This is part two of our two-part series where we'll continue our conversation about plumbing resiliency, drought prevention, and water reuse with Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy; Micah Thomas, Senior Director of Program Development and Compliance at the Green Building Initiative, also known as GBI; Pat Sinicropi, Executive Director at the WateReuse Association; and Mike Collignan, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Green Builder Coalition.
If you missed part one, we suggest you go back and listen to that episode before continuing here.
Sarah Porter is director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Established in 2014, the Kyl Center promotes research, analysis, collaboration and open dialogue to build consensus and support of sound water stewardship solutions for Arizona and the West.
To learn more about the Kyl Center, visit https://morrisoninstitute.asu.edu/content/kyl-center-water-policy.
Micah Thomas is GBI's primary content expert and heads the development of the Green Building Initiative's user-friendly assessment tools and rating systems. As senior director of program development and compliance, Thomas refines the assessment, rating, and certification processes, and develops customized tools and processes to meet the specific and unique needs of federal guiding principles compliance users.
To learn more about the Green Building Initiative, visit https://thegbi.org.
Pat Sinicropi is the executive director of the WateReuse Association, the only national organization dedicated solely to advancing policy, technology and innovation, and public acceptance for water reuse. Sinicropi has nearly two decades of experience as a policy expert and advocate on water-related issues in Washington, D.C.
To learn more about the WateReuse Association, visit https://watereuse.org.
Mike Collignon is the executive director of the Green Builder Coalition, an organization he co-founded in 2010. He engages in national- and state-level advocacy and publishes regular content for Greenbuilder Media.
To learn more about the Green Builder Coalition, visit https://www.greenbuildercoalition.org.
Christoph Lohr: Welcome to this week's episode of “The Authority Podcast: Plumbing a Mechanical.” This is part two of our two-part series where we'll continue our conversation about plumbing resiliency, drought prevention, and water reuse with Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy; Micah Thomas, Senior Director of Program Development and Compliance at the Green Building Initiative, also known as GBI; Pat Sinicropi, Executive Director at the WateReuse Association; and Mike Collignan, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Green Builder Coalition. I’m Christoph Lohr, your host, and I’m looking forward to continuing our conversation.
If you missed part one, I suggest you go back and listen to that episode before continuing here. Now let’s jump right into part two of my conversation with Sarah, Micah, Pat, and Mike.
In our previous episode, we discussed the tension between the centralized versus the decentralized approach to water reuse. And I know IAPMO, with our water efficiency standard, we have a chapter in there that talks about water-reuse systems and providing guidance to municipalities about some of the requirements that are out there for those systems to make sure that those that are installed are safe, but obviously there's other organizations such as Water Reuse and then also the Green Building Initiative, which has literature out there on those systems, and I guess when it comes to this point between centralized versus decentralized systems, my sense is that organizations such as the Green Building Initiative, they're focused probably more on the decentralist side of things.
Micah, can you maybe touch on that and describe how GBI looks at water reuse from the decentralized-versus-centralized approach?
Micah Thomas: Yeah, that's a good question, Christoph. One of the tenets of Green Globes has always been that we try not to award points or incentivize, rather, for anything that's required by law.
And to many degrees, we also try not to incentivize or award any points for anything that's required by code or standard. And so instead, what we typically focus on is what the building owner has control over essentially within their building itself. We use a consensus process. We have a consensus body for new construction and just created a new one for existing buildings.
And so our current red line for our new construction standard, we have a few different ways that we incentivize water reuse in very specific ways. So one is we award points based on a percentage of alternative non-potable sources that supply a percentage of the cooling towers' annual makeup water demand.
It's just one example for water features and pools, and water features are different kinds of, they can be fountains or what have you, that a building might have. And so we look at whether or not the water features also recirculate water for reuse within the system and include a leak water-loss detection system, which is also very important.
One example is pools and spas or water features having an evaporation reduction mitigation feature. So pool covers, storage of feature water in underground tanks, things along those lines. We actually have several different points available specifically for pools or spas within new construction, and then for existing buildings, which is a really different sort of approach to buildings, we provide points for outdoor water-conserving features that essentially they use rainwater for irrigation, for example, right? Or we also provide points for whether or not gray water or municipal reclaimed water, which is known as purple pipe, whether or not that's used for irrigation. Within water quality management we try to keep it flexible so water reuse would also work here, but we look at whether or not there's written policies specifically from the building owners that are intended to minimize water reuse and encourage water conservation, which would include water reuse, and then having a specific water usage policy that specifies what the water reduction targets are that has to be then endorsed by senior management.
And so that's really how we look at it is from, what is the perspective of the building owners, senior management? What can they do within either a new construction building that is being designed from the ground up, or for existing buildings where you can get any number of different kinds of buildings and what is going on within that building?
To continue that way, we tried to take into consideration at all times what the infrastructure is and what the real-world capabilities are for that building. And so like the location of a building always has a big impact on what is incentivized within the rating standard for that specific building. So both building type as well as building location.
Christoph Lohr: So it sounds like, Micah, there's a lot of things that from a Green Building Initiative and the Green Globe standpoint, that are options out there. And I know from IAPMO's WE•Stand, there's a lot of options out there as well, but I think obviously we want to look at these problems holistically and any time we try to come up with a solution, there's always counterpoints and there's always secondary considerations we need to have too, and sometimes there's limits to what we try to do as engineers, as designers, as trying to improve the industry and make better technologies. Let me throw this question over to Mike. From your research, have you seen some limits that policymakers need to be aware of when it comes to utilizing water reuse?
Mike Collignon: Well, I think the thing that needs to be recognized from the policy side is that what we currently do now is we incentivize a lot of components, right? We'll do a toilet retrofit program. We'll hand out aerators. We have turf buyback programs where you get paid to remove your lawn.
Well, all these things tend to operate singularly. I think what would be helpful would be to see a more holistic approach, and let's look at the entire property, because by doing so you give the homeowner the flexibility to choose water-efficient practices or products that suit their lifestyles. So if you have somebody who really wants lawn or they've got pets or children or whatever, OK, then they're not going to go for that turf buyback program, but there may be some things inside that they would very much be willing to go with more efficient products, whether it's a clothes washer, dishwasher, showerheads, toilets.
Giving them that flexibility would be helpful, but it's been kind of unfortunate these incentive programs, they help to a point, but I've spoken with at least one utility, a large utility in Florida, that is finally getting around to saying, you know what? The incentive programs aren't moving the needle enough.
That we are going to really have to look at codes and regulations to really make the change that we need. And while those typically address new construction, it's my hope that we can figure out something on the existing side, because there's obviously way more existing properties than new ones. So I'm not necessarily suggesting something in the code or regulation realm for existing, you've got to figure out a way to get at the existing properties as well as the new, and that's, I think, a sizable hurdle for the industry.
Sarah Porter: This is Sarah. I'd like to jump in here and just say, I do think a lot of the municipal programs for incentivizing conservation are largely based on what that municipality needs strategically. And, for example, Las Vegas has made a huge investment in turf buyback. And that's because Las Vegas has a strategy of discouraging outdoor use, but not worrying all that much about indoor use because the water provider is really good at capturing that indoor water and treating it, and they put treated effluent right back into Lake Mead and get credits for it so they can draw more water off Lake Mead. So I'm all for any kind of conservation incentives. But I think those incentives need to go beyond the household and be based on regional needs. And I'm not suggesting that Mike doesn't agree with that, but it wouldn't make sense in some cities to incentivize indoor conservation compared with the value that they can get out of incentivizing outside conservation.
And there are other, different strategies work in different places.
Christoph Lohr: Micah, did you want to chime in here?
Micah Thomas: Well, I was thinking, so one of the things that Mike was saying about the difference between new construction and existing buildings, that is the difficulty that we've seen as well. We just started a new consensus body for existing buildings.
It just got put together now. So anybody listening, I believe that there is an option to join some of the future committees. And I would like there to be more of a conversation about water reuse. Because right now it's, I would say it's actually kind of limited, and a large part of that is we just haven't had more of the subject-matter experts and policymakers join that conversation, whereas they can now with our new existing buildings consensus body process. With the consensus body process moving forward, our existing buildings program is going to be updated specifically by the content created by that consensus body. It's the first time that we've done it for existing buildings, and there's just such a need on the existing building side of things, because ultimately, most buildings are existing and there's been such a focus, particularly in the green building industry with rating certification systems, on new construction, but I think the biggest need really is on the existing building side of things. I'm not saying that we have it perfect in terms of how we can incentivize water reuse within Green Globes, but I think that the consensus body process is going to be a great way to get a lot of that good knowledge from subject-matter experts and from policy experts on how to best incentivize this. Within our system in particular, Green Globes uses non-applicables as well as partial credit to identify the differences between a building in the Northeast versus the Southwest, for example.
And so there is a way through the certification system to incentivize that appropriately. But definitely we see in the Western Coast and a lot of places, which route that is a real need in terms of how do we respond to that. One way that we do have within our current EB program that we just launched actually last month is we also have a new resilience section that asks for building owners to do a hazard risk assessment for current and future risks or hazards. And we referenced the UN, the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for industrial and commercial buildings, that was published actually on January 20th in 2020. And one of those items is specifically severe weather, which includes drought as one of the line items.
And so we then asked for project owners to do that assessment and then provide a risk analysis for each of the climate changes related to that. And the idea is to get building owners for existing buildings to identify what are the risks, right? And most people know if they're in a drought, they know that that's one of the risks.
And so the idea is to even just get at an early stage to provide that knowledge and exposure to what the different risks are for that building and then move on from there to water-reuse policies and water-reuse technology.
Christoph Lohr: I think the picture that I'm seeing getting painted here, and it's something that I've certainly spoken about several times is, when it comes to plumbing systems and from the utility or inside the building standpoint, My sense is, and feel free to let me know all, if this is correct, but this is really complex stuff.
It's not, a one-size-fits-all solution isn't going to necessarily be the single solution. It's best for us to come up with customized solutions. And I think, whether it's an incentive program or a building standard or code, or if it's a regulation, again, fitting it to the local needs is going to be such an important part of coming up with the right solution for local populations. Do you all think that's a fair way to look at it?
Patricia Sinicropi: Yeah, I think that's right, Christoph. There will need to be tailored solutions for, because our water systems are so community specific, have grown around in a very decentralized way, there really isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy that you can take. I think water recycling will look different in different communities, and the incentives, the codes, hopefully we can reach a point where there are some standard specifications for, certainly, decentralized systems, and even larger-scale recycling systems in terms of the technology that you can rely on to produce the quality of water you need. There'll be some standardization that utilities will turn to that industry will use and adopt. But how those systems look on the ground, I think they'll be quite different.
Mike Collignon: I think to continue on what Pat was saying, as I mentioned earlier, if you give homeowners that flexibility and that choice within some of these incentive programs and you give them a menu option, it's not like the incentive has to be the same, no matter what they choose. You have a sliding scale, and it is an incentive program so it's their choice to even do it in the first place. You can tailor these certainly to the local level and the local needs, or even the regional needs. But I also want to hit on something that Micah was talking about in regards to the challenge of existing, is that regardless of where you're at, you've got a blanket statement you can make nationally, which is when you're talking about new construction, you have a very built-in leverage point for the municipality, and that is issuing the permit and issuing the certificate of occupancy. That is the natural fit for a leverage point. And with existing, you don't have that leverage point. You're not going to evict people, and they're not making changes to their structure potentially. So how do you get to that existing structure, and if incentive programs aren't going to move the needle, it becomes a big hurdle.
Christoph Lohr: Definitely.
Patricia Sinicropi: At least for larger buildings, we look out 20, 30, 50 years from now. It's a long time. We may not have that much time to wait. Much of that stock will be redeveloped, and at the point of redevelopment, I think we'll see more uptake on water-reuse approaches.
Sarah Porter: This is Sarah. If I can throw in, we're talking about incentives, but water pricing can also be an effective form of incentivizing, a move to efficiency.
And lots of cities have experiences with tiered water rates and other pricing signals that really encourage people to think about what are the opportunities for efficiencies within their households.
Mike Collignon: That's a great point, Sarah.
Christoph Lohr: Definitely. Let me ask this question: When it comes to water pricing, one of the thoughts that I've been having is, obviously there's a concern of equity and affordability, as we increase prices in those populations that are most in need, putting a basic part of life, putting that out of reach, is something we can't do.
But my sense is also that there's a potential price increase on water coming down the pipeline, if you'll excuse the pun. That obviously could have an impact on the plumbing industry specifically, those that install, inspect, design, plumbing systems. When we talk about pricing, do we think that there's a potential impact?
Many of those folks probably are some of our listeners here. Do we think that increases on water pricing or price changes here, moving forward, is going to have an impact in some way, shape or form on the plumbing industry as a whole?
Mike Collignon: I think you'll see a change in new construction for sure, and we've already seen a code change proposal come through to reward the centralized plumbing system within a home to reduce structural waste. And it was largely geared toward saving the energy to heat the hot water, but it also saves water too. So, so I can see something like that being applied in residential new construction, where you just have shorter plumbing runs to reduce the structural waste.
Christoph Lohr: Makes sense. Well, let's go ahead and wrap things up here and I guess we'll go down the list and ask what's your top lesson that you want listeners to come away with today, and we'll start in order of introduction.
Sarah what's the one, maybe two lessons that listeners should take away from our conversation today?
Sarah Porter: Well, thank you. And I appreciate the conversation and the chance to join Pat and Micah and Mike in the conversation. I think the big theme is there isn't, as you said, Christoph, a one-size-fits-all direction for the country.
Water problems tend to be really localized and solutions tend to be localized. And I think that means that we need the best minds as you have here, myself not counted, thinking about how do we maximize opportunities to optimalize water reuse. So I think that's one very important takeaway and the other is, and we really didn't discuss this, but Pat kind of touched on this, and that is, we need to always keep in mind why are we pushing all this conservation and reuse? Are we doing it to make our own selves more water resilient? Are we doing it to make our communities more water resilient? Are we doing it so that we can have more growth? Are we doing it so that we can protect natural areas? And I think we must always think about that outcome and make sure that the policies we're putting in place are sufficiently aligned with that outcome so that we'll achieve it.
Pat, I'll jump over Micah just since Sarah mentioned you. Do you have a lesson that you think our listeners need to take away from here today?
Patricia Sinicropi: Thank you, Christoph. And thank you again for inviting me to participate in the podcast. It's been a great conversation. It sounded very valuable.
I guess the takeaway is that there is a trend toward greater adoption of water recycling. We are, although water recycling approaches have been used by various industries and communities in the states for more than 50 years, I think what it's going to look like 50 years from now and 100 years from now will look very different. We're at its infancy. I think, and as Sarah suggested, as we continue to develop the right policies that incentivize water reuse, those policies will be developed in a way to make sure that they're aligning with the purposes and the goals we're trying to achieve by using water-recycling approaches. But I think water reuse is the future and it's going to look different in different regions, but I think it's an exciting time to be thinking about these issues and working within the water-recycling space.
Christoph Lohr: Awesome. Micah, back to you. Top lesson. And if you can't get it down to one, maybe up to two.
Micah Thomas: Yeah, of course. Thank you, Christoph. And thank you again, also, Mike, Sarah and Pat, this was fantastic. I would like to say that really Green Globes from the perspective of Green Globes in a way, we try to provide the right balance by emphasizing and weighting best practices, but to echo what Sarah was saying, we also try to acknowledge that there isn't a one-size-that-fits-all answer for every building and community type. What we try to do, especially when it comes to advisory and policy, to promote sustainability and progress in a way that allows for real market adaptation and protects human health. We have a lot of big ideas about what could, should happen.
But we always need to take into consideration the infrastructure and real-world capabilities. So this is a fantastic conversation about what is coming up next. From the purposes of our writing programs, it is constant evolution. We evolve our programs, honestly, at this point now it's every single year, through continuous maintenance of our standards.
So I think there's a lot of opportunity for others. Once again, subject-matter experts, policymakers, to join those processes and have that conversation with others as we create our green building standards as well.
Christoph Lohr: Awesome. And last but not least, Mike, any lessons for our listeners?
Mike Collignon: I want to take a moment just to say thank you for the invitation, Christoph.
It was really enjoyable to get to listen to everyone here on the panel. For me, I think we just need to be thinking more about using the water that's on site, whether that's rain, gray or black water. But we need to be thinking about it. And I like the list that Sarah put out there as to why are we doing this.
In some places it may be growth, in some places it may be to make sure there's enough water in our streams for wildlife. Whatever the reason is, I think the technology exists. It's not like we have to invent something new. I know, certainly from my vantage point, you get the greatest reward in the water-efficiency rating score from reusing the water that falls on the site, whether it's irrigation or if you're able to use it indoors.
So that's the thing that I hope that people take away is that they just really start to think about this in a new way and think about it in a way that is more accepting rather than, as we mentioned before, the yuck factor. I think we're beyond that now. Or at least I hope we are. And let's figure out how to use that water.
Christoph Lohr: Well, before we've signed off, let's go back up the list. How can people get in touch with you, Mike, or your organization? Or both.
Mike Collignon: Sure. We're on some of the social media platforms, Twitter is @gbcoalition; Facebook as well. And we also have a LinkedIn group. We have our own website, which is greenbuildercoalition.org. And the WERS program has its own website, which is, wers.us.
Christoph Lohr: Awesome. Micah?
Micah Thomas: Yeah, you can find us online at thegbi.org. I'm also looking up our Twitter account. I believe it's @TheGBIorg. And you can find us on LinkedIn and Facebook as well. And we go by, once again, the GBI in each of those cases.
Christoph Lohr: Fantastic. Going on to Pat.
Christoph Lohr: Perfect. And last, but certainly not least. Sarah, how can folks get in touch with you or the Kyl Institute?
Sarah Porter: Sure. Well, it's the Kyl Center, K Y L, named for Senator John Kyl, a great water statesman.
And you can just Google that and find our website and our really cool project, the Arizona Water Blueprint, or you can reach me on Twitter @sarahporteraz, and also the Kyle center is reachable @KylCenter.
Christoph Lohr: Perfect. And for our listeners, if you want to get in touch with me, you can find me on Twitter @LohrThoughts, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn at Christoph Lohr, P.E. You can also follow "The Authority Podcast" @AuthorityPM, or you can email us, email@example.com.
Well, on behalf of IAPMO and "The Authority Podcast," thank you, Sarah, Pat, Mike and Micah. Really appreciate the time. Really enjoyed this conversation. I certainly learned a lot and I know our listeners did too. And would love to have another conversation with you all here in the future.
Sarah Porter: Thanks, Christoph..
Micah Thomas: Yeah, thank you, Christoph.
Patricia Sinicropi: Thanks, Christoph.
Mike Collignon: Very open to it. Thank you.