As our industry continues to evolve, so too does the shift in perception that wastewater treatment plants are simply a place for waste treatment and disposal. Today, industry advocates and forward-looking utility managers, with the help of technological advances, are driving awareness of how some of these plants are transforming into “water resource recovery facilities” and “water resource utilities of the future.”
These facilities no longer are simply collecting wastewater for treatment and discharging it into waterways; they now produce clean water, recover nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and are exploring the potential of reducing their dependence on fossil fuel through the onsite generation and use of renewable energy.
One of the most common methods used by these clean water agencies for onsite energy generation is anaerobic digestion, which is used to create biogas for heat and power generation.
According to the Water Environment Federation (WEF), more than 1,200 water resource facilities in the U.S. use anaerobic digestion; however, only about 292 facilities harness the power of biogas to generate energy. This is because anaerobic digesters typically are cost-effective only if the agency can sell electricity back to the grid. Unfortunately, selling electricity back to the grid often is hindered by tariffs and interconnection policies of the electric companies, according to Barry Liner, WEF Director, Water Science & Engineering Center.
In addition to renewable energy, clean water agencies are transforming their water reuse practices. While direct potable water reuse, or the toilet-to-tap concept, has been tough to swallow, aquifer recharge and non-potable water reuse for industrial cooling, irrigation and toilet flushing applications are increasing for water-stressed regions.
These vivid signs of progress are encouraging, but are not free of challenges. Diminished utility budgets, regulatory pressure and sheer resistance to change delays progress. Despite these barriers, technological innovations and ambitious goals continue to drive change and propel the industry forward—we won’t have to wait long to envision what the utility of the future will look like.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.”
The water and wastewater industry is constantly evolving, and so is Water & Wastes Digest. The editorial staff is proud to share with its readers W&WD’s new look. W&WD has been your trusted resource for industry information for more than 50 years. Embracing change has been key to remaining current so that we can continue to serve you for decades to come. We hope you enjoy our new look!