On the Washfront - March 2008

Drought:
Georgia Coalition of Car Washes

By Anthony Analetto

Are you a part of the solution?

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Zeev Josman, a vocal member of the recently formed Georgia Coalition of Car Washes, about their activities to protect the interests of professional car washers during the ongoing drought in the Southeastern United States. With over 50 counties enacting a level-four-drought response that prohibits most types of residential outdoor water use, many operators face complete shutdown. The coalition, in partnership with the Southeastern Carwash Association (SECWA), is actively seeking membership pledges at their website, www.GaSavesWater.com. Below Zeev outlines some ideas you can use to help government officials understand the car wash industry, and hopefully protect your business and our industry as a whole in the event of a drought.

ANALETTO: What is the main initiative of the Georgia Coalition of Car Washes?

JOSMAN: Our overall focus is to establish a self-administered car wash certification program in conjunction with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and local municipalities. Right now, our most urgent task is working to change state legislation to specifically exclude professional car washes from general restrictions on outdoor water use. Having only started a few months ago, much of our initial work has been to assemble resources to help professional car wash operators defend themselves. Being highly visible consumers of water, we’re often easy targets for municipalities to single out for closure.

What resources have you put together for operators?

Mainly, the coalition has compiled data proving that the restriction or elimination of car washing will not result in any measurable water savings, but will cause significant economic damage to the small business owners and the thousands of workers who depend on our industry. Overall, we’ve documented that the entire car wash industry in Georgia uses approximately 1.8 million gallons of water per day, just 0.14 percent of the amount consumed per day for public use. Compare this to the City of Atlanta’s estimate that 15 million gallons per day are lost and not metered. That’s more than 8 times the amount of water our industry uses in the entire state.

So the coalition recommends taking a proactive stance with local governments?

Absolutely. The goal of the government during a drought is to conserve water while minimizing any economic disruption. Although there is often a knee-jerk reaction to criminalize car washes, the numbers don’t justify singling us out. For example, did you know that, based on conservative data, it’s estimated that a restaurant consumes 5 to 10 gallons per meal served. If you multiply that by the total number of meals, it indicates that restaurants use 10 times as much water as car washing does. The industry associations are working at the national and regional levels, our coalition is working at the state level in Georgia, but the truth is that local communities sometimes seem to interpret the law as they see fit. As high-profile water users, we have to bring the fight all the way down to local government, which means proactively educating town officials.

What does the coalition envision the certification program you mentioned looking like?

The certification program we’re working to create mirrors a similar program that a coalition of car washers started in San Antonio during a drought 10 years ago. That program is a remarkable success, and has contributed to per capita water consumption declining by 40 percent.

Can you provide an outline of what operators will have to do to gain certification?

Car washes will have to adhere to a set of guidelines for water conservation and recycling based upon the type of car wash facility. For example, conveyor type car washes must recycle at least 50 percent of their water to meet certification requirements. The requirements are stringent, will be independently inspected, and must be met annually. We also have penalties to promote compliance. Once underway, car wash facilities can become certified only when drought restrictions are not in place. Once restrictions are in effect, non-certified washes must begin to reduce hours of operation.

Are you getting strong support from operators?

Conveyors and self serves in the areas hard hit by drought have driven our progress, but we’re actively seeking pledges from all over the state. Most of the guidelines are things that a lot of operators are already doing. What politicians don’t know is that car wash operators treat water with a great deal more respect than many other businesses, because for us it’s a direct expense. They don’t realize that we’re computerized, reclaim water, and can measure a car and turn on only exactly what we need. We have to fight public perception. For an independent operator it can be a hassle just keeping up with what they have to do to comply with restrictions as they are enacted. Supporting the coalition gives them an opportunity to help establish standards, be recognized as a good corporate citizen, and self-police compliance. I think a lot of operators realize the benefit of the coalition, have seen that is has worked in other regions like San Antonio, and are willing to do what it takes to make it work here in Georgia.

What would you say is an acceptable number of gallons of water to wash a car?

We encourage people to stay away from using gallons per vehicle (GPV) to measure conservation because there are so many variables, especially among the different wash formats. It’s more important to look at the percentage of water that is reclaimed and what percent is put back into the sewer system instead of being lost to evaporation or carried out. Personally, I’m trying to get my washes down to 20 GPV. The important thing is to know what your average GPV is off the top of your head before you ever experience a drought. Identifying water-usage spikes should be part of your preventive maintenance. You should also know statistics on car wash water usage in general and what the industry as a whole is doing to help conserve water. Much of that information can be found at our website www.GaSavesWater.com.

What would you recommend to operators looking to use the information you provide when working with their local governments?

First, make sure you understand who makes policy decisions on drought management before you invest a lot of time targeting the wrong people. Once you do find the right person, realize that this is going to be a learning process for them. It’s likely they have a preconceived notion that a car wash wastes a lot of water and pollutes the rest. Turning them into a car wash advocate who looks to you as a leader in water conservation will probably take a good amount of work. The single greatest recommendation I can make for anyone reading this, who is not already in the midst of a drought, is to build a coalition and create a certification program before it happens. The best time to educate is when there is no threat at all.

Questions can be sent directly to Zeev at: zeev.josman@cwsga.com

Anthony Analetto has over 26 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

 

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