The Importance of Incorporating Sustainability and Energy Efficiency into Modern Water Treatment

sustainability conceptThe Importance of Incorporating Sustainability and Energy Efficiency into Modern Water Treatment

Municipal water treatment and distribution requires an exorbitant amount of resources, wreaking havoc on the environment and on budgets. And it’s getting worse. Over the past several years, operating costs have consistently been on the rise, while municipal budgets continue to shrink. In addition, regulatory requirements are increasing, forcing municipalities to upgrade treatment processes ahead of schedule. These changes result in limited unsustainable systems and utilities scrambling to find ways to manage their insufficient operational budgets while maintaining levels of service. The good news is that low-cost initiatives exist that can provide quick and significant cost and environmental savings and increase system sustainability.

When incorporating sustainability into water systems, utilities consistently rank capital cost, life-cycle costs, and service lifetime as the top three considerations, while climate change and habitat protection are the lowest ranked factors. These statistics highlight the extreme fiscal challenges facing utilities today. While environmental factors are certainly important, water systems simply do not have the luxury to place them above financial concerns, as budgets are reaching a critical juncture. In short, cost drives decision-making. Fortunately, energy efficiency and sustainability result in a healthier environment, even when implemented primarily for cost-savings.

wayland water treatment plant
Tata & Howard recently completed a water audit for the Town of Wayland, MA.

There are many technologies and practices that water systems employ to increase sustainability and energy efficiency, the most common of which is reducing non-revenue water (NRW). NRW includes real losses, the majority of which is the result of leaks in the distribution system. In fact, the United States loses about seven billion gallons of water every day to leaking pipes — enough to supply the nation’s ten largest cities with water — and this lost water puts a strain on supply, budgets, and the environment. Reducing NRW is most easily accomplished with a water audit, which helps water systems identify the causes and true costs of water loss, and develop strategies to reduce water loss and recapture lost revenue. Water audits are often the most cost-effective and efficient solution to increasing demand, and the return on investment of a water audit is typically less than one year. Effective water loss control programs reduce the need for facility upgrades and expansions as well as the need to find additional sources, while the recovered water helps systems to generate revenue and meet demand. In addition, an effective water loss control program protects public health by identifying the leaks from which disease‐causing pathogens can enter the system.

energy audit arizona
Tata & Howard completed energy audits for two water systems in Arizona.

Other technologies and practices include educating customers on water conservation, source water protection planning, automated meter reading, and trenchless pipe repair, as well as energy audits. Energy audits consider the efficiency of equipment and possible replacement, operational changes, and process control, and the audit itself includes monitoring power costs and usage, testing systems and equipment, and conducting on-site observations. By considering all aspects of a utilities’ operations, an energy audit is a roadmap for a plan of action that provides optimal energy savings, and may include such initiatives as establishing a required minimum efficiency for new installations and a “pay for performance” standard; monitoring power usage, costs, efficiency, and horsepower requirements in real time or on a schedule to maintain lowest possible costs; developing strategies to limit demand charges and provide training to understand power rates structures; instituting employee training and improving communication to establish efficiency standards; replacing pumps and equipment that test low in efficiency; reviewing operations to best match flow requirements to use pumping equipment at best efficiency points; and reviewing system piping for efficiency. When water utilities decide to integrate sustainability and efficiency into their operations and infrastructure, the best place to start is with energy and water loss. Energy saving and water loss reduction initiatives tend to have a quick return on investment while providing significant cost and environmental savings. Once the effects of these savings are realized, implementing other green initiatives becomes more appealing and justifiable to management and water boards.

long pond water treatment plant
The newly completed 8.0 mgd DAF Long Pond Water Treatment Plant incorporates several energy efficiency and sustainability features.

For new treatment plants, incorporating sustainability and efficiency features into the initial design allows the plant to function at a superior efficiency level right from the start. As an example, Tata & Howard provided design, permitting, and construction services for the new Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) Long Pond Water Treatment Plant in Falmouth, MA. The project consisted of the construction of a new 8.0 mgd water treatment plant (WTP) for the existing Long Pond surface water supply.  The existing Long Pond Pump Station, constructed in the 1890s, operated under a Filtration Waiver issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and did not include filtration processes to remove algae, organics, or particulates from the water.  The new WTP provides the Town with several key benefits:

  • Meets the current regulatory requirements of the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule;
  • Reduces disinfection by-products and organics;
  • Removes pathogens, taste, odor, and algae/algae toxins;
  • Produces stable water quality;
  • Provides the flexibility to meet uncertain future regulatory and water quality challenges.

In addition to providing a solution to the water challenges faced by the Town of Falmouth, the Long Pond WTP also provided more sustainable and efficient operations, saving the Town money while also protecting the environment. Some of these initiatives included the following:

  • Recycling spent backwash water to head of plant and back into the treatment process, after it passes through a plate settler to remove solids;
  • Recycling laboratory analyzer and filter influent piping gallery analyzer discharges back into the treatment process;
  • Using filter-to-waste water after a filter backwash sequence as supply water for the next backwash, instead of using finished water for backwashing;
  • Discharging cleaner supernatant water off the top of the lined lagoons to an unlined infiltration lagoon and back into the ground to minimize residuals;
  • Use of local/native plants for landscaping, including an irrigation system using collected rainwater from roof drainage;
  • Interior and exterior LED lighting fixtures; and
  • Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) on HVAC equipment and process equipment motors.

sustainability conceptEnergy efficiency and sustainability are no longer considered luxuries for water systems. Rather, incorporating green initiatives into infrastructure design and operational standards has become crucial to the future sustainability of water systems. And while utilities today value cost-effectiveness over environmentalism due to the criticality of their budgets, there will likely be a shift in thinking as these systems ease the burden of their unsustainable operational costs through effective practices such as energy efficiency and water loss reduction.

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5 Eco-Conscious Gifts of Love for Valentine’s Day

February 14 is Valentine’s Day — a longstanding tradition where we show love and affection to family and friends. But did you know that the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts come with a hefty environmental and human cost? The good news is that there are plenty of environmentally friendly, humanitarian ways to show your special people that you care — about them AND the planet.

Flowers

Bleeding Heart perennial in bloom
Bleeding Heart perennial in bloom

Traditional cut flowers require a significant amount of water to grow and transport, and also are doused with a hefty amount of chemical pesticides. 80% of traditional cut flowers are imported, with 90% of those imports coming from Latin America, where pesticide regulations are nonexistent. As a result, 65% of flower workers in Colombia have compromised health, and Latin American groundwater and waterways have become polluted. While there are many alternative ideas for cut flowers, giving your sweetie a Bleeding Heart to plant in the garden is the Valentine’s Day win. These beautiful perennials are hardy, drought resistant, erupt profusely with heart-shaped blossoms every spring, and keep their vibrant green leaves until the first frost. Not only is a Bleeding Heart an environmentally conscious gift, it is also thoughtful, long-lasting, and a symbol of deep and abiding love in both American and British cultures.

Chocolate

vday fair tradeChocolate is one of the most traditional Valentine’s gifts — and one of the most disastrous. Cacao — more commonly referred to as cocoa — can only be grown up to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and most of the world’s chocolate is grown in Africa. Because global demand of chocolate is expected to double by 2050, farmers are struggling to meet demand and have turned to unsustainable farming methods. Planting cocoa trees in full sunlight yields more bountiful, but lower quality crops, and it also encourages weed growth and pest infestation, which requires more pesticide and chemical application. Cocoa farming has led to major deforestation and soil erosion, and has destroyed wildlife habitats. While governments have tried to protect rainforests after witnessing the destruction that cocoa farming has wrought, farmers continue to illegally clearcut forests to plant more cocoa. And if that’s not bad enough, many African cocoa farmers utilize children to harvest the trees. Most of these children are between the ages of 12 and 16, but children as young as 5 have been found working the fields. These children often work 12 hour days, their wages are typically well below the poverty line, and they frequently experience abuse. The safest way to buy chocolate is to buy organic, fair-trade and rainforest certified chocolate. Organic chocolate is grown in Latin America, where there are no documented cases of child labor. Fair-trade certified ensures that the workers earn a fair wage, and rainforest certified ensures that the cocoa was grown using sustainable methods. Some chocolates that are safe for your sweetie include Dagoba, Equal Exchange, Green & Black’s, and Salazon. For the truly conscientious Valentine, Shaman meets all of the above requirements AND donates 100% of their profits  to the Huichol Indians in Mexico.

Cards

Paper cards are an environmental nightmare. Paper accounts for 20% of global wood consumption, with 93% of it being from virgin pulp. Add to that the vast amounts of water required to grow trees for paper production, the thousands of gallons of fuel used to transport the wood and the paper, and the chemicals and toxins used in the inks printed on those cards, and it’s clear that paper greeting cards are a tradition that we should forgo. Instead, show your loved ones your affection with an e-greeting. E-cards use no paper, require no transportation, and are easily personalized with your special message. Bonus: many are free, like Blue Mountain. With the money you save on greeting cards, you can easily afford that pricier, organic chocolate.

Diamonds

Children diamond mining in Sierra Leone
Children diamond mining in Sierra Leone

A large percentage of global diamond mining is detrimental to both the environment and human rights. In Africa, where 65% of the world’s diamonds are mined, vast amounts of land have been completely deforested, leading to erosion and loss of previously farmable land.  In addition, these vast, abandoned mines are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos, which spread malaria and other water-borne diseases. Diamond miners earn less than $1 per day, and up to half of those workers are children. Diamond miners are often abused and tortured, and millions of deaths have been attributed to the illicit diamond trade. Fortunately, there is a solution. Brilliant Earth is committed to only selling diamonds that are Beyond Conflict Free. According to their website, Beyond Conflict Free goes above and beyond the current industry standards to guarantee that their diamonds originate from pure, ethical sources. Their ethically sourced diamonds originate from mines that adhere to strict labor, trade, and environmental standards.

Gold

gold miningThe vast majority of gold mining is an extremely environmentally destructive practice. For each gold ring, over 20 tons of rock and soil are dislodged and discarded, bringing with it cyanide and mercury that are used in the mining process. These toxins enter waterways, polluting our water supply and harming marine life, and elemental mercury is released into the air, compromising air quality. But while the majority of gold mining is done without any regard for the environment, there is a movement to change this practice. No Dirty Gold, a subsidiary of Earthworks, is working to bring education and change to the gold mining industry. They are asking for consumers to take No Dirty Gold Pledge and for retailers to follow the Golden Rule.  When purchasing gold jewelry for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, look for gold mined by artisanal and small scale miners. Some safe retailers include Amalena, Brilliant Earth, and Green Oro.

While traditional Valentine’s Day gifts are environmentally unfriendly, Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to remain an eco-travesty. With a little bit of effort and thoughtfulness, we can show love to both our sweetheart and planet at the same time. Happy Valentine’s Day!
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5 Eco-Conscious Gifts of Love for Valentine's Day

February 14 is Valentine’s Day — a longstanding tradition where we show love and affection to family and friends. But did you know that the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts come with a hefty environmental and human cost? The good news is that there are plenty of environmentally friendly, humanitarian ways to show your special people that you care — about them AND the planet.
Flowers

Bleeding Heart perennial in bloom
Bleeding Heart perennial in bloom

Traditional cut flowers require a significant amount of water to grow and transport, and also are doused with a hefty amount of chemical pesticides. 80% of traditional cut flowers are imported, with 90% of those imports coming from Latin America, where pesticide regulations are nonexistent. As a result, 65% of flower workers in Colombia have compromised health, and Latin American groundwater and waterways have become polluted. While there are many alternative ideas for cut flowers, giving your sweetie a Bleeding Heart to plant in the garden is the Valentine’s Day win. These beautiful perennials are hardy, drought resistant, erupt profusely with heart-shaped blossoms every spring, and keep their vibrant green leaves until the first frost. Not only is a Bleeding Heart an environmentally conscious gift, it is also thoughtful, long-lasting, and a symbol of deep and abiding love in both American and British cultures.
Chocolate
vday fair tradeChocolate is one of the most traditional Valentine’s gifts — and one of the most disastrous. Cacao — more commonly referred to as cocoa — can only be grown up to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and most of the world’s chocolate is grown in Africa. Because global demand of chocolate is expected to double by 2050, farmers are struggling to meet demand and have turned to unsustainable farming methods. Planting cocoa trees in full sunlight yields more bountiful, but lower quality crops, and it also encourages weed growth and pest infestation, which requires more pesticide and chemical application. Cocoa farming has led to major deforestation and soil erosion, and has destroyed wildlife habitats. While governments have tried to protect rainforests after witnessing the destruction that cocoa farming has wrought, farmers continue to illegally clearcut forests to plant more cocoa. And if that’s not bad enough, many African cocoa farmers utilize children to harvest the trees. Most of these children are between the ages of 12 and 16, but children as young as 5 have been found working the fields. These children often work 12 hour days, their wages are typically well below the poverty line, and they frequently experience abuse. The safest way to buy chocolate is to buy organic, fair-trade and rainforest certified chocolate. Organic chocolate is grown in Latin America, where there are no documented cases of child labor. Fair-trade certified ensures that the workers earn a fair wage, and rainforest certified ensures that the cocoa was grown using sustainable methods. Some chocolates that are safe for your sweetie include Dagoba, Equal Exchange, Green & Black’s, and Salazon. For the truly conscientious Valentine, Shaman meets all of the above requirements AND donates 100% of their profits  to the Huichol Indians in Mexico.
Cards
Paper cards are an environmental nightmare. Paper accounts for 20% of global wood consumption, with 93% of it being from virgin pulp. Add to that the vast amounts of water required to grow trees for paper production, the thousands of gallons of fuel used to transport the wood and the paper, and the chemicals and toxins used in the inks printed on those cards, and it’s clear that paper greeting cards are a tradition that we should forgo. Instead, show your loved ones your affection with an e-greeting. E-cards use no paper, require no transportation, and are easily personalized with your special message. Bonus: many are free, like Blue Mountain. With the money you save on greeting cards, you can easily afford that pricier, organic chocolate.
Diamonds
Children diamond mining in Sierra Leone
Children diamond mining in Sierra Leone

A large percentage of global diamond mining is detrimental to both the environment and human rights. In Africa, where 65% of the world’s diamonds are mined, vast amounts of land have been completely deforested, leading to erosion and loss of previously farmable land.  In addition, these vast, abandoned mines are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos, which spread malaria and other water-borne diseases. Diamond miners earn less than $1 per day, and up to half of those workers are children. Diamond miners are often abused and tortured, and millions of deaths have been attributed to the illicit diamond trade. Fortunately, there is a solution. Brilliant Earth is committed to only selling diamonds that are Beyond Conflict Free. According to their website, Beyond Conflict Free goes above and beyond the current industry standards to guarantee that their diamonds originate from pure, ethical sources. Their ethically sourced diamonds originate from mines that adhere to strict labor, trade, and environmental standards.
Gold
gold miningThe vast majority of gold mining is an extremely environmentally destructive practice. For each gold ring, over 20 tons of rock and soil are dislodged and discarded, bringing with it cyanide and mercury that are used in the mining process. These toxins enter waterways, polluting our water supply and harming marine life, and elemental mercury is released into the air, compromising air quality. But while the majority of gold mining is done without any regard for the environment, there is a movement to change this practice. No Dirty Gold, a subsidiary of Earthworks, is working to bring education and change to the gold mining industry. They are asking for consumers to take No Dirty Gold Pledge and for retailers to follow the Golden Rule.  When purchasing gold jewelry for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, look for gold mined by artisanal and small scale miners. Some safe retailers include Amalena, Brilliant Earth, and Green Oro.
While traditional Valentine’s Day gifts are environmentally unfriendly, Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to remain an eco-travesty. With a little bit of effort and thoughtfulness, we can show love to both our sweetheart and planet at the same time. Happy Valentine’s Day!
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Coffee Day 2015: Coffee, the Environment, and Sustainability

national coffee day 2015This week, we celebrate coffee. Tuesday, September 29, is National Coffee Day, a beloved American holiday where coffee powerhouses such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Peet’s, Starbucks, and Wawa offer freebies and discounts. As an added coffee bonus this year, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) has designated October 1 as the first annual International Coffee Day. This special day will celebrate all things coffee and will be launched in Milan, Italy as part of the city’s 2015 World Fair.

Global Coffee Consumption

After only crude oil, coffee is the most sought commodity in the world, and is worth over $100 billion globally. Sugar, corn, natural gas, and even gold all take a back seat to coffee. The global population drinks over 500 billion cups of coffee every year and more than half of all Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every single day. Coffee farms, 67% of which are in the Americas and 90% of which are in developing countries, provide the economic livelihood for over 25 million people. And while developing nations grow and produce the world’s coffee, industrialized nations drink it. After water, coffee is actually the most consumed beverage in the world. Finland drinks the most coffee per capita in the world, and America consumes the most coffee overall. Brazil, the top coffee producing nation in the world, ranks a distant 13th per capita consumer.

Environmental Impact

deforestation coffeeAs demand has increased, coffee producing countries have been responsible for a significant amount of global deforestation and watershed damage. Coffee was historically a shade-grown crop, intolerant of direct sunlight. Shade trees provide a habitat for birds that provide natural insect control, and they also enhance soil and encourage water retention in the soil, resulting in shade-grown coffee requiring little to no pesticides or fertilizers.

Unfortunately, only 24% of today’s coffee is actually shade-grown. Newer techniques that call for clear-cutting forests and applying chemicals have been found to greatly increase yields — but at great environmental and health cost. 60% of the six million acres of coffee lands have been completely stripped of shade trees since 1972, and coffee is now the third most pesticide-laden crop in the world, behind only tobacco and cotton. Bird populations have decreased by 20% in the last ten years alone, and soil erosion and depletion resulted in producers searching for new land on which to plant their coffee crops, and further deforestation, particularly of rainforests. Rainforests act as the world’s thermostat by regulating temperatures and weather patterns and are also critical in maintaining Earth’s finite supply of fresh water. Now understood to be unsustainable, this “new” method of growing coffee also damages watersheds and affects the health and livelihood of local populations.

algae_bloom
Excessive nitrogen or coffee wastewater from wet mills both contribute to algae blooms in coffee-growing nations

Because the land is clear-cut and coffee is typically grown in highlands, soil erosion and agrochemical runoff are major problems in coffee production. The excessive amount of pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow conventional coffee runs unhindered and unfiltered into lakes and streams downhill from the coffee shrubs. Very often, these lakes and streams are the main water supply for the local community. More and more frequently, water supplies in coffee-growing nations are becoming severely contaminated due to runoff from fertilizer, which adds nitrogen to the depleted soil, and, in turn, the local water. And since nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants and encourages plant growth, it also encourages the growth of algae in bodies of water. Excessive algae in water bodies, called “blooms”, makes the water unfit for consumption and causes foul odors and tastes. When the algae finally dies and starts to decompose, it removes all oxygen from the water, causing ammonias to form, and results in the widespread die-off of fish and other aquatic organisms. Groundwater beneath coffee farms can also become contaminated with excess nitrogen, causing a health threat to humans.

Pesticide usage in coffee growing also contaminates water supplies. Whether entering the water supply through aerial spraying or from soil erosion and runoff, pesticides are known to be toxic to human and aquatic health. Many of the pesticides used in coffee growing nations have long been banned in the United States, and are known to bio-accumulate, disrupt hormones, and cause cancer.

Wet mill coffee processing uses an exorbitant amount of water and produces wastewater that can harm ecosystems in coffee-growing communities
Wet mill coffee processing uses an exorbitant amount of water and produces wastewater that can harm ecosystems in coffee-growing communities

And that’s just the growing. Add coffee harvesting and processing, and the outlook is grim. Conventional coffee is strip harvested, meaning all berries, ripe or not, are stripped off the vine, and sorted and depulped using a wet mill. Water-intensive mills, or wet mills, use water to sort and strip the beans of their mucilage, or protective coating. The beans are then allowed to ferment before they are washed, again utilizing an exorbitant amount of water, to ensure that all of the mucilage has been removed. Even small coffee mills utilize millions of gallons of water over a season, oftentimes depleting local water supplies and causing die-off of aquatic organisms. In addition, the wastewater produced by these wet mills contains nitrates, carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, fat, and many other substances, and these substances end up contaminating the local water supply. In fact, coffee wastewater is one of the largest contributors to water supply contamination in coffee-growing communities. Bacteria that break down the sugars and pectins in coffee wastewater require excessive oxygen, resulting in the same oxygen depletion and subsequent die-off caused by excessive nitrogen as described above. Many times, streams or other bodies of water contaminated in this way are effectively killed, requiring significant treatment that costs more than most of these communities can afford.

Sustainability

coffee_indonesia
A man hand strips coffee in Indonesia

Because of growing knowledge and concern over the detrimental environmental effects of coffee production, solutions have been increasing. Dry mills are one example. Dry mills utilize mechanical demucilagers, do not require fermentation or washing processes at all, and use less than three gallons of water per pound of dry coffee. For wet mills, a solution lies in wetland engineering. For example, TechnoServe and Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee have joined forces to install Vetiver grass wetlands at wet mills. These wetlands, which are a low-cost but sustainable wastewater treatment option, contain deep-rooted Vetiver grass that drinks in wastewater and slows infiltration. Any remaining effluent enters a small pond at the bottom of the wetland where it evaporates.

Table courtesy of Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS Extension,
Table courtesy of Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS Extension,

But there are still plenty of conventional coffee producers, simply because conventional coffee processes are cheaper. Therefore, some forward-thinking companies have taken it upon themselves to require better practices. Mega-coffee chain Starbucks, the third largest restaurant chain in the world, implemented one of the industry’s first sets of sustainability standards, called Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Verified by third-party experts, this set of standards is more stringent than even Organic Certification or Fair Trade Certification, and focuses on both environmentalism as well as social responsibility. Peet’s Coffee & Tea works with certification organizations such as Rainforest Alliance Certification and UTZ Certified — which is on par with Starbucks C.A.F.E. practices — to ensure that every bean they purchase is fair trade as well as sustainably grown. But the San Francisco Bay-based company takes it one step further: they roast all their beans in the nation’s first LEED Gold certified coffee roasting plant, opened in 2007. Other coffee certifications include 4C Certification and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird-Friendly Certification.

Conclusion

coffee loveCoffee is a beloved beverage, enjoyed worldwide throughout different cultures, but it has come under scrutiny for its negative environmental and humanitarian impact in recent years. There are ways to reduce and even remove the detrimental effects associated with coffee production, and some forward-thinking coffee companies have implemented buying standards in an effort to improve both our environment as well as the livelihood of coffee farmers, while many other small coffee companies sell only fair trade or organic coffees. This week, as we celebrate both National Coffee Day on Tuesday, September 29, and the first annual International Coffee Day on Thursday, October 1, we can choose to support coffee companies who grow responsibly, which means helping to protect our world’s most precious resource — water. Now that’s something to celebrate. Happy Coffee Week!
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