loss may be a bigger problem than businesses realize at first. A single leaky faucet can waste more than 3,000 gallons a year at the rate of just one drip per second. If companies don’t find and fix inefficiencies like that, they could be losing a considerable amount on water bills without realizing it.
Some audits will also check past bills for discrepancies. This can reveal if any reporting mistakes are causing companies to overpay on water bills so they can correct them and save more money.
Become More Sustainable
Performing a water audit will also help facilities become more environmentally sustainable. While other factors may take the spotlight, like transportation, the most significant cause of emissions, water use is an important part of sustainability. If companies want to truly go green, they must reduce their water consumption.
While water is technically a renewable resource, freshwater is relatively scarce across the globe. Based on current trends, two-thirds of the global population could be facing water shortages by 2025, and natural ecosystems will feel this scarcity even more. Businesses can do their part to prevent this future by consuming less water.
An audit will reveal where companies use more water than they should through leaks, inefficiencies, or excessive withdrawals. They can then address these issues to minimize their ecological footprint and protect the environment.
As these environmental issues become more prominent, regulations around water consumption will likely increase. Consequently, minimizing water consumption may be a matter of legal compliance for some businesses. Audits can help ensure these organizations stay in safe legal standing.
Some states, like California, sometimes enact temporary water restrictions during droughts to conserve this resource. As these issues become more common, some of these restrictions may become permanent. Even if they don’t, businesses in these areas should understand their normal water usage to comply with temporary regulations more easily.
Water audits may reveal if companies can reduce water consumption without adjusting normal operations. Reducing waste may be enough to minimize withdrawals in some facilities. Whatever the case may be, businesses won’t know until they conduct an audit.
Do You Need a Water Audit?
While a water audit has many benefits, some businesses may still wonder if it’s strictly necessary. That depends on where facilities are, and the answer could change over time.
Generally speaking, water audits may not be an absolute need, but they come highly recommended. Water bills have risen 43.2% over the past decade, faster than any other utility, so managing these costs is becoming increasingly important for businesses. Rising pressure from government agencies and the general public to go green further raises the need to understand and reduce water consumption.
At least three states require annual water audits, and several others require less-frequent reports. As environmental issues become more prominent, states will likely trend toward increased audit regulations. Businesses that don’t need audits now may need them within a few years.
Can You Perform Your Own Audit?
Some companies may wish to perform their own audits. While it’s certainly possible to conduct this research in-house, it’s not always the best option. A third-party auditor will have more experience and tools to provide more helpful, accurate information, and some regulations may require verified third parties for accountability.
Businesses that want to handle their own audits should first review local legislation to see if they must meet any specific requirements. Next, they should ensure they have standardized, reliable, and in-depth tools for measuring and recording data according to these guidelines. The American Water Works Association and similar organizations offer free audit tools and guides that can help.
When to Conduct a Water Audit
Whether businesses handle water audits in-house or turn to a third party, they should be a regular part of ongoing operations. When specifically to conduct them depends on a few specifics within the organization.
Performing these audits at least once a year is best for most companies. More frequent reviews may not cover substantial enough periods to show change, and more sparse audits may not meet state regulations.
Businesses may also want to perform audits when they notice something may be wrong. Irregularities in financial reports and water bills, quality issues, and similar events are good signs that it’s time for a water audit. Reviewing operations will help find the source of these irregularities before they become too disruptive.
Water Audits Are Helpful for Many Reasons
Water is a critical if overlooked resource. As businesses look to become more cost-effective, sustainable, or meet new certifications, they should consider regular water audits. They can then be sure they’re making the most of this utility.
A water audit will reveal more than just a company’s sustainability. It can also save money, improve operations, and ensure regulatory compliance. As these issues grow, performing these reviews will become increasingly important.
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