Surge of sustainability efforts propels industry
As executive director of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), Michael Deane navigates the organization toward new solutions to water-related challenges by way of the private water sector. Deane spoke with WWD Associate Editor Elizabeth Lisican about the increasingly important relationship between water and energy, and the issues surrounding carbon footprint in water and wastewater treatment.
Elizabeth Lisican: The relationship between water and energy is becoming more relevant. How does NAWC perceive the water-energy nexus, and how is it relevant to the work you are doing now?
Michael Deane: Energy efficiency in operations is increasingly important. It always has been, but certainly [is today] with the increasing energy prices that we have seen and anticipate as well as overall operating costs. Energy often is a very substantial part of operating costs—especially as we are going more toward membranes for both drinking water and wastewater, which can be very energy intensive.
Members are really looking at energy efficiency in their operations, including the plants, treatment processes and pumps—which are a huge part of the cost in energy consumption for water and wastewater. Part of all that—not just in the plants themselves, but working with our customers through water efficiency—is water conservation. Another part of it is our distribution systems and collection systems. There is quite a bit of lost water from those pipes, which obviously is wasted energy and labor chemicals, etc. By fixing leaks and reducing water loss, you can use a lot less energy, save money and reduce your carbon footprint as well.
On the water side, a lot of our utilities are looking more at fleets. Fleets are a big part of utilities as well, so they are going to hybrid, natural gas and less carbon-intensive fleet operations for their systems. Increasingly—although not huge yet—is alternative energy. Certainly on the wastewater side we are seeing increasing interest in using digester gas and other onsite sources of energy to fuel at least part of the operation.
Lisican: What sorts of sustainable solutions are you especially touting to help solve the world’s major water challenges, and why?
Deane: There is a lot going on. What really makes something sustainable is a proper mix of design, technology, financing and operation. It is becoming increasingly important because of the pressure on rates; when water and water service has been quite cheap over the years, it is probably less of a driver. Increasingly, we are looking at sustainability in a holistic way as opposed to a sustainable technology. It is, “What is the appropriate technology, and how is it applied in any particular instance?”
We are seeing more membranes on both sides of water treatment, and certainly related to that is reuse. Our members and many others are looking at reuse as a source of water, working with other local utilities to supplement sources or to replace some nonpotable uses with some reused water.
Lisican: What are recent examples of projects you have come across that yielded especially environmentally friendly, cost-effective results?
Deane: Artesian Water in Delaware is working with the state and some academics looking particularly at the agricultural side of being able to reuse water for agricultural irrigation for farmers facing drought circumstances. The state was very concerned about that and worked with Artesian to develop that source of water for them.
Reuse projects that are always out there are the Solaire building in New York City and the Patriots Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., where there is major reuse of water. In New York, for example, in residential condos and apartment buildings, the water goes through a membrane bioreactor in the basement and gets reused for irrigation, toilet flushing and those type of things; it is really helping New York City.