Potable Water is arguably a nation’s most valuable strategic resource. Every drop of water that we use has a value of time, energy and human capital attached to it. From those costs comes a significant value, since all human civilization is built on access to water. Every function of our bodies and our modern convenient lifestyle depends on consistent access to clean water. Without it, humanity would simply cease to exist.
I’ve been reviewing snowpack, precipitation and average usage reports for various western states with my team this week and once again, the data doesn’t look very good. Digging deeper and looking at projections for aquifer replenishment rates as compared to drawdown, it’s impossible not to be concerned about the current water situation in the United States. Many people seem to forget that water is a shared renewable resource; one person’s wastewater will inevitably become another’s drinking water, and we have to start thinking inter-generationally about smart water management and conservation.
California is suffering through another drought, this one being described as the most severe since 800AD and expected to cause a loss in excess of $2 billion (USD) to California’s economy. Texas continues to suffer a massive imbalance of usage as compared to refill with no relief in sight. The effects of drought are long-lasting and have a broad impact on all aspects of society. It is becoming quite common now to hear of homeowners and farmers whose wells have dried up, or their well water quality has degraded dramatically to the point where the water is not practically usable without significant pretreatment. While many will argue about why drought happens, the reality is that it does happen. We need to focus our attention on preserving, protecting and using this precious resource more efficiently.
In addition to our immediate problems with availability of fresh water, our aging infrastructure is finally being recognized as the problem that it has been allowed to become, through lack of funding, poor or non-existent maintenance and bad policy. It is estimated that as many as 850 water main break incidents happen every day in the US, wasting millions of gallons of potable water and costing utilities as much as $50 billion in annual repairs.
In June 2014, President Obama signed the 10-year, $12.3 billion Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) to help improve the nation’s waterway infrastructure. This will, among other things, provide low-interest loans and loan guarantees to local governments for their water infrastructure projects. This is a very good thing, since the US Conference of Mayors has projected that necessary water and wastewater investments for the 20-year period starting in 2012 will total almost $5 trillion dollars.
Homeowners can no longer be wasteful water consumers; they need to actively reduce their consumption and practice sensible reuse wherever reasonably possible. In the commercial/industrial sector, the issue is even more important, because so much more water is used and effluent discharge criteria are becoming ever stricter. Every business is its own ecosystem of inflows and outflows that need to be monitored, measured and optimized to thrive in the 21st century. To borrow a term from Jim Lauria, this industrial watershed is going to change the water industry as we know it. Industrial users have to consider water use, conservation, reuse and alternative acquisition plans intheir overall resource management and business resiliency planning. It can no longer be assumed that there is an endless supply of cheap, clean water available to industry.
Our responsibility as water improvement practitioners is simple; we need to do more with less, and guide our customers towards embracing sensible water efficiency and reuse. Whether you are a residential water treatment dealer or you work on larger-scale projects, you can help to conserve water while improving your business. Here are some things for you to consider:
- Proper sizing and selection
Pay attention to how you size water treatment equipment. Oversized water softeners and filters waste massive amounts of water and regenerant with no net benefit to the end user. Look carefully at the holistics of the application and use twin-alternating or differential-demand technologies where possible to allow for smaller columns and better water quality. Twin-alternating and differential-demand systems also eliminate the need for a reserve capacity (mandatory for single-tank applications) and wring every drop of performance out of the media bed(s) before regeneration is required.
- Metered on-demand cleaning
Ion exchange softening technology has come a long way/ we can practically and economically soften much more water with less salt and water usage than ever before. You should only specify systems that meter water consumption and clean when absolutely necessary. The usage of calendar-based water softeners must stop now.
- Upflow efficiency
The benefits of upflow (countercurrent) regeneration have been recognized in our industry for half a century, but many practitioners still opt for the false economy of using downflow regeneration. Depending on the particular application and ion exchange resin selected, regenerant usage and water efficiency can improve by as much as 30 percent, along with improving the quality of the water, by simply switching to upflow regeneration.
- Rise to meet the bacterial challenge
ASHRAE’s proposed Standard 188 highlights the fact that bacterial contamination in buildings from waterborne sources is a significant threat to human health and safety, and that bacterial growth in plumbing and appliances is far more widespread and pernicious than anyone thought. Employing extreme water-saving technology removes the luxury of frequent, extra-long backwashes that minimize bacterial growth in the media and can actually exacerbate bacterial contamination issues when improperly deployed. You should always use a high-quality media cleaner, disinfect all treatment equipment at least once a year and deploy a bacterial safeguard such as UV sterilization or ultrafiltration after the primary treatment train.
- Adapt to changing water chemistry
We all know that water quality will change over time, but our current situation of excessive groundwater pumping is exposing rapid changes in both inorganic contaminants and bacterial contamination. If you don’t use equipment that utilizes on-board media exhaustion sensors or on=line product water quality meters, your service team should be testing raw water at residential projects at least once a year, and even more often for critical commercial/industrial applications. Make the necessary adjustments to maintain consistent water quality without wasting resources.
- Rainwater harvest
Now that many US states have revised their previously draconian regulations, rainwater harvesting is simpler and easier than ever before. Instead of wasting water that falls from the sky, building owners can harvest this water, store it and use it for a host of beneficial applications. The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (www.arcsa.org) is a great resource for you to learn more about this exciting segment of our industry.
- Stormwater capture and use
ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 63-2013: Rainwater Catchment Systems was approved as an American National Standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on November 14, 2013. Now, instead of fretting about how to deal with new stormwater discharge, smart building owners are empowered to capture and reuse this precious resource while still meeting stringent environmental regulations and lowering their overall environmental footprint.
- Graywater reuse
As legislation matures, we continue to see improvements in the design and adoption of graywater harvest and reuse systems in the United States. It’s foolish to waste ‘gently-used’ water such as that from hand sinks and showers when it can be captured, treated and repurposed to flush toilets or water plants. Graywater reuse not only reduces the amount of potable water used on a property, but it also will reduce the downstream infrastructure demand and environmental impact by lowering sewer outflows.
- Wastewater Reuse
Many of us work hard every day to control the total suspended solids (TSS), biologic oxygen demand (BOD), pH and metal content of plant effluent from our clients’ facilities. Our industry has come a long way in enhancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of these projects, but much of this water should be further treated and reused for cooling, cleaning and other in-plant functions that don’t require high-grade potable water.
You can also help to improve national water efficiency by preaching and practicing five simple principles of conservation at home and at work:
- Fix dripping faucets and leaky toilets
- Install water-saving faucets, toilets and showerheads
- Drink less bottled water – filter it at home or in your business
- Adjust sprinklers to eliminate overspray onto sidewalks and other non-permeable areas
- Use a commercial car wash or bucket and sponge instead of hosing cars and trucks clean
It’s time to get serious about preserving our precious water resources. It’s good for society, it’s good for the nation, it’s good for the planet and just as importantly, it’s good for business.
- John Seymour and Herbert Girardet. Blueprint for a Green Planet. Your Practical Guide To Restoring The World’s Environment.
- Jim Lauria, “Industrial watershed management – A 21st century view of water stewardship.” World Water Magazine October 2014.
- Charles Fishman. The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.
- Proposed New Standard 188, Prevention of Legionellosis Associated with Building Water Systems, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers