When evaluating their environmental impact, individuals typically calculate their carbon footprint. Your contribution to air pollution significantly increases your ecological interference. What civilians often forget to examine is their impact on water pollution.
Many consumers purchase goods and services from sustainable businesses to shrink their water footprint. A heightened demand for eco-conscious companies promotes water conservation by the construction industry. Building sites are water-intensive, leading to a variety of ecological damage.
The Importance of Water Conservation
Construction companies increase their contribution to environmental degradation through their current water practices. Water is a finite resource, meaning it is non-renewable. Oceans, rivers, and lakes may seem large enough to support life on Earth, but much of this water is unusable.
The protection of freshwater sources is also necessary for food production. Vegetables, grains, and animal products require water for their development. Humans also rely on the intake of water for adequate growth and health.
Over 785 million people on Earth lack access to essential water services. Around 884 million people do not have safe drinking water. As the construction industry exploits clean water, it takes this resource away from those in need.
Another reason to preserve water is to limit the impacts of runoff. Stormwater runoff carries synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to the ocean from agricultural regions. It may also take oil, paint, glue, cement, and more from construction sites to the sea.
Stormwater runoff increases the nitrogen and phosphorous in the ocean, contributing to algal blooms. Algae depletes oxygen in particular regions, causing dead zones. These uninhabitable regions endanger fish and other marine species.
Resource conservation may also limit the polluting of drinking water. A major construction company in Texas spilled drilling fluid into drinking wells last year. The pollution went unnoticed for days, posing risks to the community’s health and well-being.
Fortunately, there are ways for construction sites to limit their impact on water pollution. Before evaluating the ways this industry can minimize its aquatic footprint, we must first examine the use of water on construction sites.
How Construction Sites Use Water
Builders use water for a variety of functions on the job. They utilize this resource for worker hydration, concrete batching, grouting, dust suppression, soakaway testing, pond filling, hydro-demolition, and drilling and piling. If companies mismanage this water use, they can increase their environmental impact.
Construction sites use about 17% of their water for direct functions, while 25% corresponds to indirect activities. When leaks, poor sanitary and hydraulic installations, and unsatisfactory project designs occur on a construction site, its runoff may pollute the ocean.
Minimizing Water Pollution
Most critically, construction companies can minimize their water pollution and maximize their sustainability by following environmental guidelines set by their federal and local governments — and by adopting more environmentally sound practices of their own volition.
Many nations have issued sweeping regulations to preserve clean water. In the United States, for example, the Clean Water Act places special attention on construction activity where disposal sites may interfere with water and wildlife. In the EU, the Water Framework Directive requires each state to set objectives related to water standards, monitoring sewage, agricultural use and waste among other concerns.
Practicing ethical and legal waste disposal is essential for green construction. Builders should manage their disposal of waste, limiting the pollution of nearby rivers and streams. These companies must keep sand and cement secure so they don’t wash into drains or local water sources. They can further reduce this risk by covering drains on and around their project site.
Builders must keep streets and sidewalks near their project clean to reduce harmful runoff discharge. They should also collect and treat water waste produced while working. Construction companies can even treat and repurpose their water waste to minimize pollution.
Innovation is leading the way to even better practices for water conservation. The Western Municipal Water District (WMWD) in California developed a way to recycle construction site water for resource access during droughts. WMWD’s efforts helped companies save over 850,000 gallons of water monthly. If every state utilizes this system, we could converse freshwater sources and reduce global water scarcity.
Construction company operators can also take action to reduce their water footprint. They can require the use of erosion control blankets, sedimentation ponds, and silt fences on project sites to limit pollution. Operators can also train their employees to pick up debris and trash, control erosion and sedimentation, maintain equipment, and sweep streets around the construction site.
Green Construction Has a Big Impact on Water Conservation
Globally, construction can be a massive contributor to emissions and waste. Thankfully, innovations in sustainability and increased emphasis on reform is making green practices easier. Building crews can change the norms of onsite pollution. Their actions can have a significant impact on global water conservation.
When the industry comes together to increase its sustainability, global access to clean drinking water improves. Water-conserving businesses may also increase their profit and customer appeal due to heightened demands for sustainable goods and services. Construction companies can shrink their water footprint when they raise their environmental awareness.