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Airports have many opportunities to save water, from recycling water used to clean runways to using water-efficient bathroom fixtures.

Airports are increasing their water sustainability in a wide range of ways, from recycling water used to clean runways to installing more efficient bathroom fixtures

From construction to their everyday operations, from airfield to terminal, airports need water, but in an age of climate change and water scarcity, many airports are adopting water-saving and environmental strategies that are as diverse as the airports themselves.

Sustainable water strategies for airports include the use of:

  • Reclaimed water
  • Advanced water purification
  • Geothermal cooling
  • Condensed water from air conditioners
  • Low-flow fixtures
  • Infrastructure upgrades
  • Landscaping with efficient irrigation and drought-tolerant foliage
  • Artificial wetlands
  • Stormwater management

Airports that do establish water conservation protocols tend to see significant reductions in per-passenger water use. For example, between 2011 and 2016, Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW) was able to cut water use by 24.3%. Los Angeles International (LAX) airport made a 6.3% reduction over a single, high-traffic year, and Orlando International Airport (MCO) cut water use by 11.5% between 2010 and 2016.

Water Efficiency Strategies

In terms of potable water, by 2020, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL) is attempting to cut its use of potable water 20% from 2008’s baseline. And in 2015, LAX posted a whopping two-year cumulative decrease in potable water use of 26%, mostly from upgrading to low-flow bathroom fixtures for an estimated daily savings of 396,625 gallons. Nashville’s BNA International Airport (BNA) uses a geothermal cooling system that saves 30 million GPY of potable water, and DFW used 16% less potable water in 2016 than it did five years previously. The DFW water delivery system should save 100 million GPY.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) uses heated water for pressure blasting runways, but the blasting truck then filters and reuses the water. Back at the facilities yard, waste rubber removed from runways is sent on for recycling into rubberized asphalt. The nominal amount of wastewater remaining is discharged into the sewer.

Wastewater from water-based paint can also be recycled by mixing it with concrete for construction projects.

Water-Efficient Landscaping

Saving water with landscaping is another practice that delivers benefits for airports. Xeriscaping refers to the practice of landscaping with slow-growing, drought-resistant plants — often with a preference for native species — to conserve water while reducing green waste. It also generally demands significantly less fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. San Diego airport (SAN), for instance, landscapes with a hybrid Bermuda grass that requires 33% less water than regular lawns.

Sustainable irrigation practices dropped annual irrigation water usage at Salt Lake City (SLC) by 74% over 10 years, beginning in 2002. Use of condensed water from air conditioners for pressure-washing at San Diego airport (SAN) saved 103,000 gallons in 2016, a 46% increase from 2015. More than 106 million gallons of reclaimed water was used to irrigate more than half of the landscaping.

Water conservation can also deliver six-figure utility savings. BNA’s geothermal cooling saves 1.3 million kW/h, for a cost savings of more than $430,000 yearly, and LAX’s water reuse has saved over $200,000.

Water Efficiency Best Practices

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) has gone as far as to publish a Sustainable Airport Manual to promote best practices. Included, among other efforts, are xeriscaping with efficient irrigation technology and reuse of both captured stormwater and nonpotable water streams.

Airports are all unique, and their opportunities for water treatment and reuse are consequently varied. Contact Fluence to learn more about our sustainable solutions and time-tested experience in tailoring treatment systems.

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