Water conservation makes a difference, causes little splash back at Notre Dame

October 15, 2012

Carol Smith warns there will be phone calls.

A few of the residents didn't like it, and there was grumbling from some caregivers this summer after the Notre Dame Health Care Center in Worcester, Mass., lowered the flow of water coming through sink faucets and showerheads. It made the move to conserve water and save money.

Smith, director of plant operations for the long-term care and assisted living facility, said her staff replaced the aerators on sink faucets and the showerheads with devices that cut water flow by 80 percent. In the long-term care building, the workers replaced toilets that use 3.5 gallons per flush with new units that use only 1.28. More efficient toilets already had been installed in the assisted living building during a renovation in 2000.

Smith said the new equipment will save about 3 million gallons of water each year, cutting consumption by half and reducing the center's annual water bill by more than $36,000. She said that saved enough water to fill four Olympic-sized pools every year. "It is astonishing to learn how much water we waste every day," said Smith.

The refitting project cost $56,760, including hardware and contract plumbers for some of the work. Just replacing the faucet aerators at a cost of $2,474 will save about $8,000 annually in water.

"You can conserve water, lower your carbon footprint and save on the bottom line. This project has a payback in 1.6 years," Smith said. "How often can you get that?"

The Notre Dame center, sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, generally serves 119 residents in assisted living and another 123 in long-term care. The assisted living units are in a large red-brick building the sisters had constructed in 1905 as a retreat center, and which was converted for general nursing care in 2000. The long-term care building is 20 years old. The campus also has a former residence that is used for hospice.

Before the new equipment was installed in June, Notre Dame staff held education sessions and provided information bulletins for residents and family members. "If you take time to educate people and bring them along, let them know they have some ownership, then it works quite smoothly," Smith said, although she allows, "We did get some push-back. Some residents thought they could use all the water they wanted. They paid for it, that's their water. Caregivers complained that it was taking longer to fill buckets and washbasins.

"Within a few days, people adjusted and understood what we were doing. A lot of the success depends upon the quality of the fittings you buy. Now the water flow feels gentler. People came to realize they have all they need."

Katherine Lemay, the center's chief executive, said water conservation is in keeping with the center's mission of stewardship. "This means that caring for our environment and minimizing our carbon footprint is very important to us," Lemay said. "Wise and careful use of our energy resources is our responsibility."

Sr. Catherine Connolly, SND, who has served as a receptionist at the center since July, is on board with the change. Sr. Connolly was coordinator of the sisters' retreat center for 10 years until 1998, when it was closed for transformation. She has returned as a resident in assisted living.

"I never hear a word about the water," Sr. Connolly said. "I like the way the water is gentle. It is good that we are saving water. There is a lot of waste in our world, if we're going to be honest about it."

Smith said Notre Dame decided to reduce its water use after having achieved other savings in utilities. She said the center installed a cogeneration system to produce one-third of the electricity it needs and capture heat to make hot water. It also replaced its lighting with more efficient fixtures, replaced air-handling units and installed a new roof on the long-term care building with one that reflects as much as 65 percent of sunlight. She said those efforts have reduced consumption of electricity by 45 percent, saving more than $500,000 over seven years.

"Part of our job is to always look for ways to protect the environment, save energy and manage our financial resources responsibly," said Smith.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.