As climate change continues to change the world’s landscape, the notion of reducing the carbon footprint made by human activity has become vital, especially in the transportation industry. Also vital is reducing the water footprint, particularly in the western United States which is currently gripped by a drought that continues to worsen. As a result, many industries are adjusting business practices to better manage their water usage, including the air travel industry.
When considering the amount of water used by air travel, the total encompasses more than just the flights; aircraft cleaning, cleaning of the airport and cleaning and maintenance of airplanes, airport cooling systems, restrooms, and drinking water must also be taken into account. The sum of water used is vast and applying conservation practices and finding alternatives that reduce water consumption is necessary. Fortunately, most of the water used is for non-potable applications which are easier to cut back, and airports that utilize such practices have demonstrated reductions in usage per passenger. One example is the Dallas Fort Worth International airport which saw a reduction in water use of over 24 percent between 2011 and 2016 after employing water conservation practices.
Other airports have seen similar reductions, although the methods to achieve the reductions vary. Conservation practices can be as simple as removing grass and installing hardscapes and drought-tolerant plants, installing automatic faucets and low-flow toilets, or not running decorative water fountains. More detailed practices focus on water recapture and recycle systems for reuse, as is the case at the Los Angeles International Airport which implemented a sustainability plan adopted by the Los Angeles World Airports in 2019. The plan “calls for significantly increasing the amount of reclaimed water used for activities such as irrigation and dust mitigation during construction,” and from 2019 to 2020, the airport saw an increase in the amount of reclaimed water of 39 percent. San Diego International airport also reclaims and reuses rainwater, capturing it from the top tier of a parking deck that is over seven acres in size and also has an underground tank to capture as much as 3 million gallons of stormwater.
As the western U.S. continues to mitigate its water scarcity, these and other airports with similar mindsets should serve as a model for airports around the world, encouraging proactive water conservation practices to cope with the water insecurities that are rapidly increasing globally with climate change.
 Sanchez, Paula. “Airports and Water Efficiency: Water Management in the Air Travel Industry.” Smart Water Magazine, Smart Water Magazine, 26 Mar. 2021, smartwatermagazine.com/news/smart-water-magazine/airports-and-water-efficiency-water-management-air-travel-industry.
 Baskas, Harriet. “Airports Were Just Getting through the Passenger Drought – Then Came a Water Drought.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 17 June 2021, www.nbcnews.com/business/travel/airports-were-just-getting-through-passenger-drought-then-came-water-n1271128.
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