While much of the country’s focus has been centred on the Eskom crisis and the rising costs of electricity, scant attention has been paid to another lurking crisis: water shortages. With ageing water supply infrastructure, coupled with municipal mismanagement, water supply is fast becoming a threat to business continuity.

“For commercial property owners and managers, one of the greatest threats to business continuity is the increasing instability of supply,” says Lisa Shaw, Senior Manager, CBRE Excellerate Utility Management. “As more municipalities struggle to meet demand, we are already seeing a negative impact on shopping centres in particular.”

According to Shaw, municipalities will have to begin to invest in new and alternative solutions to meet demand, and will have to pass these costs onto the end user.

“Water has been a relatively low cost item, and the current costs that municipalities charge are not necessarily reflective,” she explains. “Looking ahead, it is likely that the costs of water and sanitation (which are closely linked) will increase significantly – and businesses and consumers will have to absorb that cost.”

Back to the Basics

For commercial property owners and landlords, there is a tendency to react to rising water bills by jumping to expensive solutions. Yet according to Mary-Ann Sakaravidi, Operations Manager, CBRE Excellerate Utility Management, the first step should be to pay close attention to current water usage – and identify any leaks and wastage.

“The challenge is that because water has historically been a low cost item, nobody pays attention to usage patterns,” she says. “In a shopping centre or high density environment, managers are not able to conduct an accurate water balance. This exercise helps you to identify where you have unaccounted for water usage, and the resultant cost impact. If you don’t know where it’s going, you cannot allocate it to operational costs, or tenant costs, for example.”

This is when the business case for water meter automation comes into its own. In order to be able to conduct an accurate water balance, landlords need to have automated water meters in place.

While smart electricity meters are relatively commonplace, water meter automation is often not considered a priority.

“However, more often than not, water meter automation projects uncover surprises for landlords and tenants,” adds Shaw.

Water meter automation makes it possible for the management team to see water usage in hourly time intervals, which means that water supply and demand can be accurately balanced in a snapshot of time. It also enables the analysis of night flows and quickly uncovers costly leaks and wastage that has often gone unnoticed for months…or even years.

“Good data takes the guesswork out of conducting feasibility studies and developing, implementing and tracking water saving projects. Once you understand where water is being used and how much is being used, one can start looking at projects like technology solutions, operational changes and alternative water sources,” says Shaw.

Technology also plays an important role in proactive facility management, user education and behaviour change. Notably, water differs fundamentally from electricity management in that water gets lost. Automated alerts and regular reports help FM teams to react quickly to new issues like failing solenoid valves, tank overflows, or underground leaks.

A Community Journey

Sakaravidi of CBRE Excellerate Utility Management also draws attention to the importance of educating the community of people who work and operate in buildings and malls. This will include the tenants, cleaning staff, security teams, etc.

“There is essentially a community which is operating within a mall or centre, and it is vital to get this community to take responsibility for water usage,” she says. “Saving water cannot be viewed in isolation, as a separate function.”

Indeed, it is the integration of the various teams and functions within a centre that ultimately leads to behaviour change – and to material improvements in the use of critical resources.

“The ‘soft stuff’ is essentially the hard stuff,” adds Sakaravidi. “It’s about getting teams and staff to join you on the water conservation journey.”

Issued on behalf of CBRE Excellerate.
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