Water Conservation Practices for Highway Transportation Construction and Road Operations and Facility Management

Focus Area



Air Quality, Environmental Process






Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

Water is a precious finite resource in the United States and throughout the world. Water resource limitations are currently and expected to be one of the main environmental challenges facing the United States as population growth and unsustainable water practices continues. It can be argued that we in the United States are not paying for the real cost and benefit of water as local and regional water resources are decreasing in quality and quantity. Aquifer depletions for domestic and agricultural water demands are unsustainable. Surface systems continue to have high depletion demands that are impacting water quality and quantity requiring hydrologic modifications for collection and storage. Water depletions in some water systems have caused environmental impacts that have affected threatened and endangered species (South Platte River) that impact water usage for transportation projects and operations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region, August 9, 2007). It is expected that water resources, particularly in the Western U.S. but increasingly in other parts of the country, will also be stressed from climate change where median temperatures and temperature extremes are expected to increase. Climate change will have a large impact on transportation operations and their use of water especially for re-vegetation and soil stability after construction and operation of maintenance facilities not served by public water. As examples, a rest area in Colorado used over 10 million gallons of water annually at a cost of $15,000 per year, primarily for lawn irrigation and in parts of the I-43 corridor of Wisconsin the groundwater table has receded 50-100 feet. The cost of water is expected to increase due to availability and the cost of new or restructured dams.

Examples of transportation-related activities that consume significant quantities of water include: hydro-seeding, pavement marking operations, conditioning for soil compaction, dust suppression, street cleaning, bridge washing, vehicle/equipment washing, landscape establishment/maintenance, brine production, rest area operations.

There is limited information to guide state and local Departments of Transportations (DOTs) in planning and implementing water conservation programs. This research project will develop water conservation guidance for transportation programs and projects during transportation design, construction, operation and maintenance and at administrative and maintenance facilities.

The research will identify water conservation measures that will reduce short and long-term costs while helping maintain finite water resources (ground and surface waters). It is recognized that water resources and conservation techniques and will differ geographically within the United States; however the need for conservation now and in the future is important. Research will be performed on reduction effectiveness and cost/benefit. Sustainable water conservation programs will help reduce stream and groundwater environmental impacts, construction and operational costs and the regional need for additional expensive hydrologic structures to provide more water.


There is very limited if any water conservation guidance for state and local DOTs based upon an initial literature review. Water conservation guidance towards highway specific water conservation and efficiency programs is lacking or non-existent in Transportation Research Board (TRB), American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and other transportation literature. Literatures searches using TRIS online, the Research In Progress (RIP) and AASHTO TERI databases provide no previous research related to conservation planning .


The research objective is to identify short and long term cost effective conservation strategies that take into account current and future water resource conditions. Research will be performed to evaluate specific DOT water usage, areas of waste and cost savings. The research study will provide guidance on how to develop and implement a water conservation plan and identify specific water conservation practices for DOT staff involved in transportation planning, design, construction and operation and maintenance. Appropriate metrics to assess the impact of these practices also need to be developed. The research project will survey state DOTs on existing water conservation programs, best management practices, cost savings and environmental impact reductions. There is a research emphasis on innovative water conservation practices such as but not limited to water recycling/reuse potential, small scale water treatment, water harvesting, gray water usage, and low-water landscaping design strategies. Research will also address current and projected water conservation actions in light of climate change impacts using appropriate metrics.

Research Project Steps

Step 1- Literature Review of Existing Water Conservation Practices- perform a literature search on state DOT or other agency water conservation programs and practices within different climatic regions of the United States. Telephone conversations with DOTs, universities or other references will be performed to discuss lessons learned from programs development and implementation; research will expand internationally as appropriate to identify additional water conservation ideas and practices. Deliverable- Technical Memorandum #1

Step 2- Evaluation Water Conservation Practices- compile a menu of water conservation practices that can be used by state and local DOTs in each of the transportation areas associated with NEPA analysis, design, construction, operation and maintenance and facility management. There will be an analysis of practices to reduction effectiveness, advantages/disadvantages, reduced environmental impacts, practicality, legal constraints, practicality and equipment needs, and cost effectiveness; Deliverable- Technical Memorandum #2

Step 3 – Development of Guidance Document Outline and Draft/Final Report and Guidance Documents- develop draft guidance document outline for TRB review and comment. Develop draft water conservation report and guidance document for TRB review and comment; develop final water conservation report and guidance documentation. Provide Power Point Presentation to TRB that can also be used as a training tool for state DOTs. Relationship to sponsors strategic goals and policy initiatives.This item fits into the committees research priorities that include identification of the efficient use of resources.

Urgency and Payoff

The guidance document will be a reference on how to develop and implement a water conservation program for all steps within the transportation process and facilities. The guidance document will include potential water conservations techniques that are cost effective over the short and long term context with an emphasis on impacts from anticipated climate change. 

Suggested By

ADC60, Waste Management and Resource Efficiency in Transportation