California hospitals are reducing their nonessential water use as their state enters its fourth consecutive year of drought.
Healthcare providers are exempt from many of the mandatory water restrictions, but the state's largest health systems say they have a number of sustainability efforts in place to reduce their water and energy use.
Hospitals are particularly water-intensive businesses. According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, large U.S. hospitals used about 133 billion gallons of water in 2007. That's an average of 145,000 gallons per bed, roughly the same as the annual consumption of a four-person household.
Yet California healthcare leaders are not ready to share their contingency plans, in the event that drought is the new normal. A California Hospital Association spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Common provider conservation measures include installing low-flow plumbing in restrooms, pressure-washing outdoor common areas less often and modifying landscaping to include more drought-resistant greenery.
“We look at climate change as a healthcare issue, and this is why we've made this commitment to renewable energy,” said Ramé Hemstreet, chief energy officer at Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente.
Kaiser, with 38 hospitals in California, Hawaii and Oregon, committed in February to shifting 50% of its power needs to renewable energy sources, at a cost of $35 million a year. “There's an energy-water nexus,” Hemstreet said. “The more you can conserve one, the more you impact the other.” Kaiser also has spent $15 million on water-reduction projects. This year the system cut its water use 10% from its 2013 baseline.