Providence St. Joseph Medical Center is joining the list of California hospitals taking steps to minimize water usage during one of the most severe droughts The Golden State has faced.
The Burbank hospital is expected to save about 15 million gallons of water each year by using reclaimed water to run its air-conditioning system. The hospital has been using reclaimed sewage water for about 90% of irrigation of its grounds for the past three years, but a new water line will allow the hospital to use reclaimed water for all of its irrigation systems and the 41,000 gallons it uses every day to power its cooling tower.
Costs for the $430,000 project, which is expected to be completed in July, were partially defrayed by the City of Burbank, which made the reclaimed water line available in 2013, according to Ian Watts, the hospital's director of facilities. Since then, the hospital has been working to put the infrastructure in place and get proper approvals from the city, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Regulatory approval for the project revolved around Providence's ability to prevent cross contamination of the non-potable reclaimed water and potable water that is used for other functions at the hospital. Though the water isn't of drinking water quality, it's treated by the city before reaching the hospital, and the A/C system employs vapor eliminators and chemical protection to ensure it is biologically acceptable.
California hospitals are exempt from many of the state's mandatory water restrictions, but some of the state's biggest providers, including Kaiser Permanente, Stanford Health Care, Sutter Health, have taken steps to curb their water use. Watts said the hospital didn't want to be a burden to the Burbank community, which was ordered by the state to conserve 24% of its water supply.
“We certainly don't want to be seen as an outlier in the community and someone that did not support these initiatives, and i think that that was a contributor to getting these done,” Watts said. “It was certainly important to how the community views us.”
The City of Burbank can face $10,000 a day in fines if it doesn't reach its conservation goal, and it has already reduced its usage by 7%, not including the Providence deal, according to city spokesman Drew Sugars.
Because the city has to invest in additional infrastructure to supply the reclaimed water, the program is only available to Burbank's major water users, like the hospital, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers Entertainment and the city's school district, Sugar said. But when one of these major customers jumps in, they can make a big splash in helping the city reach its goal.
“Any time any of our businesses in the city steps up and partners with us to use recycled water, we're happy to do that,” Sugars said. “That's significant savings for the city to help us achieve our goal.”
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 was about 145,000 gallons per bed, roughly the same as the annual consumption of a four-person household.