Where does all the water go? Inquiring spa-goers want to know. The typical spa, with its whirlpool baths, indulgent showers, and other wet treatments, may not seem like a water conservationist’s dream.
“Vichy showers in particular are symbolic of the potential excesses of water use”, says Michael Stusser, chairman of the Green Spa Network, an association of over 40 spas that are tackling conservation and sustainability issues within the industry. “But there are ways to conserve water use or modify treatments that do not compromise the spa experience of the guest. For instance, some spas are starting to incorporate low-use showerheads that inject oxygen into the water stream. When you’re experiencing a shower of this sort, you really can’t tell the difference.”
Taking a lead on water conservation issues, Stusser’s own spa, Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, which he founded in 1985 in Freestone, California, offers a Cedar Enzyme Bath that requires no water at all. Instead, guests are submerged into a tub containing a fermenting medium, which softens the skin and offers a deeply relaxing experience.
Certainly Osmosis represents the vanguard of water conservation. But while the most water-intensive spa treatments do not seem to be disappearing from other menus, spas are finding other ways to conserve and recycle this precious resource.
At La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, showerheads and toilets are low-use, and leftover guest amenity water is used to hydrate plants and refill fountains and other decorative features. At the Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica in Santa Monica, California, faucets have been fitted with low-flow aerators, an extensive leak-detection system prevents wastage, and drought-resistant landscaping keeps water use low. Even the laundry systems use ozone technologies that add up to significant savings in water use.
Even hot springs spas are taking note. At Sycamore Mineral Springs in San Luis Obispo, California, the hillside is dotted with dozens of circular tubs, each filled with sulfur-rich, therapeutic spring water. Previously, each mineral spring hot tub used 1,500 gallons of water per day, which was wasted by diluting, cooling, and reheating the tubs unnecessarily. But in 2008, Sycamore introduced an automated system that saves water by allowing the water to automatically enter through the jets; it is no longer diluted with non-mineral cold water. This new water flow system saves 600 gallons per day per tub, equaling a total daily water conservation of 12,000 gallons of water per day. After the water has been used, it is recycled throughout the property.
As the more thoughtful leaders of the spa world understand, saving water isn’t just a matter of watching the bottom line. “Ever since the property was founded 100 years ago, it has enhanced a sense of respect and wonder at the bounty of nature in its guests”, says Marina Huston, marketing manager for Sycamore. “Conserving and recycling water fits perfectly with that ethos.” Spas have always aspired to wash away years of stress from their guests. Today’s water-wise spas can also serve as a fountain of youth for the earth itself, helping it stay young and fresh.
Researching Water Wise dampened Katherine Stewart’s enthusiasm for water-guzzling treatments such as Vichy showers, but it didn’t succeed in bursting her spa bubble. “I’m encouraged by conservation trends in the industry,” she says. “Spa directors tend to be extremely wellness-minded, and they embrace sustainability as an extension of that philosophy.” Stewart is a frequent contributer to Healing Lifestyles & Spas.