Foodservice Equipment Reports

Severity Of California Drought Prompts Mandated Water-Usage Cutbacks

While much of the country digs out of the snow, California is facing a severe drought, likely the worst and most prolonged period of dry weather since record-keeping began there more than 100 years ago. The state had no precipitation in January, normally its rainy month, and state officials say California’s reservoirs are 20% lower than normal for this time of year.

On Jan. 17, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. He directed state officials to take actions to prepare for drought conditions and asked California residents to cut their water usage by 20%. Foodservice operators also are being asked to conserve and reduce their water usage. For now, the reductions are voluntary.

“There is an across-the-board awareness among everyone that we need to conserve water,” said Angela Pappas, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. “Our governor has asked everyone to reduce water usage by 20%, and our members are taking this very seriously. Restaurants are heavy water users for a number of reasons, many of which have a lot to do with food safety.”

Many restaurateurs in California are now serving water to customers on request only, Pappas said.

“People tend to leave a lot of water on the table, especially when diligent bussers fill their glasses without having to be asked,” she said. The National Restaurant Association points out that if the foodservice industry didn't automatically serve water to all customers, the industry would potentially save more than 25 million gallons of water annually. If water goes untouched, it is wasted. Serving water to customers only if they ask for it will result in less water wasted and fewer glasses to clean. Also, waiting for a water glass to be empty before refilling it ensures less waste.

Another easy way to save water and money is switching from using running water to thaw frozen items or washing vegetables—which can cause a restaurant to use as much as 90,000 gallons of water annually—to thawing items in the refrigerator and washing vegetables in a wash basin.

The CRA's Pappas added that one of the largest uses of water in a foodservice operation is dishwashing, so running the dishwasher only when it is completely full is a simple way to cut back on water usage. The NRA points out that many operators have installed scraping systems that recycle water out of the dishwasher to pre-clean dishes, resulting in less spray rinsing and wasted water.

“The next tier of action for restaurateurs would be to make sure equipment is as efficient as possible and that there are no leaks anywhere, especially in the back of the house,” Pappas said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,100 gallons per year. Installing low-flow aerators on restaurant faucets also will help lower the amount of water that is wasted and can reduce the amount of water used by as much as 60%.