Recognizing Reliability

Initiative aims to increase water service understanding

Robert Montenegro

Many people take their water service for granted. In the U.S. in the 21st century, water is expected to be available whenever and wherever people want it. However, water and wastewater treatment professionals know that a great deal of hard work goes into keeping water flowing to customers. Grundfos’ Who Runs the Water that Runs America initiative seeks to show people what it takes to get clean, safe water to their taps. W&WD Associate Editor Michael Meyer spoke with Robert Montenegro, executive vice president—water utility/municipal for Grundfos, about the project.

Michael Meyer: Tell me about the Who Runs the Water that Runs America initiative.

Robert Montenegro: Grundfos has recognized that there is a severe lack of understanding of what our water professionals do, on a general basis, to provide water to your tap when you turn the tap on, or flush the toilet, or do whatever it is you do with your water. So we felt it was really important to provide a campaign to allow water and wastewater treatment operators to better describe what they do to their clientele—to raise public awareness about the challenges and the day-to-day activities in their roles, so that Americans in general can get a better sense of what they do and what their usage or conservation habits actually mean to them, and how they can help influence global water savings.

Meyer: Why do you feel this is important?

Montenegro: We see tremendous opportunities for not just water savings, but also energy savings. There’s a massive amount of energy that is used every day, week, month, hour to just pump water from spot to spot, to treat the water, to get the water from a treatment plant into your tap, or to get the water from a well into your tap. By raising that awareness of what it takes for the upkeep, maintenance and operations of these facilities, we can now do a better job of working with those municipalities to broaden the awareness of the general user—to help them to better understand what their conservation activities are. The intent is that by improving the awareness to the general consumer, we can then put into effect real change in terms of water usage and water conservation.

The average American uses about 2,000 gal of water a day. Only about 10% of that is based on direct usage—cooking, bathing, drinking, etc. So 90% of their water usage is based on other things. We’ve given an avenue for these operators to show their clientele what happens if they forego their fourth or fifth or eighth cup of coffee, or the impact on buying that next pair of jeans, or whatever it is that they’re going to do. They can make educated decisions about the things that they do, the clothes that they wear and the food that they eat, and they can see what impact that has on their water footprint.

Meyer: How can industry professionals participate in this program?

Montenegro: We’ve given water and wastewater treatment operators the tools they need to create their own public awareness campaigns, and they can even create their own public awareness websites. When they go into the community—whether that be open houses at their facilities, or education days when they bring schools out to their facilities, or when they go to the schools to explain what they do for a living—they can then use these tools that are available on our website to help share that message to the audience.

The website (us.grundfos.com/whorunsthewater) gives a very intuitive process to pinpoint and highlight the amount of water treated or prepared for distribution. It talks about their goals for uptime and for upgrades that are necessary, and it talks a lot about the needs they have for operating and maintaining these facilities. So many of these plants are understaffed, and they’re operating facilities that are aging and need upgrades to be able to provide 100% uptime to their clientele. ... The average person doesn’t know what the processes are to get that water to that tap, and they certainly don’t understand the challenges that these operations folks have when it comes to maintaining their facility, maintaining the infrastructure and maintaining the uptime that so many people are accustomed to.

Affecting Change

Montenegro hopes that by shedding some light on the challenges faced by water professionals, the Who Runs the Water that Runs America campaign can help call attention to funding needs within the industry.

“The fact is that federal, state and local infrastructure dollars have not increased in line with the need for upgrades,” he said. “It’s easy for the funding agencies to look at a road or a bridge or a school or a hospital and say, ‘we need that—we’re going to invest our money here.’ It’s a little harder for the average decision-maker here to say, ‘I should really upgrade my water and wastewater treatment facilities, even though I don’t see them, because I know every time I flush the toilet, the water just goes down the drain.’ ... This is one of the goals of the program—to help raise that awareness so we can get to the right amount of funding that’s needed to keep these plants operational.”

Montenegro feels that increasing funding for these facilities now can help prevent catastrophic outcomes in the future.

“The fiasco that occurred back in Flint, Mich., was a pure financial decision—to switch water sources from one point to another,” he said. “It cost less to go use these old pipes that haven’t been upgraded, haven’t been touched, haven’t been cleaned, and we know now what happened in that situation. If there were infrastructure dollars available to help keep that system up and operating and safe and usable, we wouldn’t have the problem that we had there.”

Robert Montenegro is executive vice president—water utility/municipal for Grundfos. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Lehigh University and has almost 30 years of experience identifying and marketing solutions for the pumping, treating, and sustainable and responsible development of water and wastewater systems. Montenegro can be reached at 913.227.3400 or [email protected]

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