NYC Restaurants Lower Water Use

HOST: Each day, New York City’s restaurants use millions of gallons of water. Customers drink it, and cooks use it to scour dishes and fill pots. But a lot of water just goes down the drain. This year, 30 restaurants are taking part in a challenge to lower their water consumption. Pola Lem reports.

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LEM: It’s 3:00 on a Thursday on West 44th Street, and the restaurant Etcetera Etcetera is prepping for dinner. Anna De Chevalier is the manager. As she walks into the kitchen, she notices there’s a tap running.

 

DE CHEVALIER: [Water running.] As you can see, the challenge of… water’s running.
De Chevalier turns it off. She says saving water is a constant challenge in a bustling kitchen.

It’s a perfect example of one thing the restaurant needs to do to reach its goal of 5 percent water reduction.

AMBI: Kitchen sound.

DE CHEVALIER: When you’re in the middle of service and it’s busy and you need the faucet to run faster, it’s hard for the kitchen.

For De Chevalier, a big part of being more efficient means educating her staff, and making sure they don’t leave the taps open. But there are other things too, like fixing leaks and putting aerators on the faucets to decrease water pressure.

The initiative comes from the Department of Environmental Protection as a way to curb water use while the city repairs leaks to huge pipes that supply a lot of its water.

KENNIFF: We’ve put this out to all restaurants, working through the New York State Restaurant Association, and these are the ones that responded.

Vlada Kenniff works for the Department of Environmental Protection, and she’s in charge of the initiative. The group includes small chains like 67 Burger and some higher-end places, like Grammercy Tavern. Each of them volunteered to take part in the water conservation challenge.

KENNIFF: Our challenge is only a year long, we are very hands-on, we go in and work with each participant.

Over the last year, Kenniff’s team has been monitoring the restaurants’ baseline water use. That’s anywhere from 800,000 gallons for a smaller restaurant to 9 million gallons for a larger space. If they reach their goal, they could save between 4,000 and 41,000 dollars in their water bills.

Once the challenge ends, the DEP will write guidelines that all of the city’s restaurants will be able to use. Sharon Megdal supports the initiative. She’s director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona.

MEGDAL: Reducing water use is the right thing to do, wherever you may be and whatever your business may be.

Unlike Arizona, New York is not facing a drought. But the state’s been dipping into its supply of groundwater. Megdal says, lowering use saves restaurants money. And there’s another benefit. Chris Hickey is the regional director of the New York State Restaurant Association.

HICKEY: It might be more costly initially to be a sustainable restaurant, but your revenue pays for itself later.

Plus, he says, patrons like it when businesses put in the effort.

HICKEY: Sustainability is a way of life now. People will appreciate that you’re trying to be sustainable.

AMBI: Restaurant.

7:00 is peak business time for Etcetera Etcetera. Customers Carolyn and Chuck Bonheur have just finished their dinner.

BONHEUR: We’ve been coming here since it opened ten years ago.

It’s the first they’ve heard of the water challenge, and they say it makes them like the place a little bit more. In the kitchen, plates clang, and hot, frothy water pumps through the dishwasher. The manager, Anna De Chavelier is happy for the restaurant, and also for the planet.

DE CHEVALIER: We have to start conserving water because of what’s happening.

She means climate change. In the meantime, these restaurants are doing their bit.

Pola Lem, Columbia Radio News.

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