3 Sustainable Clean Water Ideas for a Warming World

3 Sustainable Clean Water Ideas for a Warming World

Climate Change Brings New Innovation to the Water Environment

The summer of 2018 saw devastating fires blazing all over the world. Nearly 100 people died in raging fires across the southern coast of Greece. More than 50 wildfires scorched Sweden where the temperature north of the Arctic Circle soared into the 90’s causing drought conditions. Record breaking temperatures across the globe from Montreal to Great Britain topped 98 degrees this summer.  In Japan, 22,000 people were hospitalized when temps climbed to 106 degrees. And, in normally cool Oslo, the thermometer climbed to 86 degrees for 16 consecutive days. From Southern California and Arizona to India and Pakistan, withering heat reached a deadly 110 degrees that parched the environment.

ThermometerThe most alarming news is the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded reached 124.3 degrees in Algeria this July.

Fires, heat and drought of this scope and scale seem to be becoming the new normal. These extreme events point to a planet that is warming and perhaps faster than scientists have predicted.

Although the effects of climate change may vary widely in different geographic regions, those areas already hardest hit with drought and arid conditions may be in the most critical need of clean drinking water.

This crisis will only get worse as the earth’s population conceivably could grow exponentially in the next 50 years and adequate supplies of water become even more scarce. In addition to supplying all these thirsty people with clean water, the chilling paradox is the increased demand on already-scarce resources means there is a greater chance that existing water sources will become polluted by human waste, industrial toxins, and contaminated agricultural runoff.

It is human nature to postpone change and sacrifice as long as possible. But it is clear that public service announcements warning residents to save water, take shorter showers, plant resilient gardens, and conserve, is not going to be enough to help avoid a global water shortage.  Fortunately, scientists and researchers are working diligently to solve some very complex problems to provide innovative and sustainable clean water solutions for the future.

Here are three cutting edge ideas for sustainable water supplies that just may help a warming world.

Ancient Bacteria for Modern Water Purification

Anaerobic or oxygen-averse bacteria to treat wastewater is back in vogue… after a billion years. When the earth was a toxic primordial goo, anaerobic bacteria thrived in the oxygen deprived world forming the first signs of life.  Environmental engineers at Stamford University are now bringing back these ancient microorganisms as a more cost-effective wastewater treatment process.

Primordial-bacteriaWastewater treatment plants that use aerobic bacteria must provide oxygen with huge and costly electrically powered blowers for these microorganisms to survive. Anaerobic bacteria treatment processes do not need oxygen and use considerably less energy, making the wastewater treatment process more economical to operate. In addition to saving money, engineers believe these anaerobes can filter household and industrial chemicals better than conventional treatment plants.

Full-scale plants utilizing anaerobic bacteria may soon be capable of processing millions of gallons of wastewater per day into refreshing clean water.

Mega Scale Desalination

Desalination plants may not have been around as long as ancient bacteria, but this technology is not a new concept either.  What is news however, is the increasing role desalination will have in the future. Israel’s Sorek desalination plant is the largest seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in the world providing 627,000 cubic meters per day (m3/d) or the equivalent to about 166,000,000 gallons of water per day (gpd) to Israelis.

desalination-plant
Shawaikh Reverse Osmosis (RO) desalination plant in Saudi Arabia.

Desalination plants which were notoriously expensive energy hogs have become less energy-intensive as technologies have improved. Using renewable energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal along with advanced technologies including thin-film nanocomposite membranes, captive deionization (most suitable for brackish water), forward osmosis, and metal–organic framework (MOF) biological cell membranes that requires very little water pressure, water desalination is becoming more efficient and cost effective. The new cutting-edge membranes can even filter out precious metals such as lithium used in batteries.

Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of desalinated water in the world with its 32 desalination plants and growing, will soon be producing a historic 5 million m3/d or the equivalent of about 1,321,000,000 gpd, a global record of desalinated water. Benefiting from this leading-edge technology, Cape Town South Africa may have averted a catastrophic “Day Zero” when the City’s first desalination plant went online, preventing a water doomsday for its residents.With the world’s oceans holding about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water and with more innovation, desalination may prove to be this thirsty world’s salvation.

 

Drinking Water from the Air

Another old idea that is gaining favor is converting fog into drinking water. Super-sized moisture collection systems could allow people living in coastal or mountainous areas to convert fog into safe drinking water. Collection traps are made from a 3D mesh that can withstand high wind speeds, while still retaining and accumulating water in storage tanks. With a variety of sizes available, these fog systems can be used for individual needs or supplying water for entire villages.

fog-nets
Super-sized fog nets can capture moisture in coastal or mountainous areas to convert fog into safe drinking water.

Combine this idea with giant Atmosphere Water Generators (AWG), which takes moisture or humidity directly out of the air and converts it into potable water.  Even in the driest of lands, the air is loaded with water molecules and enough drinking water converted from AWG’s could provide communities with a continuous and sustainable source of clean water.

On a large scale, the AWG units can be mounted on the roof-tops of commercial or residential buildings.  When powered by renewable energy, these systems can create safe local drinking water efficiently and economically. Water districts and municipalities managing these units, can provide as much as 55 m3 /d or about 14,500 gallons per day, enough to service each building independently with water.

AWG Towers
Large scale Atmosphere Water Generators can be installed on roof tops.

Collected water from both fog collection systems or AWG’s may seem farfetched. But consider this, 80 percent of California’s water goes to irrigate farms and the other 20 percent of water use goes to urban use. Collected water from the air could be used to irrigate crops or other commercial watering needs.

Water conservation and alternative technologies such as fog collection systems and AWG units can supplement our increasing demand for clean water and these ideas just might may make a difference.

 

The Future is for Innovation

Combating climate change and managing our depleting water resources is a reality we can’t ignore. The devasting fires, drought and heat from 2018, is a reminder that our actions today may help avert a global catastrophe in the future. These innovative ideas and others still in development are one step forward to a more sustainable world.

Our future depends on it!

Drinking Water That is Out of This World

Drinking Water That is Out of This World

Reclaiming Wastewater on the Space Station has an impact right here on Earth!

Water—it’s essential for all living beings… and water is essential to make life possible.   It’s an interesting paradox that has kept scientists searching for life in extreme places.

Outer spaceWhen NASA recently announced the discovery of liquid water flowing under an ice cap on Mars, it opened the exciting possibility that life may exist outside our earthly abode.  While it is conceivable scientists may eventually discover life somewhere in our galaxy, a reliable source of water outside earth is fundamental for the possibility of establishing a colony on Mars, exploring the universe and even visiting distant planets in search of life outside earth.

This is the stuff of science fiction…or is it?

Well, let’s get the stars out of our eyes and return to earth.  First, we need to get to Mars and therein lies the challenge. Top on the list is how to provide the essentials for life, such as water, air and the entire habitat for the astronauts to live in as they journey among the stars.

Getting to Space

Establishing a sustainable long-term flight program requires a base to launch manned operations in space. The International Space Station (ISS), which was put into orbit in 1998 and has been continuously occupied since 2000, currently provides a habitable place for astronauts to live and conduct scientific experiments.

SpaceX Docking in ISSBut hauling tons of supplies and materials to the International Space Station (ISS) is inefficient and extremely expensive. Sustaining a crew of four astronauts on the ISS with water, power and other supplies, costs nearly one million dollars a day.  Even with the reusable SpaceX rocket which regularly provides supplies to the ISS, it costs $2,500 per pound to launch into space. With four astronauts living on the ISS needing approximately 12 gallons of water a day, it is impractical to stock the ISS with the tons of water needed for long periods of time.

It’s no wonder then that rationing, and recycling is an essential part of daily life on the ISS.  The Space Station must provide not only clean water, but air to breath, power, and ideal atmospheric conditions to sustain life outside earth.

And every drop of liquid is important!

Reclaiming Water for Life Support

The Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) on the ISS is a life support system that provides atmospheric pressure, oxygen levels, waste management and water supply, and fire detection and suppression. The most important function for ECLSS is controlling the atmosphere for the crew, but the system also collects, processes, and stores waste and water produced by the crew…including the furry lab passengers too.

Yes, even mice waste is recycled.

mouse and waterIf the idea of drinking reclaimed water from mice urine and other waste sources sounds unappetizing, consider this, the water the astronauts drink is often cleaner that what many earthlings drink.  NASA regularly checks the water quality and it is monitored for bacteria, pollutants and proper pH (60 – 8.5).

This highly efficient reclamation system processes and recycles fluid from the sink, shower, toilet, sweat, and even condensation from the air. The ECLSS water recovery system on the ISS uses both physical and chemical processes to remove contaminants, as well as filtration and temperature sterilization to ensure the water is safe to drink.

More Innovation for the Future

Providing the astronauts with clean water from reclaimed wastewater at the Space Station is working fine for what they need right now, but it’s not perfect. The ISS system recovers water at a rate of approximately 74 percent. For longer missions to Mars and beyond, this rate must increase to at least 98 percent to sustain longer journeys into space. Scientists are continuously working on better and more efficient close-looped support systems to reduce water loss and improve ways to reclaim water from all waste products.

bacteriaRecently, NASA invested in a new, lower cost solution to biologically recycle and reuse water developed by Pancopia. Pancopia is a small environmental and energy engineering company located in Virginia that focuses on wastewater treatment and research and development projects. Engineers at the firm have discovered an innovative technology that makes use of a group of bacteria called anammox.  Anammox when combined with two other types of bacteria commonly used in conventional wastewater treatment (nitrifiers and denitrifiers), can remove high levels of organic carbon and nitrogen, the two primary pollutants in wastewater.

The combination of these three organisms naturally adjust to changes in the system and eliminates pollutants faster and more reliably than traditional wastewater treatment operations.  And, the cost is significantly less to operate than conventional systems, which requires a lot of energy and consumables to run. In addition, the stability of the anammox process reduces costs by requiring fewer manpower hours to monitor and operate.

Back on Earth

What does all this water and wastewater reclamation innovation mean for us on earth?

Desert in WaterPancopia is currently working on a similar system used on the ISS for municipal wastewater facilities. Using the technology developed for the Space Station, other areas in the world with limited access to clean drinking water, will soon be able to utilize this advanced water filtration and purification system.

This innovative water recycling system initially intended for the astronauts, now has the potential to cut treatment expenses to less than half the current costs for municipal customers, while providing sustainable crystal-clear drinking water especially in arid and drought-stricken communities across the globe.

Man’s search for extraterrestrial life and desire to travel through space may actually have its greatest impact right here on Earth—clean water!

Long Pond Water Filtration Facility Receives Multiple Honors

Long Pond Water Filtration Facility Receives Multiple Honors

Falmouth, Massachusetts – Tata & Howard was awarded a 2018 Engineering Excellence Silver Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of ACEC MA LogoMA (ACEC/MA) for the Long Pond Water Filtration Facility in Falmouth, MA. The award was presented at ACEC/MA ceremony and gala held on March 14, 2018 at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

ACEC/MA’s annual Engineering Excellence Awards recognizes engineering firms for projects that demonstrate a high degree of achievement, value and ingenuity. Projects are reviewed by an independent panel of judges from the architectural community, construction industry, academia, the media, and the public sector on the basis of uniqueness and originality; complexity; social, economic and sustainable development considerations; and successful fulfillment of the client’s need, including schedule and budget.

ENR awardEngineering-News Record (ENR) New England announced in December 2017, their Regional Best Projects Winners. Methuen Construction, the contractor for the construction of this facility, was awarded two Best Projects awards: Water / Environment – Best Project and Excellence in Safety – Best Project (highest honors). Projects were evaluated on the ability of the project team to overcome challenges, contribution to the industry and community, safety and construction, and design quality.

In November 2017, Methuen Construction was also awarded an Eagle Award from the Massachusetts Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the highest level awarded for Excellence in Construction.

How to Handle Increased Summer Water Demand

The summer months often go hand in hand with increased water demand and decreased supply. An influx of tourists combined with summer drought and increased outdoor water usage often leaves water systems feeling the pinch. Traditionally, water conservation has been limited to water use restrictions. However, increasing water efficiency is another way to address limited water supplies, with the added boon of providing economic and environmental benefit.

Efficiency = Conservation

Water efficiency reduces water usage that is unnecessary or wasteful. Rather than focusing on limiting the minutes per day a homeowner can water his lawn, efficiency focuses on accomplishing water objectives by utilizing only as much water as is needed. For example, we now know that flushing a toilet is just as effective with a 1.6 gallon flush as it is with a 3.5-7 gallon flush. Further, we know that water that drips out of a leaky faucet can waste up to 20 gallons per day, and that leaking municipal pipes waste exponentially more water. Increasing efficiency and reducing waste are two major ways in which we can all help to conserve water.

Municipal Efficiency

Considering that 10-30% of our nation’s clean, treated drinking water, or seven billion gallons per day, is “lost” before it ever even reaches the consumer, municipal efficiency is best accomplished by conducting routine water audits. Water audits help to identify the causes of water loss and develop strategies to reduce this loss — and recapture lost revenue. Most utilities in the U.S. conduct infrequent water audits and are likely suffering substantial losses without even knowing it. Repairing our nation’s hidden underground infrastructure will also increase water availability, lower operation and maintenance costs, reduce the need for new sources and costly treatment plants, and diminish impacts from drought and climate change. But repairing and replacing pipes is costly, so utilities require a methodology by which they can accurately pinpoint the most problematic areas in the distribution system, thus investing their limited infrastructure dollars where they are needed most. Water audits, which consider both real and apparent losses, are the most efficient, cost-effective way to accurately assess and address lost water.

Residential Efficiency

Washing vehicles on the lawn without detergent is environmentally friendly.

Residential water usage is also a key factor in water conservation. The biggest residential outdoor water guzzlers are summer activities such as lawn and garden watering, car washing, and water-based recreation, while the biggest water indoor guzzlers are, in order, toilets, washing machines, showers, sinks, and leaks. One of the keys to successful conservation is to stop thinking about limiting water usage as “going without” and to start thinking about it as doing the same — or more — but with less. Challenging ourselves to accomplish our water-based tasks with less usage will naturally lead to a more water and cost efficient household. The best part is that conservation doesn’t just ease our wallets, but also provides endless benefit to the environment and our community.

Lawns

When seeding a lawn, select a turf mix that matches your site conditions and climate, and improve the health of your lawn by regularly aerating, dethatching, and adding compost. Mow lawns to the highest mower setting so that the roots are shaded and help the soil to retain more moisture. And speaking of water, water deeply but infrequently, and only in the early morning to avoid evaporation. This will encourage drought resistance and deep, healthy plant roots.

Gardens

native-plants
Root systems of Non-Native vs. Native Mid-Atlantic Plants. Source: Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Choose native, drought-resistant plants and group plants with the same watering needs together, preventing over- or under-watering as well as minimizing the need for supplemental watering. Also, mulch around plants to help the soil retain moisture and to reduce evaporation. Finally, think about installing a rain barrel to be used to water non-edible plants.

Maintenance and Recreation

Clean walkways and driveways with a broom, not the hose, and inspect all outdoor water fixtures for leaks. Check pools and spas for leaks, regularly service pumps, and cover them when not in use to reduce evaporation. Finally, don’t leave the hose running when washing vehicles, or better yet, drive through a car wash. Commercial car washes use less water than washing the car at home, and are legally required to manage their gray water runoff to avoid pollution.

Indoors

Install water efficient toilets that use only 1.6 gallons per flush, and regularly check toilets for leaks. Leaky toilets are most often fixable by simply installing a new flapper. Try taking shorter showers and install water efficient showerheads. Only run the laundry or dishwasher when completely full, and consider replacing older models with newer, more water efficient ones. Repair leaking faucets and install water efficient faucet aerators to reduce water usage, and wash fruits and vegetables in a pan of water rather than running the faucet. Bonus: use the spent wash water to water house plants.

In Conclusion

Summertime is a time for family and fun, and water restrictions shouldn’t put a damper on summer activities. Conscientious residential water usage combined with consistent, well-implemented municipal water audits results in a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly water system. Water conservation and efficiency benefits both consumers and municipalities, and provides a more sustainable water system for future generations.

 

SaveSave

A New Year’s Resolution That Has a Big Impact and is Easy to Keep: Save Water!

While many New Year’s resolutions include renewing that old gym membership or cleaning out the garage, a great way to start the new year off right is to focus on conserving water. With severe drought across the country, including New England, water is becoming ever more valuable and people are looking for ways to get the most out of every drop. One of the easiest steps we can take to help mitigate the impacts of drought is conserving water. Unlike most New Year’s resolutions, making a few simple changes to save water is an easy resolution to stick to and it makes a significant difference in the world. Let’s look at a few simple ways you and your community can conserve water.

Ditch Those Old Appliances

content-image2
Image courtesy of www.localsanfranciscoplumber.com

The average person in the United States uses about 80-100 gallons of water each day. Of that amount, almost all of it comes from appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, and faucets. Toilets alone account for approximately 27% of the water consumed in your home and many older toilets use up to seven gallons of water per flush. Installing a high-efficiency toilet that uses less than 2 gallons per flush can save up to 18,000 gallons of water a year – about $120 off your water bill annually. And if you really want to go green, and are brave to boot – consider one of these alternative toilets!

Washing machines offer another opportunity to save water year-round. Washing machines, on average, account for around 20% of a household’s water use, and switching to a high-efficiency washing machine can cut that water consumption in half. If one in ten American households were to install high-efficiency appliances, we would save 74 billion gallons of water per year as a nation. That’s an annual savings of about $1.5 billion dollars on utility bills. These appliances may have a higher upfront cost, but when you save 30-75 percent of your water bill each month, these investments quickly pay for themselves.

faucets-aerators-infographic
Water Sense is a partnership program of the EPA and is the standard when it comes to high efficiency faucets and accessories. Image Courtesy of www3.epa.gov

For a more affordable option, updating fixtures such as showerheads and faucets around the house can significantly reduce the amount of water you use. Conventional showerheads use as much as 10 gallons of water per minute. Modern showerheads use just 2-3 gallons per minute, which saves water and minimizes the stress on your water heater. Also, installing faucet aerators can help regulate water pressure to create varying flow rates to use less water depending on the task at hand, saving thousands of gallons annually. Updating your appliances and faucets is the most cost effective solution when it comes to saving water. Combined with simple lifestyle changes, these innovative technologies enable us to save significant amounts of water.

Small Leaks, Big Problems

Although it may look insignificant, a lightly dripping faucet can waste over 20 gallons of water per day. Toilet leaks are another major problem that often go undetected. To check if a toilet might be leaking, place a “toilet dye” tablet in the toilet tank and closely monitor the toilet bowl. If, without flushing, the water in the bowl changes color within half an hour, the toilet has a leak that needs to be repaired. Another way to determine if there is a water leak in your home is to read your house water meter before and after an extended period when no water is being used, like when the family is away on vacation. If the meter does not stay the same, then you have a leak somewhere in your home.

Manage the Meat

Infographic courtesy of www.veganstart.org

Our favorite steak or burger may taste great, but it takes a lot of water to reach the dinner plate.  A pound of beef requires almost 2,500 gallons of water to produce. By avoiding beef for just one day a week, we can save thousands of gallons of water each year. In fact, we would save more water by not eating one pound of beef than we would by not showering for six months. We can save even more by cutting out other foods that require a lot of water to produce such as almonds (1,929 gal/lb.), chocolate (2,061 gal/lb.), pork (1630 gal/lb.), and butter (2,044 gal/lb.). When we do eat beef or other water intensive foods, we should choose pasture raised because grass is less likely to require irrigation compared to corn or soy used in the conventional method of raising livestock. Even cutting out that one extra cup of coffee each day can save hundreds of gallons of water. Being conscious of what we eat is not only good for our health, but also the environment.

To Wrap It Up

When it comes to daily water usage, even the smallest action to save water is significant to combat our country’s severe drought. Paying attention to how you and your family use water in your home will help you come up with the best ways in which your family can make simple changes that can have a big impact. For your New Year’s resolution, think of one thing each day that will save water – even small ideas can add up to big savings, for both our wallet and our planet.

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A New Year's Resolution That Has a Big Impact and is Easy to Keep: Save Water!

While many New Year’s resolutions include renewing that old gym membership or cleaning out the garage, a great way to start the new year off right is to focus on conserving water. With severe drought across the country, including New England, water is becoming ever more valuable and people are looking for ways to get the most out of every drop. One of the easiest steps we can take to help mitigate the impacts of drought is conserving water. Unlike most New Year’s resolutions, making a few simple changes to save water is an easy resolution to stick to and it makes a significant difference in the world. Let’s look at a few simple ways you and your community can conserve water.
Ditch Those Old Appliances

content-image2
Image courtesy of www.localsanfranciscoplumber.com

The average person in the United States uses about 80-100 gallons of water each day. Of that amount, almost all of it comes from appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, and faucets. Toilets alone account for approximately 27% of the water consumed in your home and many older toilets use up to seven gallons of water per flush. Installing a high-efficiency toilet that uses less than 2 gallons per flush can save up to 18,000 gallons of water a year – about $120 off your water bill annually. And if you really want to go green, and are brave to boot – consider one of these alternative toilets!
Washing machines offer another opportunity to save water year-round. Washing machines, on average, account for around 20% of a household’s water use, and switching to a high-efficiency washing machine can cut that water consumption in half. If one in ten American households were to install high-efficiency appliances, we would save 74 billion gallons of water per year as a nation. That’s an annual savings of about $1.5 billion dollars on utility bills. These appliances may have a higher upfront cost, but when you save 30-75 percent of your water bill each month, these investments quickly pay for themselves.
faucets-aerators-infographic
Water Sense is a partnership program of the EPA and is the standard when it comes to high efficiency faucets and accessories. Image Courtesy of www3.epa.gov

For a more affordable option, updating fixtures such as showerheads and faucets around the house can significantly reduce the amount of water you use. Conventional showerheads use as much as 10 gallons of water per minute. Modern showerheads use just 2-3 gallons per minute, which saves water and minimizes the stress on your water heater. Also, installing faucet aerators can help regulate water pressure to create varying flow rates to use less water depending on the task at hand, saving thousands of gallons annually. Updating your appliances and faucets is the most cost effective solution when it comes to saving water. Combined with simple lifestyle changes, these innovative technologies enable us to save significant amounts of water.
Small Leaks, Big Problems
Although it may look insignificant, a lightly dripping faucet can waste over 20 gallons of water per day. Toilet leaks are another major problem that often go undetected. To check if a toilet might be leaking, place a “toilet dye” tablet in the toilet tank and closely monitor the toilet bowl. If, without flushing, the water in the bowl changes color within half an hour, the toilet has a leak that needs to be repaired. Another way to determine if there is a water leak in your home is to read your house water meter before and after an extended period when no water is being used, like when the family is away on vacation. If the meter does not stay the same, then you have a leak somewhere in your home.
Manage the Meat
Infographic courtesy of www.veganstart.org

Our favorite steak or burger may taste great, but it takes a lot of water to reach the dinner plate.  A pound of beef requires almost 2,500 gallons of water to produce. By avoiding beef for just one day a week, we can save thousands of gallons of water each year. In fact, we would save more water by not eating one pound of beef than we would by not showering for six months. We can save even more by cutting out other foods that require a lot of water to produce such as almonds (1,929 gal/lb.), chocolate (2,061 gal/lb.), pork (1630 gal/lb.), and butter (2,044 gal/lb.). When we do eat beef or other water intensive foods, we should choose pasture raised because grass is less likely to require irrigation compared to corn or soy used in the conventional method of raising livestock. Even cutting out that one extra cup of coffee each day can save hundreds of gallons of water. Being conscious of what we eat is not only good for our health, but also the environment.
To Wrap It Up
When it comes to daily water usage, even the smallest action to save water is significant to combat our country’s severe drought. Paying attention to how you and your family use water in your home will help you come up with the best ways in which your family can make simple changes that can have a big impact. For your New Year’s resolution, think of one thing each day that will save water – even small ideas can add up to big savings, for both our wallet and our planet.
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The Water-Energy Nexus: A Vicious Cycle

Water and energy are the two most fundamental ingredients of modern civilization. The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is evaporated to generate and transmit energy, and how much energy it takes to collect, clean, move, store, and dispose of water. Without water, people die. Without energy, we cannot grow food, run computers, or power homes, schools, or offices. As the world’s population grows in number and affluence, the demands for both resources are increasing faster than ever.

The Water-Energy Connection

Energy production is the second largest consumer of water, the first being agriculture. Electric power plants that are fueled by oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear power require exorbitant amounts of water to cool them, and hydropower plants require water to create energy. Likewise, a significant amount of energy is used in the pumping, treatment, and distribution of water, as well as in the collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater. In addition, the extraction of fossil fuels used for heating and cooling homes also requires vast amounts of water. Clearly, the relationship between energy and water is inexorably intertwined.

nuclear_cooling_towers
Byron Nuclear Generating Station, located near the small city of Byron, Illinois, has been subject to some controversy with respect to a lawsuit in 1981 with concerns over tritium contamination in groundwater. Tritium contamination at Byron and other Illinois nuclear power plants led the state of Illinois to pass legislation requiring plants to report such contamination to the state within 24 hours.

As the population and affluence of the nation continues to increase, so does the demand for both water and energy. Also, climate change has been responsible for increasingly frequent water shortages, requiring communities to find water elsewhere – which requires even more energy. Pumping water from distant areas or glacial icecaps, desalinating ocean water, and highly treating wastewater to potable standards all require exorbitant amounts of energy. Previously, these methods for obtaining potable water were ignored due to their high energy usage. But as water shortages and drought continue to plague the nation, even affecting the historically wet northeast part of the country, more creative ways of meeting the nation’s demand for water must be innovated and implemented.

Likewise, fossil fuels such as oil and gas are being withdrawn at an unsustainable rate, and supplies are dwindling. As these inexpensive energy sources are depleted, our dependence on alternate, more water-intensive sources of energy increases. This endless cycle of water-energy usage has the potential to spiral out of control, and the only way to make a real and lasting change is for policy makers, businesses, and communities to join forces in the planning, management, and conservation of resources and in the innovation of sustainable solutions.

Planning and Management

Many U.S. aquifers span several states
Many U.S. aquifers span several states; map courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

One of the key factors to a sustainable future is communication. In the United States, there is little overlap in governmental agencies when it comes to water and energy. The Department of Energy has been an entity since 1977, and yet our nation still does not have an agency dedicated solely to water planning. While the EPA oversees water quality and the U.S. Geological Survey collects and interprets data related to supply, there is no single federal agency that ensures the effective use of water. In fact, much of the onus of water management lies not with the federal government, but with state agencies and municipalities. This can prove problematic when aquifers or watersheds span multiple cities and town, or even states. A logical approach to water management would be a federal agency that oversees all aspects of water management, from quality to supply to usage. In this way, federal energy and water agencies could collaborate to help forge a sustainable future. For example, when a new power plant is proposed, discussions should take place on not only the siting and permitting of the new facility, but also the effect on air and water quality, as well as water usage and potential for scarcity. In this way, more focused attention on the usage and effects of both energy and water will lead to more holistic — and sustainable — installations.

Value and Conservation

One of the greatest concerns of the modern day American is the risk of running out of inexpensive oil. The cost of oil pushed gasoline prices to $4.48 per gallon in 2008, and was partially responsible for the great recession of 2009. Realizing that the end of cheap oil could spell economic disaster, many people have begun to look at alternate heating sources for their homes, and alternate means to power their vehicles, such as biofuels or electricity. But how much more disastrous would it be to run out of cheap water? Peak oil would admittedly cause economic difficulty as well as some amount of human hardship, but peak water has the potential to cause far direr consequences. Millions of people globally already die from lack of access to an improved water source, and peak water would increase that number exponentially.

Drip irrigation is far more water efficient than spraying
Drip irrigation is far more water efficient than spraying

It is critical that the value of water be realized if we are to start making real changes. Gasoline prices are currently around $2.20 per gallon, while a gallon of municipal water costs less than one penny. And yet, we can live without gasoline – we cannot live without water. As society begins to understand that procuring, treating, and distributing water is an expensive task and that supplies are limited, we can innovate technologies that reduce the amount of freshwater that we use. For example, in the western part of the country, the Ogallala aquifer is being depleted at a rate far higher than it is being replenished, and irrigation accounts for 94% of the groundwater withdrawals in that area. Switching to a more water efficient irrigation process such as drip irrigation rather than spray would save a significant amount of water. Also, utilizing reclaimed water for crop irrigation, cooling power plants, and industry would greatly reduce our groundwater withdrawals. Even at the residential level, conservation is important. Community outreach programs and educational materials can be used to teach residents how they can save water in their homes and businesses. Simple, low-cost initiatives such as mowing grass to a higher level, utilizing rain barrels, and planting native trees and plants can have a huge impact when implemented on a large scale.

And let’s not forget about energy. Energy conservation is directly linked to water conservation, and it is critical that saving energy happen at both the industrial and residential levels. All businesses should examine their energy efficiency and implement energy-saving initiatives. And businesses that utilize a lot of water, such as hospitals and hotels, should conduct water audits to examine and modify their water usage. Wastewater treatment should include technologies that create energy from waste, such as anaerobic digestion, in order to offset the energy used in treatment processes. Likewise, homeowners should be educated on the importance of saving energy. Utilizing energy efficient lighting, turning the heat down by a degree or two, and unplugging appliances, computers, and chargers that are not in use are just a few of the ways that the individual American can save energy. In addition, heating residential water uses a significant amount of energy, while solar water heating is a simple technology that is as inexpensive as it is effective and efficient. Unfortunately, it has not received any type of federal backing or media attention, and remains relatively unknown. Both education and policy are critical to the widespread implementation of energy saving initiatives.

In Conclusion

Energy and water are both precious resources that are critical to our health, our economy, and our way of life — and they are inextricably linked. Of the utmost importance is that we value water. Until water has a realistic price on it, as energy does, it will be seen as a resource that can be used and wasted at free will. Only with accurate pricing can the link between water and energy be made apparent to consumers, and that conserving water conserves energy, and vice versa. Likewise, with true pricing consumers would see that as the price of water increases, so does the price of energy, and that as the price of energy increases, so does the price of water. Feeling the effects in our pockets would increase the appearance of value, act as a strong motivator to more aggressive conservation, and would prompt the innovation and implementation of more efficient, green solutions.
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International Beer Day: Celebrating Water Efficient Breweries, Take 2

5200218267_2215c03778_o-1024x683In honor of International Beer Day, we are taking a look at what breweries are doing to conserve the number one ingredient in brewing beer: water. Due to water shortages, increased demand, and heightened awareness, many breweries have taken steps to increase water efficiency and to implement water saving techniques in their brewing. Utilizing a myriad of methodologies and technologies, an increasing number of today’s breweries have begun to focus on brewing beer with water efficiency and conservation at the forefront of their business.

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Anheuser-Busch-AgriMet-300x200The undisputed behemoth of the beer world with 25% of the global beer market, Anheuser-Busch InBev has implemented water-saving measures in many ways. Some of its plants use reclaimed water for equipment cleaning, irrigation, firefighting, and other local uses, such as watering a soccer field in Peru and manufacturing bricks in Brazil. And, as would be expected from such an enormous, influential company, Anheuser-Busch InBev is piloting agricultural programs that it hopes will spread to all facets of agriculture. To start, they have initiated a “Smart Barley” program with 2,000 barley growers in Idaho and Montana. Since agriculture accounts for 95% of the water used in beer making, increasing agricultural water efficiency is the key to breweries becoming better water stewards. Utilizing sensors in the field, cooperative programs, and its own hybridized, drought-resistant seeds, Anheuser-Busch InBev hopes to decrease agricultural water usage by 25% over the next two years.

Even before the implementation of its agricultural program, Anheuser-Busch InBev had managed to reduce its water footprint to the point that it now uses less water than any other major brewer. As of this writing, the company uses about 3.2 bottles of water for each bottle of beer, and the industry average is seven bottles of water per each bottle of beer. In fact, from 2013-2014, Anheuser-Busch InBev saved as much water as is used in the manufacture of four billion cans of Budweiser.

MillerCoors

Barley requires 237 gallons of water per every pound grown
Barley requires 237 gallons of water per every pound grown

MillerCoors is also a giant in the beer industry with 30% of the American beer market. Like its major competitor Anheuser-Busch InBev, it also has an Idaho-based pilot project called the Showcase Barley Farm in Silver Creek Valley, Idaho. Utilizing precise irrigation techniques and hardier crop planting, MillerCoors is researching the best ways to increase its water efficiency. Already a success in 2011, Showcase Farms saw a 9% reduction in water usage by precision irrigation alone.

MillerCoors has also implemented water efficiency and conservation measures at its breweries such as utilizing recirculated water rather than freshwater for cooling, reusing wastewater for non-potable uses, cleaning cans with ionized air rather than water, sanitizing systems with bleach instead of hot water, and installing waterless lubrications throughout their operations. The water reclamation system in their Milwaukee brewery alone saves 100 million gallons of water per year. The company uses 3.53 bottles of water for each bottle of beer it produces — just a tad more than Anheuser-Busch InBev — but it hopes to slash its water footprint an additional 15% by 2020.

Both Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have made huge strides towards water efficiency, and because of their massive size, the impact is significant. However, many smaller craft breweries are doing just as much — and in many instances, more — to become water and environmental stewards.

Full Sail Brewing Company

Screen-Shot-2015-08-06-at-1.43.53-PM-300x215Oregon-based Full Sail Brewing Company is fully committed to water conservation. They operate a hot water recovery system that saves over three million gallons of water per year. Employees work four ten-hour days, which saves another three million gallons of water per year. They have installed special filters to maximize malt extract while minimizing water usage, they’ve reduced spray nozzle apertures on bottle and keg washers, and they’ve reduced cooling water usage by adding a glycol chiller in tandem with their heat exchanger. These measures save an additional 4.1 million gallons per year. The result? The forward thinking company uses just 2.5 bottles of water for each bottle of beer produced — the lowest ratio we have found. But they don’t stop there. Full Sail Brewing operates its own voluntary wastewater treatment plant, which reduces the load to the municipal treatment plant by pre-treating the wastewater. In addition, they distribute their treatment plant’s biosolids to local farmers and an orchardist for fertilizer.

Cape Cod Beer

Hyannis, Massachusetts-based Cape Cod Beer utilizes water reclamation and conservation efforts in their brewing, but they take it a step further. Their beers are only sold in refillable kegs or growlers, and they are passionate about recycling. In addition, they donate all used and leftover grain to local farmers for feed or compost, and they were recently certified “Cape & Islands Green” Level 1.

California Brewers

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Photo by Kerrie Lindecker The City of Cloverdale celebrated the completion of two new wells during a ribbon cutting

Bear Republic Brewing Company, whose corporate office and larger brew house are located in Cloverdale, California, actually partnered with the City of Cloverdale to dig two new water wells, which went online last August. Because the City didn’t have the funds for the new wells, Bear Republic prepaid several years of its water fees — $466,000 — in order to allow the city to complete the project on time and under budget. Bear Republic also conducts regular audits for leaks, practices conservation and reclamation in its operations, and is installing a wastewater pre-treatment plant that will generate heat and electricity with the methane it produces as well as reclaimed water for irrigation and cleaning.

In Escondido, California, the nation’s tenth largest craft brewer, Stone Brewing Company, treats all of their brewing wastewater — not to be confused with restaurant or restroom wastewater — with an aerobic digestion and filtration process. The reused water is pure and they use it for cleaning. “From a good brewing practices standpoint, it’s good to watch water usage, especially when you live in a dry area like we do,” explained Mitch Steele, Stone’s Brew master. He also added that they test the reclaimed water frequently and that, if regulations allowed, he wouldn’t hesitate to drink it.

Adding to their already environmentally friendly business practices, both Stone Brewing and Bear Republic have been proactive in sharing their practices and knowledge with the rest of the craft beer community through webinars and on-site tours.

Brewers for Clean Water

So far, over 50 craft breweries, including eight New England breweries, have joined the National Resource Defense Council’s Brewers for Clean Water initiative. The program aims to spread awareness of the Clean Water Act and to support initiatives that protect and conserve our nation’s water. “As we continue to see the craft beer segment grow, we as brewers owe it to the communities we live, work, and play in to be mindful of protecting our waterways as we strive for growth that is environmentally and socially responsible now and down the road,” said Mat Stronger of Allagash Brewing Company, a Portland, Maine-based brewery that is active in the Brewers for Clean Water initiative.

Jester King Brewing with Harvested Rainwater

Jester King's rainwater collection tanks
Jester King’s rainwater collection tanks

Austin, Texas-based Jester King Brewery recently purchased 3,000-gallon rain water collection tanks that will collect rainwater from the roof of both their brewery and adjacent beer hall. They expect to capture an estimated 10,000 barrels of rainwater per year that will be disinfected using ultraviolet and reverse osmosis purification and then be used in their brewing process.

Beer Made with 100% Reclaimed Water

Clean Water Services, a wastewater treatment utility that serves the Portland, Oregon metro area, asked for approval from the state to allow members of the “Oregon Brew Crew” to use recycled sewage water from its Forest Grove plant for beer-making. They received initial approval from the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission and the Oregon Health Authority, but will need further approval for a recycled water reuse plan before forging ahead. Last year, the Oregon Brew Crew produced test batches of beer made from 30% reclaimed water, which met with rave reviews. But, according to the dozen brewers, using 100% reclaimed water will be a more exciting challenge.

“I’m trying to think of a really cool recipe. When they told us 100 percent we’re like oh man, first the names, then the recipe comes later. And I’m excited,” said Lee Hedgmon, president of the Oregon Brew Crew.

Clean Water Services believes that educating the public about recycled water will lead to its ultimate acceptance, and they don’t think there’s any better way to start that conversation than with beer.

Sewage Beer

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Really. It’s called Activated Sludge, has a radiation symbol on its label, and is brewed with purified Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District wastewater plant effluent that has NOT gone through the final cleaning process typically necessary for potable reclaimed water.

Theera Ratarasarn, a wastewater engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, enjoys home-brewing beer to relax after his two young sons have gone to bed. After doing some thinking, he decided he wanted to raise awareness of the quality of plant effluent, and figured the best way to do so was with his evening hobby.

“I wanted to get people talking,” he said “There’s a potential use for what we discharge into lakes and streams.”

Ratarasarn filtered, treated, distilled, and tested the water before beginning to make five gallons of his Activated Sludge, a wheat ale with 5.15% alcohol by volume. And then came the true test. Ratarasarn presented his sewage brew to a taste panel at Lakefront Brewery, where Activated Sludge competed against Lakefront Wheat Monkey. The result? “It’s one of the better home brews I’ve ever had,” stated Mitchel De Santis, who graded the beer a seven out of ten.

“Everybody I talk to wants one,” added Ratarasarn.

Brewing Up Water Efficiency

Breweries are some of the largest consumers of water, yet have proven that they are some of the most active conservationists. We’ve heard it before: everyone loves beer, so it is an easy way to spread awareness, start conversation, and implement efficiency and conservation techniques. While we may not be drinking sewage beer any time soon, we can all agree that U.S. breweries are doing their part in the water conservation effort — and that’s something to which we can raise a toast. Happy International Beer Day!

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What Municipal Water Systems Need to Know to Increase Efficiency

global_water_supply

A common problem facing municipal water systems today is the need to maintain safe water supplies in the midst of increasing demand, limited supply, crumbling infrastructure, decreasing budgets, dwindling governmental funding, and more stringent regulations. Never before have municipal suppliers been faced with such a daunting task, and utilities are scrambling to find ways to make ends meet. And while there are technologies today that are more efficient than the decades-old systems still in use at many facilities, most utilities simply do not have the resources to upgrade in light of limited local, state, and federal funding and budgetary constraints.

Fortunately, there are many steps that municipal water systems can take to increase efficiency without having to upgrade entire facilities and piping systems. Implementing a few comparatively inexpensive initiatives can save utilities significant, much-needed funds that can be used for future upgrades required for regulatory compliance.

Business Practice Evaluations

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North Chelmsford, MA water treatment plant interior

Very often, operational procedures of municipal water systems are overshadowed by the need to provide safe, clean drinking water to the public, and understandably so — the dedication that water utilities show to their customers is commendable. However, the fact remains that operational procedures typically have the potential for drastic improvement, resulting in reduced operational expenses and smoother utility management.

One way to address operational inefficiencies is with a Business Practice Evaluation (BPE), which assesses the health of a utility’s work practices by implementing a framework for a structured approach to managing, operating, and maintaining in a more business-like manner. In other words, approaching a municipal water supply as a for-profit business rather than as a public supplier results in better operational and managerial procedures, and an improved bottom line.

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Water storage tank in Meriden, CT

The overall goal of the assessment process is more efficient and effective work practices, and the assessment includes documentation of current business practices, identification of opportunities for improvement, conducting interviews including a diagonal slice of the organization, and observation of work practices in the field.

This assessment provides a birds-eye view of the utility along with objective recommendations to improve system performance. As no two utilities are alike, the structured approach is fully customized and includes all functions of the utility — from administration and technical to operations and maintenance. The result is an organized, systematic plan and timeline to optimize the overall utility by implementing specific steps including developing rating criteria to determine level of performance of work practices; conducting kick-off, consensus, and findings workshops; reviewing utility documents and documentation of work practices; conducting interviews with employees; and observing field operations of current work practices.

Organizations that have conducted a BPE significantly improve the operational efficiency of their utility, and the evaluation typically pays for itself in well under a year.

Non-Revenue Water and Water Audits

water_meterBesides improving operational efficiency, utilities of today need to find ways to reduce non-revenue water. Non-revenue water is water that has been pumped but is lost before it ever reaches the customer, either through real — or physical — losses such as leaks, or through apparent losses such as theft or meter inaccuracy. Globally, water utilities lose 34% of their supply to non-revenue water, and in the United States, that number is about 20%, with 75% of that loss being easily recoverable. Because non-revenue water is both detrimental to the financial health of a utility as well as our nation’s limited water resources, the AWWA recommends that utilities conduct annual water audits using M36: Water Audits and Loss Control methodology to accurately account for real and apparent losses.

Tata & Howard Vice President Steve Rupar, P.E., served as co-chair of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) Non-Revenue Water Goal Team, which completed the first water audit of the RWA system based on the AWWA M36 third edition methodology in 2010. Recently, Mr. Rupar was part of the AWWA Water Loss Control Committee and in charge of writing two new chapters on apparent loss control for the 4th edition update to AWWA M36.

A water audit can help water systems identify the causes and true costs of water loss, and develop strategies to reduce water loss and recapture lost revenue. In the northeast, drinking water infrastructure is typically several decades old, sometimes over a century, and deteriorating distribution systems can be a significant source of water loss through leakage. In addition, policies and procedures that lead to inaccurate accounting of water use along with customer metering inaccuracies also contribute to NRW. Of the estimated $200 billion that the United States will need to spend over the next 20 years to upgrade water distribution systems, almost half of that is needed for water loss control.

leaking_pipeWater audits are often the most cost-effective and efficient solution to increasing demand. And like BPEs, the cost of a water audit is typically recovered in under a year. Effective water loss control programs significantly reduce the need for costly facility upgrades, and the recovered water can be sold to consumers, generating desperately needed revenue while meeting water demands. Another benefit of a water loss control program is the reduction of entry points for disease-causing pathogens, resulting in increased public health.

In Conclusion

Municipal water systems of today face a number of significant challenges including water quantity and quality concerns, aging infrastructure, population growth, increased regulatory requirements, climate change, and depleted resources. In order for water systems to remain profitable, and therefore functional, they must implement efficiencies that will increase revenue and decrease water loss, all with the least capital expenditure possible. Both BPEs and water audits are inexpensive ways to improve efficiency and to realize a return on investment in less than one year, saving limited funds for future upgrades and expansions.
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