With the continued deterioration of our water infrastructure and a funding gap that’s making improvements and rehabilitation almost impossible for most utilities, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to go off the (water) grid. This week, the AP reports on a spate of onsite water treatment projects that may be the beginning of a decentralized water treatment renaissance.
In Seattle, WA, for example, the AP reports on an elementary school that has taken the plunge by initiating an effort to “unplug” from the city’s municipal water and sewer system. Under the auspices of the Bertschi School’s new science building, the unplugged system will combine composting toilets, stormwater catchment, and onsite water treatment to create a water recirculation system that will allow the school to manage its water supply independently of the city’s water and wastewater utilities. The school is also looking forward to the “teachable moments” the system will create, allowing teachers and faculty to give students a firsthand look at water resource management.
Meanwhile, the US Army recently announced new net zero water goals for several installations, including Fort Riley, KS; Camp Rilea, OR; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Many other potential sites have also been identified, with the ultimate goal of consuming only as much energy or water as they produce while also eliminating solid waste diversion to landfills.
In a statement at the opening session of the annual Association of United States Army Installation Command Symposium announcing the Army’s Net Zero Installation Strategy, Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations energy and environment, said, “The Army has identified six net zero pilot installations in each of the energy, water, and waste categories and two integrated installations striving towards net zero by 2020. This is a significant step in addressing the Army’s sustainability and energy security challenges. Striving for net zero is operationally necessary, financially prudent, and critical to our mission.”
Collecting, treating, and reusing water onsite—also known as “net zero water”—is not a new idea, but after the collapse of the housing market and the close alignment between “net zero water” and “green building”, onsite water treatment faded into the background. But there’s been a resurgence as of late, and now many facilities—including universities, hotels, and the military—are implementing net zero water systems as part of an overall effort to increase water efficiency and fine-tune their water resource management.
So what do you think? Why is onsite water treatment still an “also ran” when it comes to water resource management? Can we blame the burden of the “green” label and the demise of residential construction for the invisibility of onsite water treatment as a viable tool for water resource management? Have too many communities been burned by empty promises of “sustainability”, or are state and local regulations aimed at protecting water quality working at cross-purposes with water efficiency? And since decentralized water treatment can reduce runoff and diminish the burden on local utilities, why is onsite water treatment not in widespread use?