Help Ban the Water Waster!

July 1, 2009

Quick–what wastes more clean drinking water than a dripping faucet? No, the answer is not two dripping faucets. The answer is water-powered backup sump pumps! A dripping faucet wastes between 600 and 2,000 gallons per year (based on 35 and 60 drips per minute, respectively), but a water-powered sump pump (used to pump rainwater out of a basement sump pit), wastes between 10,000 and 32,000 gallons of our precious fresh drinking water per year!

Water conservation is becoming more of an issue every day. The planet is in the midst of what the United Nations is calling a “water crisis,” as the supply of fresh drinking water dwindles. More than half of the world’s population will be living with water shortages, depleted fisheries, and polluted coastlines within 50 years, warns a recently published United Nations report.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has just introduced legislation calling for the United States to set a goal of expanding access to clean drinking water to an additional 100 million people around the world.

“The global water crisis is a quiet killer,” said Durbin, in a speech hours before introducing the bill. “In the developing world, more than 5,000 children die every day from easily preventable water-related illnesses.”

As the world grapples with a falling global economy, our water crisis can’t take a back seat. In fact, we need to work doubly hard, to conserve and maximize fresh drinking water.

You still hear it from pundits and critics that argue that the world is two-thirds water.  They say, “So, what’s the big deal?” The big deal is out of all that water, only 1% is fresh drinking water. Lakes, rivers, and groundwater account for about 1% of the world’s potentially usable freshwater.

Brita Water puts it this way: If the entire world’s water fit into a gallon jug, the fresh water available for us to use would equal only about one tablespoon.

And this isn’t just a problem for foreign countries–many areas of the United States experience droughts. In fact, at least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A number of states have already enacted water use restrictions on everything from watering our lawn to washing our car.

To make matters worse, thousands of homeowners have blindly installed water-powered backup sump pumps that actually waste 500 to 600 gallons of fresh drinking water per hour, to pump out sump pit water!

During rainstorms, groundwater underneath people’s basements builds up, and is funneled into basins called “sump pits.” From there, this dirty water is pumped outside the house. The problem occurs when the power goes out and the primary sump pump (that’s plugged into the wall) no longer works. That’s when people turn to their water-powered sump pump to pump the rising water out of their sump pit before it overflows–flooding and potentially creating heavy damage to a homeowner’s basement.

These wasteful pumps operate by taking the energy in municipal-supplied water at full pressure, and run it through a venturi device, positioned on the bottom of the sump pit in a basement. They connect directly to the fresh drinking water supply line of a house, or, in some circumstances, homeowners connect the pump with a rubber garden hose to their kitchen faucet. When the pump is activated, clean, fresh drinking water is released into the sump pit. Most of these models then pull up 1 gallon of wastewater for each gallon of fresh water used. Then, both the fresh water and the wastewater are dumped out onto the lawn or into the sewer system that already has an overflow of stormwater in it.

Depending on how often a water–powered sump pump is activated to pump rainwater out of a basement sump pit, it can waste between 10,000 and 32,000 gallons of fresh drinking water per year!

There are no official records on how many of these water-powered pumps are in operation in the US–estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000 units. If we split the difference and say 60,000, and on average each one wastes 15,000 gallons per year, that’s 90 million gallons of water wasted–90 million gallons!

The EPA says that the average person must consume 2.5 quarts of water per day to maintain health, which equals 228 gallons per year. If you take 90 million gallons of water wasted, divided by 228, that equals 394,736 people. That’s enough fresh drinking water to supply a city the size of Minneapolis each year!

Not only do they waste precious drinking water, they pose a serious health risk to the homeowner. Since all water-powered pumps must be connected directly to the water supply, they must have backflow protection–unfortunately, many are installed without this. The problem is, in times of heavy demand, when there’s a low-pressure situation, contaminated water may be sucked back into the fresh water drinking supply, causing a substantial health risk.

In the December 2008 edition of the PHCC Connection (plumbing-heating-cooling contractors), PHCC president Joe Schmitt alerted contractors to this fact–and explained how backflow and RPZ devices (used to stop contaminated material from flowing back into the fresh water supply) are critical to public health. “A mistake (installing backflow devices) could take a life, a family, or the whole neighborhood,” he said.

So, why pour fresh drinking water down the sewer and possibly risk your family’s life?

There’s no need to do so. Battery-powered backup sump pumps have been readily available for over 30 years. They’re reliable, don’t waste water, and pose no health risk. Battery-powered pumps range from small add-on units, to totally independent computerized monitoring systems that can test themselves, as well as connect to security systems to alert the homeowner of a flood situation. With so many options available in battery-powered systems, it seems that there really is no need for water-powered sump pumps.

So what can be done? If you’re a city water official, or take part in local government, follow the lead of Medina, OH. They have enacted a city ordinance, banning the installation of water-powered sump pumps. This is a practice that should be modeled across the country, and you can help by proposing the same type of legislation in your community.

As an individual what can you do? I’m asking everyone to participate in the following calls-to-action:

  • Contact local health departments and inform them about the risks associated with water-powered sump pumps, so that they can address the health issues that contaminated water can have on the community.
  • Contact and work with State and Federal legislators to ban the use of water- powered sump pumps.
  • Spread the word to plumbers and contractors, to no longer install water-powered sump pumps in new home construction or remodeling projects.
  • Spread the word to contractors that perform free water audits for their customers. They should check to see if a water-powered sump pump is installed. If it is, they should warn the homeowner of the drawbacks associated with water-powered sump pumps.
  • Save water by installing a battery backup sump pump.

Getting the word out is crucial, as these pumps are readily available at many home improvement stores and are offered by a number of independent companies that produce and market water-powered sump pumps direct to homeowners. In fact–there are at least nine companies currently offering water-powered pumps at hundreds of outlets nationwide.

This is an issue that needs to be publicized, as the public is just not educated to understand how detrimental these pumps are to our environment, and to their own health.

As concerned individuals dedicated to helping conserve our water supplies, we should be extremely concerned about this issue and do everything we can to expose this product and have it removed from our store shelves.
About the Author

Alan Schulman

Alan Schulman is the President and CEO of Glentronics Inc.

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