Water Scarcity: Industry Takes on Challenge of Meeting Demand

Anyone who has ever stood on a beach and looked out into the vast expanse of an ocean knows that there is a lot of water on this planet.

Sep 1st, 2007

by Mark Strauss

Anyone who has ever stood on a beach and looked out into the vast expanse of an ocean knows that there is a lot of water on this planet. In fact, 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. It may seem like water is all around us, but safe, clean, reliable drinking water is not a ceaseless resource. The problems facing drinking water range from failing infrastructure, to climate change, to insufficient supplies.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack adequate sanitation. In the United States, changes in demographics and climate patterns are creating challenges for water resource managers. The USEPA estimates that the 20-year needs for the country’s aging infrastructure alone will be $277 billion for drinking water systems and $388 billion for wastewater systems.

While the challenges facing the water industry might come as a surprise to the general public, the water world is well aware of those challenges. The industry has been focusing on these obstacles in the path to safe drinking water and has developed some innovative solutions.

Planning

The first step in dealing with drinking water issues needs to be planning. There are many examples of inefficient water management from the growing populations across the western United States. It would seem logical that water would be a first priority in this arid region, but entire communities have been built without enough thought to water supply, causing demand that outweighs the community’s water capabilities.

The state of Arizona has been an exception that has proven the value of planning. Arizona has created a stable water supply for its citizens by creating a sophisticated infrastructure system and working with water industry experts. By thinking before they built, Arizona established secure water supplies for its communities even though the state has a limited natural resource.

Looking ahead, Arizona continually analyzes upcoming climate patterns in order to maintain as steady a supply of water as possible during droughts, and thus it avoids severe water shortages.

The state planned even further into the future, preparing for possible declining water supplies, by working with American Water to construct a water treatment facility that serves 400,000 households in the city of Phoenix. The plant’s initial 80 million gallons per day (mgd) capacity will ultimately be expanded to 320 mgd. American Water also operates the system, which will be the largest project delivered through a DBO (Design-Build-Operate) in North America.

Water Reuse

Once communities have a properly planned water system in place, they can look to other means to stretch their water even further. Water has numerous uses beyond quenching thirst. For example, it is needed for agriculture and sanitary functions. The water necessary for these uses does not need to be treated to the same standards as drinking water, yet it still regularly comes from the same rivers, lakes and aquifers. Reusing wastewater, instead of relying on drinking water supplies, can take a great burden off of water resources and free up more water for human consumption.

The Solaire and Tribeca Green high-rise apartment buildings in Battery Park City, Manhattan, offer a great example of water reuse. Using a double piping system, both buildings supply clean water while recycling and delivering wastewater for a variety of purposes. The Solaire is the first-of-its-kind project in the nation to receive a gold LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. The new Tribeca Green wastewater system reduces the demand for potable water in the building by nearly half, providing a sustainable, long-term environmental advantage. Recycling equipment located in the basement treats and reclaims water for toilet flushing and air conditioning, plus irrigation of an adjacent park. An additional unit collects and processes stormwater for reuse in the building’s roof gardens.

Similar systems are nearing completion for two more high-rise residence towers in New York City.

Gillette Stadium, the 68,000-seat home to the New England Patriots in Massachusetts, as well as the 575,000-square-foot Wrentham Mall in Massachusetts, use reclaimed water to ease the demand on drinking water sources. Golf courses also can make use of water reuse technology. An example is the Hawke Pointe Golf Club in Washington, NJ, where wastewater is reused for irrigation of the golf course.

Water reuse technologies are continuously being streamlined, becoming more cost effective and energy efficient, making water reuse a promising option. In a country where the average household of four uses 400 gallons of top quality water a day and the per capita use is 14,500 gallons a day, there is a significant amount of water that can be reclaimed. We do not need to create new sources of water to meet rising demands; we simply need to look at our current sources in a new light.

Innovation

Beyond planning and treatment options, innovation offers a way to create even more effective uses of water and other resources in eco-friendly ways.

For example, leak detection technology, whereby an acoustic monitor attached to a pipe can “listen” to pipe sounds and transmit this information back to a service person, can be combined with meter reading technology so that both forms of information can be collected, transmitted and processed at once, saving energy, time and money. Likewise, developments in solar energy can significantly reduce the energy needed to treat water and wastewater. In sunny states like Nevada, New Mexico, California and Arizona, the incentives are even greater.

Arid states face many challenges in supplying their growing populations with water, but there are also an equal number of opportunities and solutions. One example of the new methods used to supply water is taking place in Nevada. Since the issues in Nevada are representative of the entire region, the Applied Water Management Group of American Water has begun to pioneer innovative solutions that address ongoing and pressing needs in water supply. American Water is currently working with developers in the planning and design of efficient water management and hopes to ultimately assist new residential developments, businesses and even casinos employ water and energy conservation technology, including certification from the Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design program (LEED).

Personal Conservation

Preserving our water resources is not a job for water industry professionals alone. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that water remains safe, affordable and available. Therefore, each individual American has a responsibility to monitor and control their water use. There are many simple ways for people to reduce excess water use, lower water bills and protect the environment, especially in the spring and summer months. Beyond the standard constraints of watering the lawn only when necessary and washing car wisely by using soap and a bucket of water, some steps include: draining water lines to outside faucets, disconnecting hoses, shutting off outdoor water sources during cold weather and running a small trickle of water on winter nights to prevent pipes from freezing.

Conclusion

Water supply management is an issue that affects us all. It may not be apparent to every citizen today, but with climate change and population shifts transforming the United States, it soon will be. Effective solutions need to be put into place today before we are faced with a water crisis. A focus on careful planning, treatments, innovations and conservation measures will help to create stability for long-term water management. Commitment to keeping water at the top of the list for communities and citizens will better prepare us for whatever the future of water holds.

About the Author:

Mark Strauss is president of American Water Enterprises, the non-regulated products and services division of American Water. He oversees business units that offer operations and maintenance contract services across the United States and Canada, including design, construction and operation of community onsite water and wastewater systems, service-line protection programs, water and wastewater management for military bases, and other innovative solutions. He can be reached through Kimberly Cooper at 856-346-8270.

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