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Stockhausen tops list of Greensboro’s biggest users

by Amy Kingsley

In late August, the residents of Greensboro turned off their sprinklers.

A summer drought has meant rainfall totals about 10 inches below normal for the year, and area reservoirs are hurting. When the water supply dipped below a 150-day reserve on Aug. 22, the city enacted mandatory restrictions to staunch the gushing. The rules make watering your lawn more than once a week an offense punishable by up to $200.

Industrial and commercial users are supposed to reduce their consumption too, although most of the guidelines during the first stages of a water shortage are voluntary. Commercial users who operate golf courses or athletic fields are instructed to water only between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. In addition, they have to find ways to reduce total water consumption by 40 percent.

Up until 2001 the Department of Water Resources charged residential and commercial customers according to a rate scale that rewarded high-volume users with lower rates. Later the city shifted away from that model toward a system that would encourage conservation by charging the lowest volume residential users the least. Customer Service Manager Jeff Kimel said a drought in 1998 prompted the rate change.

“Obviously education and communication are important ways to achieve conservation,” Kimel said. “But water rates are another really important tool. When you hit people in the pocketbook, they seem to respond.”

Businesses also shifted from the decreasing block rate to a flat rate around the same time. Water Resources Director Allan Williams said the billing change successfully encouraged conservation among both commercial and industrial users.

In 2006, the top 10 commercial water customers provided the city with 15.4 percent of its annual water revenues and guzzled 957 million gallons of water. Information about residential water consumption is confidential under North Carolina law, but the top commercial users are listed in some public documents. The following list of Gate City water hogs comes from recent bond information on file in the city’s finance department.

Stockhausen

This subsidiary of Degussa, a German conglomerate, located its North American manufacturing operations in Greensboro in 1979. The company, which started out making soaps and solvents for textile treatment, used 155 million gallons of water in 2006, making it the city’s top water customer. The plant now manufactures absorbent plastics that are used in disposable diapers. The Stockhausen facility is located in an industrial district on Elm-Eugene Street south of Florida Street, at the heart of the city’s heavy manufacturing district. Company spokesman Mike Sheridan was unable to answer the reporter’s questions by press time.

UNCG

Those plastic cafeteria trays don’t clean themselves, people. It makes sense that a campus with more than 16,000 students – many of whom live on campus – would use a lot of water. In fact, Jenny Paige, from the office of waste reduction and recycling was surprised to find out the school had slipped from the number one spot to number two. In 2006, UNCG consumed 148 million gallons of water. In recent years, the facilities crew has installed low-flow showerheads, toilets and water-saving dishwashers to curb the campus’ thirst. In addition, groundskeepers have planted native, drought-resistant plant species and have reduced their watering schedule in response to the mandatory water restrictions.

“We’re watering once a week, or sometimes not at all, where we used to water three or four times a week,” Paige said.

Still, the school hasn’t set a goal for water consumption, even though it does have one for energy.

Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble, the Ohio-based personal products behemoth, operates two plants in Guilford County, one on Swing Road in Greensboro and the other out in Browns Summit. The plants manufacture Fixodent, Crest and Old Spice deodorant and used 146 million gallons of water last year. The company recently appealed to the Greensboro City Council for tax incentives to help them expand the facility out in Browns Summit, which the city helpfully obliged. Worldwide, Procter & Gamble employs about 135,000 people, although I don’t know how many of them work at the Greensboro factories. Officials from the company did not return phone calls by press time.

Elastic Fabrics of America

Representatives of Elastic Fabrics of America never got around to responding to our phone calls, so we never did find out what role water plays in the manufacturing process responsible for your comfy-waist jeans. According to its website, Elastic Fabrics of America is the premier supplier of warp-knitted and circular-knitted elastometric fabrics, whatever that means. What we know about the company water-wise is that it is headquartered on Pleasant Garden Road and swallowed some 91 million gallons of Greensboro H2O last year. That’s significantly less than any of the top three users, but still quite a habit.

Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital

Greensboro’s flagship hospital used 89 million gallons of water during 2006, which puts it smack in the middle of this list of 10. Spokesman Doug Allred said the hospital renovated its facilities in 2002, during the last drought, replacing water-cooled pumps with air-cooled ones and installing low-flow showerheads. The hospital is in the midst of replacing all its 3-gallon toilets with 1.6-gallon toilets, Allred said, and a month ago, in response to the current drought, groundskeepers stopped watering outdoor plants. At Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, total water use between 2000 and 2005 remained steady, Allred said, but at the same time, the campus added an urgent care and other facilities.

“While we haven’t saved much water,” Allred said, “we are using it a lot more efficiently.”

Lorillard Tobacco Co.

Lorillard, a division of Loews Corp., is the third largest tobacco company in the United States, and responsible for the production of Newports, the country’s most popular menthol cigarette, according to its website. You can smell the earthy musk of the cigarette maker’s East Market Street factory from at least a mile away. Lorillard consumed 86 million gallons of water last year. Senior Vice President Ronald Milstein referred me to the plant supervisor, who did not return my phone calls before the holiday weekend.

Precision Fabrics Group

This Greensboro company specializes in the manufacture of high-tech textile products used in aeronautic, aerospace, government and consumer quarters. Their operations are pretty water intensive, requiring 71 million gallons of the clear stuff last year alone. Precision Fabrics spun off from Burlington Industries in 1988, and while we’re always happy to see a homegrown company succeed, we do wish they would return our phone calls. The company did not comment on past, present or future water use.

RF Micro Devices

The radio technology company has been getting a lot of good press lately for its business success. Unfortunately, expansion always demands extra resources. RF Micro shows up at number eight on our list thanks to last year’s consumption of 68 million gallons of water. Because the company did not return our phone calls before deadline, we were not able to determine how much of the water use is necessary for manufacturing.

NC A&T University

Even though A&T still shows up on this list, the university deserves some serious commendation for keeping its water consumption well below the level used by its west Greensboro counterpart, UNCG. Last year, A&T had about two-thirds the number of students as UNCG and used only one-third as much water. The institution consumed 58 million gallons of water compared to UNCG’s 148 million gallons. Assistant Vice Chancellor Andrew Perkins did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Konica Manufacturing USA

Declining demand for camera film forced this plant to close earlier this year. Before that, it had been one of Greensboro’s biggest water customers – not so much because the plant consumed a lot of water, 45 million gallons, but because of their location outside the city limits, which meant the city charged them double the regular rate. Konica’s contribution to the water department’s coffers accounted for 1.4 percent of the total for 2006.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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