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On World Water Day, a Look at Award-Winning Projects Saving Water and Energy

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Wind turbines help generate electricity at the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant operated by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, recognized for its water- and energy-saving efforts. (Photo courtesy MWRA)

With the United Nations’ 20th annual World Water Day focusing on international cooperation in managing water, it’s a good time to highlight projects in the United States that are saving water — and energy.

World Water Day, which takes place every March 22, aims to increase awareness of the millions of people who don’t have access to clean drinking water. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Water and Energy“)

Earlier this year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Alliance for Water Efficiency announced their first awards for five programs that a panel decided were exemplary, and seven more that were recognized with honorable mentions. The panel accepted nominations for projects in the U.S., Canada and Australia that were considered innovative and comprehensive.

Because water and energy are intrinsically linked, saving energy saves water, and vice versa. Below, learn about five of the programs that were acknowledged by ACEEE and AWE. (See related story: “Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035“)

Darden Restaurants: Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, Darden is the world’s largest full-scale restaurant company. It owns several well-known brands, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. It received an exemplary recognition in the commercial category for its 15 X 15 goal of reducing energy and water use by 15 percent in each of its restaurants by the year 2015, compared with a 2008 baseline. The company kicked off the program in 2009, and just two years later, it had already exceeded its water savings goal with a 17 percent savings, and reached an 8 percent savings in energy. The panel said Darden’s efforts show companies how they can save money by saving water and energy. Over the first two fiscal years of the project, Darden invested $3.3 million and achieved an average of $6 million in annual savings.

Massachusetts Water Resources Authority: Since it was established nearly 30 years ago, the MWRA has evolved from a water efficiency program into a long-term sustainability program, including conservation efforts, leak detection, renewable energy and on-site power generation. Recognized as exemplary by the panel, the project has saved 140 million gallons of water per day, saved its customers $350 million in avoided costs from water efficiency, and saved $24 million annually from energy management. It’s also improved the environments of local rivers and aquifers.

Southern California Edison: The electric utility’s Leak Detection Pilot Program helps water utilities find leaks and recommend repairs — saving both water and the energy that is embedded in its supply, conveyance, treatment and distribution systems. The panel gave the program an exemplary recognition because of the example it sets for water and energy utilities working together.

Florida Green Building Coalition: Started in 2001, the coalition has a green building checklist targeting water and energy in new residential construction that is specific to Florida’s climate. The panel gave the program an honorable mention for being “promising” because participation remains low. About 5,400 homes have been certified so far, according to the FGBC, and the program has resulted in an average of 15 percent savings in electricity consumption and a 20-percent drop in water use per household over buildings that are code-compliant.

City of Santa Rosa, California: The city’s Ozone Laundry Program was also called “promising” because of its successful use of an emerging technology that saves water and energy. Implemented in 2009, the project is recognized for its strong market penetration and large savings.

The other two programs named exemplary were the city of Boulder, Colorado for its energy performance contracting program and the United Technologies Corporation for its 2015 sustainability goals. Among the remaining honorable mentions: Promising Program awards went to the city of Austin, Texas; the town of Windsor, California; the Bonneville Power Administration, based in the Pacific Northwest; and the Denver Building Owners and Managers Association. Living Wise, a student conservation program, earned a Sustainable Program recognition.