Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

EC 003: Water Walks

9 min read


For the 3rd episode, I am posting the 2nd part of a 5 part video course, called W.A.S.T.E. Walks.

This episode introduces the “Water Walk” to help reduce and conserve water usage.

You can view the video version of this course for free by contacting us, so we can send you the free coupon code for the video course.

The following episodes will cover two other walks, Dumpster Dives and Energy Walks.

Relevant Links Video Course

Access our past podcast episodes >>>



Water Walks are a powerful and effective approach to reduce water usage in your facility or company. This training is based on the Lean and Water Toolkit, developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which can be downloaded for free at slash lean. You can find the link to the toolkit in the “additional resources” section.

A water walk focuses on water efficiency and conservation. Employees and managers from the work area form a team and take a walk around the work setting (whether it’s the factory floor or the office), and together make observations and identify how water is currently being used. This can be hard to determine from a water utility bill alone.

Since we are involving the workers and managers in the area, we don’t have to guess at why the water is being used. Having a few people on the team from outside the area is also a good idea, to challenge why the water is needed in the process.

The event also focuses the team on walking the flow of water into and out from the facility, instead of looking at each individual process as a stand-alone. Similar to a value stream mapping event, there may be opportunities to save water between process steps or within the pipes.

In addition to the water reduction benefits of the event, it also engages employees.

First, by educating them on water costs and water usage in their area, it helps them understand how water currently or will eventually impact the company’s bottom line. Water might already have a major cost impact to the company, or perhaps the facility is located in a region where droughts can occur or there is a scarcity of water, which may impact the ability of the company to deliver their products and services in the future.

In addition, training is provided to the team to help them find water savings opportunities during the event, but this training will carry over past the event, and they will be able to help identify new opportunities in the future. This can also apply what they learn at home to reduce their own water bill. They are also encouraged to share what they learned with others in their work area that were not involved in the event.

Finally, when you teach someone, then apply what you learn right away, it’s the most effective approach. The training is conducted just-in-time (JIT) (usually the day before or on the first day of the event) so that there is little time between training and application. Too often training is conducted that is never applied, or applied too far into the future, and it has to be repeated.

Now that we’ve explained a water walk, let’s compare it to how we reduce water usage today.

What method have you used?

  • Hiring expensive consultants to give you ideas?
  • Go right to the quick solution of replacing equipment, which costs lots of money, and will not likely make it into the budget?
  • Meet with managers (not workers) to brainstorm ideas?
  • Impose a reduction goal across the board to everyone, instead of analyzing where there are true opportunities?
  • Replace equipment and pipes when there is a problem or they fail, which is very reactive?
  • Or have you done nothing to reduce water today? Maybe it’s considered the “cost of doing business” and not seen as an opportunity?

Using the water walk approach is a more effective method to reduce water usage.

Here are a few examples of water walk successes.

At the Kirtland Air Force Base, they used teams to walk the water lines with acoustic listening devices to find leaks. They found 31 leaks that accounted for 16% of the base water. When the leaks were repaired, they saved 179 million gallons per year.

At a DTE Energy plant, low water pressure highlighted a possible problem. An open valve was found on the new water treatment system. A variable valve was installed for only $3000, and it avoided spending $500,000 on a booster pump.

Del Monte Foods found an opportunity in their recirculation line by splitting an 8 inch pipe into two 4-inch pipes, which saved 300,000 gallons per year.

We introduced the generic Walk process in the first video.

Let’s dig into the Prepare phase, where we will fill out the Planning Worksheet, in order to get organized about what we want to accomplish and gain support for our event.

During the Prepare phase, the WASTE walk planning worksheet is filled out.

The upper left section is the business case and reason for the event. The upper right section is the scope and location of the event.

The middle section is the list of team members involved.

The bottom left section is the dates and times for the training, event and working sessions.

And the bottom right section is the approval section, where the managers of the area need to sign their name before the event is conducted. This ensures that they are committed to providing the necessary resources, time commitment and ongoing support for ideas that come out of the event.

Do not proceed with the event until you have manager approval, otherwise your ideas and suggestions may not get support during implementation.

The Waste Walk Planning Worksheet template is provided in the course materials for download.

Now let’s look into the details of the Water Walk event process.

During the event, there are 5 major process steps.

The first step is to Identify all water-consuming equipment, high-use water areas, and any water meter locations. The next slide will provide a list of key areas to focus on first, which traditionally have many opportunities

Next, we have the team walk around and look for opportunities. They should look for all water losses, any evaporative losses, any water incorporated into products, excessively high or low water pressure, and any water leaks

Third, the team should observe any shift clean-ups and process changeovers to see how water is used. The team may need to come back to the area at different times of day to make these observations.

Next, the team should try to quantify their observations using buckets (how much water is collected in a minute) or through the use of water metering equipment. This will be used later on to determine how much impact it has on the water bill

Finally, the team should look at the quality of the water going into each process step, what is actually required for that process, and the quality of the water discharged from the process.

Not all processes need the cleanest, highest-quality water. In many cases you may be able to reuse the “waste” water from one process or operation as an input to another process or for another use at your facility (for example, air handling condensate, or reverse osmosis reject water), as long as you match the quality of water needed for its intended use. You may need to do some testing and additional treatment of the process water to make sure it is acceptable for the next use.

During your walk, make sure you seek out the following areas and type of equipment that exists in your facility.

The list of key areas also comes from the Lean and Water Toolkit. The categories include: Process and Equipment, Cooling and Heating, Sanitary and Domestic, Other Facility Support (such as floor washing, dust emission controls, and landscaping), and kitchens.

If your facility has one of these items on the list, make sure you spend sufficient time in that area, as they may provide big opportunities to reduce water usage.

But don’t we need to use water in our facility?

Yes, water can be an important piece of how your facility operates. However, there may be situations where the water is not being used in an essential or valuable way.

During the walk, you should try to separate out when water is being used in a value-added way (something the customer is willing to pay for), from when it is used in a non-value added way (something the customer would not be willing to pay for).

For example, when water is used to heat and cool the work area, to make employees feel comfortable and control the quality of the process, then it would be a valuable use of water.

However, if the water used for landscaping is evaporating before it hits the lawn, then it’s not being used properly.

Boiling water to cook food for employees, or use a water jet system to cut parts would be value added.

Leaving the water running in the restroom, or using water to clean up a spill are examples of non-value added water usage.

You should start by reducing the non-value added water uses first, then work on improving the efficiency of the value-added water usage. The non-value added usage is often less expensive to resolve.

Water leaks are some of the best low-cost and high-yielding steps for reducing water waste.

It’s not whether your facility has leaks or not, it’s how many and how large. You can use indicators such as low water pressure, dirty water, or unexplained changes in your water bill to identify potential leaks

Many leaks can be repaired with simple solutions such as tightening or replacing fittings.

There are more complex methods to detect leaks, such as bluing tablets or dyes, or using sonic or acoustic detection equipment for finding leaks in underground pipes. Professional plumbers may have these devices, or other tools to help you find leaks. You can also use a drip gauge or a simple bucket and stopwatch to estimate the size of the leaks, which will used to prioritize the impact of the leak.

Once you identify the major sources of water usage during your walk, you should consider these 5 strategies for reducing the usage.

  • Adjust the water flow downward
  • Modify the existing equipment with water savings devices, such as an aerator inside a bathroom faucet, or changing the tank bowl water level in toilet
  • Change or upgrade to a more water-efficient machine or equipment. However, this can be very costly. If there are other reasons to replace it, the potential water savings could be used to help justify the investment and shorten the payback period.
  • Reuse or recycle the water before sending it to the sewer. In some cases, the water should be treated so that it can be used in another process, or so it leaves the facility at a higher quality level, which can be less expensive.
  • Shift to a low-water or waterless process, such as dry sweeping or less frequent cleaning of the parts.

Let’s expand on more efficient strategies for cleaning in our processes.

The Lean and Water toolkit provides a list of ideas to consider

  • Dry clean-up first. This involves using brooms and brushes first, then applying water as a secondary step (not the primary step).
  • Reduce water when floor washing, such as mopping only certain spots, not the entire floor
  • Mistake proofing your equipment by installing shut-off or flow restricting nozzles
  • Developing water efficient techniques and methods that minimize water usage, and sharing with others, or documenting as a standard

Now let’s look at the 2nd type of waste walk, dumpster dives.

Copyright © BPI. All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.