The California drought has dominated the headlines and put the national spotlight on water. As stricter regulations are established and drought and scarcity increase globally, treatment professionals must consider total water solutions, including efficient use, recycling and reuse to continue the delivery of safe, reliable drinking water supplies. Recently, the water industry examined the state of water. During 2015 it moved toward “whole water” solutions. A focus on recycling and reuse — even outside water-scarce zones — increases the need to rethink clean water, discard the notion that wastewater is a byproduct and embrace wastewater as a valuable resource. In the treatment cycle, each water segment directly and indirectly affects the other.
In the Q&A that follows, industry experts — Snehal Desai, Dow Water & Process Solutions; Ralph Exton, GE Power & Water; Eileen O’Neill, Water Environment Foundation (WEF); and Dieter Sauer, Grundfos Water Utility — discuss their perspectives on the state of water as we enter 2016 and how treatment professionals and manufacturers can protect this finite resource.
What are some new trends that are positively or negatively affecting your company and/or end users?
Desai - The accessibility of water is one of the biggest challenges facing our world today. According to the United Nations, it is estimated that our world will need at least 30 percent more water, 45 percent more energy and 50 percent more food by 2030 to keep up with rising populations, affluence and demand. Low-hanging fruit in terms of water and energy reduction has already been captured, so getting to the next reduction level will be much tougher. That said, we’re seeing water reuse as it applies to a circular economy emerging as an industry megatrend — which will become the “new normal.”
Through reclamation, recycling and finding alternative resources, industry is making significant progress toward advancing a closed-looped water schematic. For example, in the oilfield market, there has been an increase of operators bringing water service in-house and building fixed infrastructure for water management. Technology plays a critical role in preserving and restoring our global water supplies, which is why Dow will continue to innovate in the face of new and emerging water challenges.
Exton – Some of the trends we’re seeing are energy neutral wastewater treatment, nutrient recovery, and the optimization of treatment though the use of data and analytics. Water reuse also continues to be a key focus area in the industry, and we’re seeing positive movement there as a result of drought challenges in California and policy changes in the Middle East. For example, Saudi Arabia recently increased its water tariff to encourage water reuse, and the UAE is opting for stronger conservation and reuse rather than investing in desalination technologies. GE is providing technology solutions for each of these trends … and continues to invest in technologies to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
O’Neill – The most positive trend today that has impacted both our members and society as a whole is the move from traditional treatment or waste disposal into one of recovering valuable resources. Utility leaders are increasingly looking toward the future by adopting practices that reduce costs, increase revenue and produce useful products such as clean, renewable energy; recycled water; natural fertilizer; nutrients; and transportation fuel.
The Water Environment Foundation (WEF) has been one of the leaders of this sector-wide sea change, including changing the term “wastewater treatment facilities” to “water resource recovery facilities” in all of our publications. Externally, we’ve partnered with other organizations on visionary programs and publications.
Sauer – Energy savings is a trend that is growing in the industry. Customers are looking for pump options that have a smaller impact on their energy costs as they look to save money wherever possible. Another growing trend that we have seen is the desire to monitor and manage equipment remotely with simpler technology. Grundfos’ Remote Management tool, for example, allows users to monitor and manage their pump equipment via mobile devices.
A final trend that is causing negative impact to water utilities is the issue of the clogging of pump equipment due to the nature of the products that are being flushed.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing municipalities today?
Desai - There is an expected 61 percent growth in the U.S. market for wastewater reuse in municipal utilities over the next 10 years, along with potable reuse on the rise from 15 to 19 percent by 2025, according to a recent Bluefield market research report. Many municipal facilities today [seek] a long-term strategy to further increase efficiency and productivity in the treatment of wastewater reuse through advanced membrane technologies that have higher permeability and fouling resistance. In fact, more municipal wastewater treatment facilities than ever before are using membrane technologies as advancements continue to meet the rigorous water quality requirements and rapid increasing volumes of wastewater (CDM Smith).
This is one reason the Orange County Water District (OCWD) chose to work with DOW FILMTEC Reverse Osmosis Elements in its Groundwater Replenishment System. The adoption of [these] membranes in operation, as seen with the 30 million-gallon-per-day (mgd) expansion in early 2015, lowered the energy required to treat the same amount of water by 13 percent when compared to the status quo performance of the existing membranes used in the original 70-mgd facility.
Exton - Water scarcity and cost-effective water supply both remain a significant challenge for municipalities in North America. Climate change and drought conditions continue to worsen, which is forcing municipalities to think differently about their longer range plans and operations. Additionally, aging piping and distribution infrastructure create problems with non-revenue water, leaks and disruption of operations. The lack of organized data about where and how water is lost also remains a big challenge.
Sauer – One of the biggest challenges is the ability to upgrade an aging infrastructure. We are helping solve this issue by providing equipment and solutions that minimize the impact to the existing infrastructure. For example, [our] Hydro MPC BoosterpaQ (boosting pumping system) uses smart technology that reduces flow and pressure on the system during times when demand is minimal, reducing the impact on the existing pipe infrastructure.
What steps are being taken nationally to address aging infrastructure, and what are some steps being taken by your company/association?
Desai – Investment in water infrastructure must be a top priority so we can ensure clean, safe water for all users. This means government, industries and communities need to invest locally, develop new water resource strategies, focus on public-private partnership and strengthen federal partnerships. These core principles are essential when responding to changing weather patterns and for communities facing water shortages, which is why Dow has joined leading public and private water agencies, business leaders and national organizations with the Value of Water Coalition.
Through partnerships with municipalities and other key water stakeholders, companies can help increase fresh water availability, reduce operational costs and lessen the burden currently placed on water infrastructure. For example, Dow Terneuzen (Netherlands) is the city’s largest employer and heaviest industrial water user, as it operates one of the largest chemical processing plants outside the U.S. Situated in a freshwater-scarce coastal area, the location affords difficult-to-manage competing water demands across agricultural, industrial and residential users. To address this, Dow collaborated with the municipal water board and a local water company to implement an innovative wastewater recycling program that uses every liter of water (10,000 cubic meters of municipal household wastewater per day) three times, instead of just once. As a result, Dow has reduced its energy use by 95 percent by recycling Terneuzen’s wastewater — the equivalent of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 60,000 tons each year (www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html#results). Clearly, collaboration plays a strong role in helping reduce water scarcity on a global and regional level.
Exton – GE Water & Process Technologies continues to develop products and services to support efficiency of treatment and the retrofit of existing facilities to add treatment capacity. We consistently invest in research and development of new technology with an eye toward retrofit not just Greenfield projects. When it comes to piping and distribution infrastructure, we’re building a robust software platform that we believe can be used to evaluate data to provide a more effective approach to finding leaks before they are a problem.
O’Neill - From a funding standpoint, WEF is continuing to strongly advocate for full funding of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan program and other federal programs that finance infrastructure investments. President Obama requested $5 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) in fiscal year 2016 (FY16) to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) continued work to set up the new loan program for infrastructure projects. Although that amount is not sufficient to make loans, it does demonstrate the administration’s support for the program.
Congress also recently came to a final agreement on a five-year highway reauthorization bill, which includes a WEF-supported provision to remove restrictions on tax-exempt financing for WIFIA-related projects. H.R. 22, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by the president. WEF is now pushing for funding in the final FY16 omnibus appropriations bill for the WIFIA program.
WEF is still engaged with the Value of Water Coalition, an unprecedented national partnership of public and private water agencies, business and community leaders, and national organizations.
Sauer - [Grundfos has] developed technologies that reduce the impact on existing infrastructure by adjusting flow and pressure as demand dictates. We have also developed simpler monitoring and control technology that allows users the ability to see how their equipment is performing and address problems more quickly, saving time and cost. We have developed some of the most efficient wastewater pumps in the industry, saving customers energy, which can account for up to 85 percent of the total cost of a pump installation.
How does zero liquid discharge (ZLD) affect end users, industrial facilities and wastewater treatment facilities?
Desai - While ZLD is a viable solution for some companies, it is not the most realistic solution for all, given the steep expense. When facing significant discharge mitigation costs, minimal liquid discharge (MLD) is a more cost-effective and sustainable way for companies to improve their water footprints. In fact, MLD enables up to 95 percent liquid discharge recovery but at a fraction of ZLD’s costs.
The term MLD might be new. However, the processes on which it is based rely on proven water treatment technologies such as ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis and nanofiltration. Realizing the final 3 to 5 percent of liquid elimination to achieve ZLD can prove incredibly costly, we aim to advance new and existing water treatment technologies that resist fouling and scaling and require less energy to produce clean water. These improvements are what allow end users to get the most from their water streams. By evaluating current operating infrastructure for areas of improvement, MLD can be a good fit for many industrial and municipal sites.
Exton - Increased water recovery and ZLD requirements are becoming more prevalent [because of] increased regulatory restrictions, public perception and economic factors. This is particularly true in highly water-stressed regions within North America and globally. As an example, the EPA recently released stricter guidelines governing wastewater discharge from steam, electric and coal-fired power plants. These and similar guidelines press further toward achieving the ultimate goal of the Clean Water Act, which is to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters. Since ZLD technologies have been proven to be technically viable over decades of operation in dozens of industries, large numbers of plants have implemented ZLD technologies in response to regulatory guidelines in anticipation of future rules and in some cases [because of] economic considerations. As ZLD technologies continue to evolve [and] to become more economical from a capital and operating cost standpoint, we anticipate that the move toward zero pollutant discharge to the nation’s waterways will continue to accelerate.
Sauer - I believe in the long run, ZLD will impact us all in a positive way by reducing the demand on our limited water resources, particularly in drought-challenged areas. In the short term, it creates a challenge in developing the infrastructure necessary to be a ZLD facility.
With global drought conditions, how important is reuse/recycling?
Desai - Even though the water shortage and crisis is being highlighted now, the industry has been discussing and dealing with this issue for decades. Nevertheless, with water demand for manufacturing expected to increase 400 percent according to the U.N., it has never been more important to find effective ways to maximize the efficient use of water — for both the environment and the bottom line.
With growing population and urbanization placing increasing demand on limited freshwater resources, treating municipal wastewater for reuse presents a reliable and safe option to help mitigate water scarcity. For example, advancements in reverse osmosis membrane technology have enabled large municipal projects, such as the OCWD Groundwater Replenishment System. This plant treats reclaimed municipal wastewater to provide a reliable and safe water supply that can be used for subsurface injection to recharge local aquifers or to replenish surface water sources, thereby minimizing the need for local regions to import water, which is both expensive and energy intensive. Dow and OCWD’s research and development teams continue to work together to further advance technologies that can be implemented across the globe, making wastewater reuse an even more attainable reality for water-stressed
Exton - Global drought conditions are certainly raising awareness of how important reuse and recycling are in addressing water scarcity issues. I mentioned [when answering another question] that policy changes in the Middle East are moving in the right direction. Policies and regulations are an essential component for increasing recycling and reuse, and there are three other major drivers. First, education and outreach can encourage reuse and overcome public concerns about recycled water. Second, removing barriers can make it less expensive or difficult to reuse water. Third, providing economic incentives can make recycled water cheaper than potable water.
Sauer - [Recycling and reuse are] incredibly important because they reduce the impact to our limited water sources. We are seeing more and more water utility customers that are collaborating with local entities to provide reused water in nonpotable applications, such as the irrigation of golf courses. With recent projects in Australia and Singapore where reuse/recycling schemes have produced water for human consumption, it is just a matter of time before this becomes a reality for all.
Has the drought in the western states affected your company/association or your customers/members?
Desai - The drought taking place on the West Coast has directly affected our customers. We’ve seen more cities looking to seawater conversion to uncover new water sources as freshwater continues to grow scarcer and more expensive. The good news is that, during the past 40 years, advancements in membrane chemistry, module design, higher efficiency pumps and energy recovery devices, as well as innovative system design, have driven down the cost to make desalination an efficient and cost-effective reality. Dow has made … contributions to lowering total costs of desalinated seawater by targeting advancements in productivity and lowering the overall energy intensity of its membranes. For example, Dow FILMTEC Reverse Osmosis Membranes are used in the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which will provide the area with a locally controlled, drought-proof supply of high-quality water that meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water standards.
Continued advances in water innovation will help drive a world where water is not a scarce resource but a well-managed one. To achieve our circular economy goals, Dow is open to collaborating with industry leaders to demonstrate how principles of reuse and recovery can be economically applied to closed resource loops in key markets to benefit society and the environment.
Exton - The drought has affected our customers — both municipal and industrial. They are looking for ways in which technology can address their water challenges. GE’s broad technology portfolio can support these efforts. We have a very robust platform of water reuse technologies for a variety of applications and industries.
O’Neill – WEF’s mission is built on addressing cross-cutting issues nationally, which includes drought, something that can impact any community but is clearly of greatest concern in the West. Issues such as drought typically have contributing factors and should be considered in the full context to find short- and long-term solutions. WEF takes this approach by addressing it within the larger framework of our work on climate adaptation, reuse, resiliency and resource recovery. We also have an opportunity through WEFTEC and other programs to share experiences between the U.S. and water managers in other arid regions, such as Australia.
WEF and the American Water Works Association have discussed water as one resource with all segments focusing on conservation, protection and reuse. Do you think this perspective is the right direction for the industry?
Desai - This is absolutely the right perspective. Water sits at the intersection of necessity and scarcity. Since we don’t have a replacement for water, we have to focus on the scarcity side of the picture. The first step is to reduce consumption and be more efficient and recycle water where possible. Used materials can be maximized through reuse, mechanical recycling, chemical transformation, energy recovery and composting, with those options presented in the approximate order of their economic value and environmental impact. When that’s not enough, desalination is now a viable, economically feasible option, thanks to advances in water treatment technologies.
However, if we are truly to bring solutions to meet global water challenges, then we must move beyond our linear economy models to transition to a circular economy. This involves greater adoption of water reuse schemes but also builds new water circular economy management to drive adoption of breakthrough solutions.
Advancing a circular economy does not mean that materials have to be put onto the loop and remain there forever. We need to maximize the value of the natural resources we use by taking a systems approach. Inputs and outputs are key to this equation. Therefore, we must always seek to optimize the whole system rather than sub-optimize any individual parts.
O’Neill - In dealing with the impacts of climate change, resource depletion and emerging contaminants, water professionals increasingly find themselves on the leading edge of a revolution in water management and environmental protection. The need for innovative solutions is evolving rapidly as we move toward a more holistic and sustainable approach. To be successful in addressing current and future water challenges, we cannot operate in a bubble. As a result, training and technical resources in specific practice areas must be complemented by discussion and information on alternative management approaches to identify and implement the best solutions and most advanced technologies.
Exton - Absolutely, yes. There is one water cycle, and every phase of that cycle is important and can be optimized through technology, policy, public awareness and regulation. I think this is equally true and important for drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and the ability to harness the resources from wastewater such as energy and nutrients.