Limited budgets, coupled with soaring population rates and aging infrastructure, have forced utilities to address many different issues at once. Christopher P. Hill, senior associate and Florida water technical leader for Brown & Caldwell, shared his perspectives on the future of water supply and ways to help secure it.
Amy McIntosh: What are some of the most pressing issues facing the nation’s water supply?
Hill: I think the economy is still the issue most affecting our nation’s water suppliers. Aging infrastructure and limited capital budgets are other significant issues. There is a need to more effectively manage the water supplies we currently have and to develop more sustainable alternative water supplies. These alternative water supplies might be traditional sources of drinking water—groundwater, surface water and seawater—or they may be a means to extend current drinking water supplies.
For example, storm water augmentation of reclaimed water supplies for irrigation can extend reclaimed water service and reduce the use of potable water for irrigation. I also think it is only a matter of time before we see the first direct potable reuse application in this country. The technology is available and there will either be an economic incentive or a regulatory incentive to do so. At this time, it is simply a matter of getting the public over the “yuck factor.”
McIntosh: How do you propose the public gets past this “yuck factor?”
Hill: Proactive public education—resulting in an understanding that potable reuse produces a product that can be of equal or better quality than conventional drinking water sources and may be done for less cost and with less impact to the environment compared with other alternative water supplies—is essential to getting over this hurdle.
McIntosh: How can utilities improve their distribution systems?
Hill: There are a number of factors that influence distribution system water quality. Infrastructure condition is one of them, but, given current economic conditions and magnitude of the issues, it’s not one that is going to be solved overnight. That said, I think routine flushing and strategies to reduce distributed water age are likely to provide the most benefit for the least cost. Elimination of dead ends, improving storage tank mixing and turnover, and other strategies to minimize water age may even reduce the need for flushing in many cases. Periodic flushing is necessary to remove biofilms and sediments that accumulate in the system, but if it can be minimized, water can be conserved.
McIntosh: What measures can water agencies take to protect water supplies?
Hill: Conservation and reuse are the norm in most of Florida. Not only is it environmentally responsible, but it helps extend lower-cost freshwater supplies. Toilet rebate programs and high-efficiency washers and similar programs can be effective, but I think the most effective forms of conservation have been public access reuse and public-private partnerships involving industrial reuse.
McIntosh: Why are some states more in tune with water conservation and reuse practices than others?
Hill: I think it’s been a matter of necessity in those states. Most of the areas that have effective, well-established conservation programs in place have been facing water availability issues for years. It has been a means to squeeze every last drop, if you will, out of existing supplies. That said, with the recent drought in the Midwest and seemingly more frequent extreme climatic events, I expect conservation and reuse to begin to play a more prominent role in water supply in areas of the country that may have not given them a second thought previously.
McIntosh: Why should water agencies consider developing alternative sources of water supply in the future?
Hill: A well-balanced water supply is more sustainable and has less impact to the environment. The Tampa Bay region is a perfect example of that. Twenty years ago, the region relied almost exclusively on groundwater. We saw significant impacts to wetlands and groundwater quality as a result. Today, the region utilizes a healthy blend of ground water, surface water and seawater.
Conservation & reuse practices help secure future water supply