Every year in March, we dedicate space to water treatment systems in the car wash industry. It is particularly fitting that we do so this year as parts of the country are facing unprecedented drought conditions. National Public Radio reports that Lake Mead in Nevada and Lake Powell, in Arizona/Utah, the two largest reservoirs in the country, are filled to only one third of their total capacity, and that communities and farmers are depleting groundwater stores to meet demand. Recently, Arizona, California, and Nevada agreed to take less water from the Colorado River in an attempt to shore up Lake Mead.

According to a study appearing in Nature Climate Change, the western United States and northern Mexico are experiencing the driest conditions in 1,200 years. The last comparable multi-decade megadrought, the study says, occurred in the 1500s, though it was not as severe as what we are experiencing now. Of course, demand for water in the region then was nowhere near the levels seen today with large cities, millions in population, and huge agricultural concerns all vying for their share.

Drought conditions do not occur on a timed schedule nor are they limited to certain geographic areas of the country. The car wash industry is no stranger to their impact. Twenty years ago, in this space, we referred to press reports that the Northeast, New England in particular, was going through a dry spell. At the time, the Boston Globe reported that, save for 1946, the last three months of 2001 had been the driest fourth quarter on record — i.e., in 130 years of recordkeeping. Massachusetts was not alone. For Vermont, 2001 was the driest year of the previous 30.

It was a mere two years prior that the Mid-Atlantic Carwash Association had its turn at navigating a drought situation that nearly proved ruinous for some of its members: Maryland emergency water restrictions, imposed on August 5, 1999, prohibited the operation of car washes that did not recycle at least 80 percent of water used. Quick action by the association resulted in a variance that allowed car washes to continue operations subject to more reasonable restrictions. 

Maryland’s brush with car wash closures again brought home the water reclamation message — a message that has been around for decades. An editorial in the March 1977 issue of Auto Laundry News foresaw the day when reclamation would become a requirement in every new car wash installation.

Water is a limited commodity — more so in some areas than in others. The truth is, however, that no matter where in the country, it is the one essential component in the wash process without which there will be no car washing.

While car wash operators know that they are conservers of water, they are also very visible users of water. As such, car wash operations can be subjected to undeserved scrutiny and misplaced restrictions during times of water shortages. To counteract such interference, operators can adopt a proactive game plan in which they promote their water conservation chops to the general public and also liaise closely with local authorities, assuring them of car washers’ responsible stewardship of the environment.

An effective tool in this regard is joining the International CarWash Association’s WaterSavers® program. Not only will car wash operators benefit by meeting the criteria for participation, they will also have access to professionally produced marketing materials. Visit www.carwash.org/watersavers/take-action/join-watersavers for details.