Challenges to installing water reclaim systems? Please share your experience

The WCSA has been looking into regulations around water reclamation, their impact on car wash operators and equipment suppliers, and implications for broader public policy.

One of the most glaring problems facing the world today is access to fresh water. Pressure on the resource is growing and pollution of surface and groundwater further reduces the supply.

The availability of and access to fresh water supplies has been highlighted as among the most critical natural resource issues facing the world. Thirty-one countries are facing severe water stress, over a billion people have no access to clean water; by 2025 researchers are predicting water will be shipped around the globe like gas is today, through pipelines and tankers. Nonetheless, water use continues to increase. Between 1972 and 1996, Canada’s water usage increased by 90 per cent while the population increased only 33 per cent. US water consumption has increased six-fold since the 1900’s, twice the rate of population growth.

According to the 2011 Municipal Water Pricing Report produced by Environment Canada, water and sewer rates have risen 25 per cent on average since 2006 and will continue to climb. Not only are rates going up but municipalities are switching over to volumetric charges vs flat rate charges, which means customers will be charged for every liter or gallon of water used and sent down the drain.

What does this mean to carwash operators? Water and sewer bills will continue to skyrocket. In 2013 it was estimated that the use of water reclamation can save an operator anywhere from $8,000 to over $20,000 a year in water and sewer costs. However, efforts to get a permit expose operators to a multiplicity of sometimes contradictory and always confusing regulations.

Back in the day when municipalities and water and sewer districts were starting to get concerned about their ability to deliver water and process wastewater for their customers, they developed a means to collect revenue to help offset needed improvements. These were called impact fees and were calculated to charge the user that would have the most need for water and sewer services the most money.

The solution to the problems these fees were meant to address is water conservation – doing more with less.

Water reclamation systems are integral to this effort and a properly designed water reclamation system can save significantly on water and sewer bills, which can exceed all other expenses in some locations. In fact, with a properly designed reclaim, the treatment of carwash reclaim water greatly improves the quality of the water, making it safe for human exposure and discharge to the environment and putting less of a burden on the local municipality for the treatment of that wastewater.

However, the installation or upgrading of carwash equipment is subject to government approval. While some parts of the US and Canada mandate the use of reclaim in carwashes (e.g., Quebec City, most of Florida and California), other parts actually prohibit it. In the absence of provincial or federal regulations the decisions to approve or reject applications are made at the municipal level, often by health inspectors or other local officials. The WCSA has heard that this results in highly inconsistent regulatory environment and that applications to install new equipment are commonly rejected.

WCSA Strategic Planning Phase 1

The board of directors of the WCSA undertook the first phase of a strategic planning process on May 23, 2018. The question was posed: “Should WCSA continue to exist as an organization?” After thorough discussion and debate, the board concluded that not only was it important that WCSA continues to exist, but also that it is important to the industry that the association thrives.

Board members indicated that work needs to be done on the image and credibility of the industry and advocacy efforts need to be further ramped up when it comes to government and the public. The WCSA should look for ways to engage and increase its membership. As well, it should look at ways it can enhance the reputation of the convenience store industry.

The board members discussed what the core priorities are for the organization. The board members strongly agreed that the WCSA should:

  • Influence Western Canadian governments on matters impacting the industry
  • Play a leadership role in supporting the education of convenience store retailers on business standards and ethical practices in the industry
  • Play a role in educating the public about the safe practices of industry retailers
  • Govern and operate with excellence

After confirming WCSA’s key priorities, the board determined that another session was required to further define the association’s strategic goals and supporting initiatives and to clearly define what success will look like over the next three to five years.