The Trend of Reuse
Applied Water Management (AWM), a subsidiary of American Water, offers design, construction, ownership and operation of community onsite water and wastewater treatment systems. AWM specializes in water reuse—particularly in water treatment systems that produce reuse water for irrigation, toilet flushing and groundwater recharge.
WWD Associate Editor Clare Pierson spoke with Tim Davies, CEO of AWM, about the trend and importance of water reuse, the challenges of conserving water resources and debating a public-private partnership.
Clare Pierson: Why are more utilities and municipalities—as well as public areas and industrial buildings—increasingly treating and using reclaimed wastewater?
Tim Davies: The drivers for the rapid increase in the use of reclaimed water range from wanting to be “green” to regulatory imperatives. Reducing the “water footprint” is part of sustainable design. A small portion of the water our society uses actually requires treatment to drinking water standards. With the advance in treatment technologies, wastewater can be reclaimed to meet the requirements for such uses as industrial cooling water, irrigation water and toilet flush water.
Water resource drivers include situations where future water supply availability is limited or suitable treated wastewater discharge points are limited. Using reclaimed water provides added supply, and reclaiming wastewater prior to discharge and reusing it reduces wastewater discharge.
Pierson: How does water resource management differ when designing and building projects in different areas of the U.S.?
Davies: There is a vast difference between working on water supply problems in a desert versus areas of abundant water supply. A common challenge is that water resources and available land are often geographically separated. Water quality in terms of natural substances such as radon, arsenic and salinity often vary widely with variation in geography. Other geographical considerations include earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and other issues related to natural disasters.
Different states and governmental agencies tend to have regulations that vary. The federal government promulgated the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, key legislation that is applied by many other governmental subdivisions, but local interpretations, special regulations, policies and practices are quite variable.
Pierson: If there’s one thing water/wastewater utilities can do right this instant to conserve their water resources, what would you recommend?
Davies: Perhaps nothing is as instant as turning off the water at the sink, but there are a number of conservation strategies that can work well and be readily implemented. Most new construction now uses water-conserving fixtures and newer, more efficient types of fixtures are available every day.
On a larger scale, we are taking steps to reduce water that is pumped from the supply but never makes it to the customer due to leaks in water mains. We are piloting systems where sensors attached to our water meters can detect sounds associated with small leaks under lawns or streets that may exist for a long time before they become larger leaks.
Reducing outdoor water use and replacing it with reclaimed wastewater or just scheduling the use differently is an important conservation step. While much of the country’s water infrastructure is devoted to providing for peak usage, it is very common to reduce peak demand by scheduling irrigation during off-peak hours—i.e., early morning prior to sunrise.
Pierson: American Water specializes in public-private partnerships. Why would you recommend a public-private partnership to a small water utility?
Davies: Across the country, communities have very different views on PPPs. Some are very comfortable with discussions about the sale of public water infrastructure to responsible private entities, but many are passionate about maintaining public ownership. What many people don’t know is how many types of PPPs exist. The involvement of the private sector can be small or significant. At one end of the spectrum, a private company may simply offer specific advice or assistance in some part of managing a water utility. Private sector involvement increases further if communities allow private entities to operate and maintain their systems.
For some small utilities and towns, access to state funds for infrastructure needs can be a problem. Concession agreements allow communities of all sizes to lease their systems to private water companies, who can offer assistance in the financing of infrastructure upgrades in exchange for long-term operating contracts. This way, communities continue to own and have ultimate control over their systems while unlocking private sector solutions and private sector finance at cost-effective rates for their customers.