Wahaso – Water Harvesting Solutions Inc.
While water might seem ubiquitous, only a small amount of it is suitable for everyday use in our daily applications. Demand on our municipal drinking water supplies has been growing at an unsustainable rate; with population growth, climate change and declining infrastructure, over 70 percent of U.S. counties face risk to water supplies by 2050. Municipalities are responding by raising water rates, mandating water-efficient fixtures and looking for sustainable solutions that collect and reuse non-potable supplies available on-site. In Hinsdale, Illinois, “Wahaso” — short for Water Harvesting Solutions Inc. — is doing just that by bringing rainwater and greywater harvesting systems to the commercial and institutional markets.
Founded in 2008 by longtime water treatment systems specialist Stuart Bailin and marketing strategist John Bauer, Wahaso is leading the movement to bring water sustainability efforts to the commercial sector just as the energy sector has done with solar power. Bailin came to Bauer seeking business advice after the water treatment expert was approached by a number of customers interested in purchasing equipment and designs for commercial property water harvesting in Chicago.
“He heard there were more and more requests for these types of systems, but no one offering them,” says Bauer, president of Wahaso.
This was earlier in the green building movement, just as clients and contractors started to recognize the value of adding rainwater and greywater harvesting systems to their sustainability efforts for buildings and properties. Wahaso seized the opportunity to be a forerunner in the industry.
“Our research revealed that there were no companies really positioned for leadership in the commercial sector of rainwater harvesting and reuse systems, so I decided to join Stuart; we launched the website in 2008 and have been building our business ever since,” says Bauer.
Today Bailin acts as director of engineering at Wahaso, overseeing all engineering aspects and maintaining the company’s back end while Bauer works on the marketing, sales and management side of the operation.
“On-site water reuse is finally coming of age, particularly in the commercial building sector. There have been regulatory changes, changes to building codes and a general sense of acceptability as the number of systems that are installed and working well grows,” Bauer says.
There are still hurdles to overcome when it comes to bringing water harvesting systems into the mainstream, especially when projects come before municipal review. “A lot of codes still don’t actively encourage or define these systems. It often requires a formal presentation to a local municipality to prove that it will work well and be safe before a permit is granted,” says Bauer.
Potential on the West Coast
With a customer base that stretches from coast to coast, Wahaso has completed more than 100 projects and added 200 projects to its active pipeline in the last year alone. Wahaso has seen success in its hometown market thanks to an emphasis on green building practices that helped Chicago retain its title as the city with the most LEED-certified projects for three years running. However, Bauer says the real potential lies in drought-stricken states like California.
“California is a fast-growing market right now because of changes in the building regulations and concerns about water supplies. There are new codes in the last year and a half and almost every new commercial development in San Francisco and Los Angeles is seeking water use reduction of some kind,” says Bauer.
Wahaso has completed a number of projects across Los Angeles, one of which will be prominently featured during tours of some of the city’s most sustainable building projects as part of the Greenbuild Expo.
The Santa Monica Light Rail Maintenance Facility is an 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that is part of the LA Metro system. Built to comply with a California ordinance that requires new building projects to capture stormwater runoff, the City of Santa Monica turned to Wahaso to design and deliver a stormwater harvesting system.
“It’s a high-profile project and similar to other stormwater reuse projects we are delivering in Southern California,” says Bauer. “It collects stormwater from the building roof and parking area, which is then used for irrigation and also to wash trains.”
Using an 800,000-gallon cistern provided by supply partner Oldcastle Precast, the system pre-filters water to capture debris and hydrocarbons. OptiRTC technology is employed to monitor incoming weather and adjust cistern detention levels accordingly. The system will save an estimated 1.2 to 1.6 million gallons of water per year and will help reduce potable water use in the facility by more than 40 percent.
Recycling water from showers and sinks (known as “greywater”) is also popular in California because the source is not dependent on rainfall. Greywater harvesting on a commercial level is more challenging than rainwater, and the company has developed a filtration system that has achieved the tough National Sanitation Foundation (NSF-350) standard for non-potable water. Greywater systems are already installed at UCLA, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and several are in various stages of delivery.
Bauer credits the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) with helping to raise the profile of sustainably-minded products and systems such as water harvesting. “They have done a tremendous job of making green sexy, making it work and making it something to be proud of,” he says. Changes to the latest LEED v4 scorecard added a number of categories and points for efforts in water sustainability that reward buildings for internal and external water use reduction, rainwater management and harvesting for cooling tower make-up water. “We have designed single systems for commercial properties that earn points across all categories, so they really pay off for LEED certification efforts,” noted Bauer.
Building a market
Rainwater harvesting has long been in use on a small, residential level with the use of simple systems such as rainwater collection barrels, but Wahaso is working to scale up the technology for the commercial and institutional markets. “We saw the opportunity to set up a truly commercial-grade system with controls, pumps and filters that meet the rigorous demands of a commercial building,” Bauer says.
There are some water harvesting systems on the market producing potable water, but the Wahaso team decided early on to concentrate its efforts on non-potable systems for myriad reasons. “Over 90 percent of water in most commercial and institutional buildings is not used for potable purposes and the standards are so much higher for drinking water, it’s just not worth the extra cost or effort,” says Bauer.
As a designer of water harvesting systems, Wahaso does not perform any installation work itself, but instead relies on local contractors to receive and install the systems. “Instead of dealing with every local plumbing and electrical code, we partner with contractors as a supplier to them. We provide support and work closely to oversee installation and startup,” he says. “And because of our partnerships with skid and controls fabricators, we have a lot of capacity to grow with the market.”
While every project with its unique circumstances requires a custom solution, the company is working to develop packages that will allow Wahaso to streamline the design-build process. “There are patterns we’re seeing and similarities across many projects that can be combined instead of reinventing every project from scratch,” he says.
As mainstream acceptance of water harvesting systems continues to expand, Bauer says Wahaso is poised for rapid growth. “These types of projects are soon going to become standard. It’s a tiny industry so far and water is still so inexpensive, but as water rates continue to rise it makes this more attractive. Return on investment will improve, acceptability will improve and awareness will improve, so the future really is looking green,” he says.
As water rates continue to rise and regions such as California struggle with ways to address long-term droughts, Wahaso is poised to become a leading name in the nascent water harvesting industry throughout North America and beyond.
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