Water Is Water
Many years ago, the editor of a now-defunct water publication described the difference between water and wastewater as the second it takes a drop to travel from the faucet to the drain in our sinks. That’s not much of a difference.
Professional organizations, US water utilities, niche magazines, and treatment specialists tend to primarily focus on their respective area of drinking water, wastewater, or stormwater. Nature’s water cycle makes no such distinction; water is water, and the sooner the water industry and the public recognize that, the better.
Categorization of water has arguably served a purpose. It has facilitated the development of technologies and practices especially suited for treating wastewater, purifying water supplies, or reducing stormwater overflows. However, many technologies are applicable to all types of water, and failure to consider the big water picture has led to inefficiency. It has also stymied industrywide collaboration in addressing water challenges, communicating with government officials about regulatory challenges and funding needs, and helping the public understand the true value of water.
Last year, the American Water Works Association, which has traditionally focused on drinking water, and the Water Environment Federation, which has traditionally focused on wastewater, formally recognized the necessary integration of water policy and education by resolving to develop a more cohesive voice for the water community. Activities such as combining forces for a Capitol Hill “Water Matters!” Fly-In for two years now have given the organizations one voice to more clearly inform congress about infrastructure funding needs and help spread crucial messages about water resources and infrastructure needs to the public. For those audiences, water is water, and separating the two has merely confused the issue.
Nowhere is the need for total water management more apparent than in the realm of reuse. To address water scarcity issues, holistic review must examine conservation, impaired waters (brackish or contaminated waters), desalination, water sharing between adjacent communities, non-potable reuse, and indirect potable reuse. The critical factor for reuse is the end use, which dictates water quality requirements and drives the required level of treatment.
Roundtable discussions about how to overcome global barriers to reuse, held in conjunction with conferences around the world, identified lack of integrated water management and regulatory responsibility as a significant barrier. Barriers arise when various departments within the same government body have competing missions and objectives, and also when separately governed, special-purpose entities focus on only one aspect of water. More cooperation and coordination must occur if water reuse is going to find its place into water portfolios where water is in short supply.
Water utilities with overall water management responsibilities have an advantage when it comes to reuse, as well as other options and efficiencies. Utility leaders from Australia and Singapore have said as much, and indicated that such integration gives them more scale and capacity to take on complex water projects. Utilities in those countries have been able to effectively employ total water management practices, thereby closing gaps between demand and supply through multifaceted portfolios and programs. In the United States, combining water and wastewater functions within a single utility has helped Arizona communities seamlessly and cost-effectively implement water recovery and reuse projects such as the Scottsdale Water Campus and Mesa’s Northwest Water Reclamation Facility.
Integration—or increased coordination of plans and activities when functions are divided—also enables utilities to answer difficult questions and offers the potential for cost savings beyond reuse. Virtually any plan or program that reduces contaminant loads to receiving streams mutually benefits water and wastewater treatment operations. In regions like the Midwestern US, where water is not particularly scarce and reuse programs are rare, cities find other synergies when water and wastewater facilities share ownership or otherwise work in tandem. For example, the city of Lawrence, KS, conveys lime removed through water supply softening to its wastewater treatment facility for beneficial biosolids management.
Total water management supports the trend towards increased connectivity. The ability for end-to-end monitoring and control of the water supply chain provides opportunities for greater efficiency as compared to system elements that operate independently. The right data moves decision-making closer to real time and improves the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of the water industry.
An example of learning to think of water as water is found in watershed management. Just as rivers flow across political boundaries without recognizing those boundaries, we must realize that the boundaries we’ve established between water and wastewater aren’t real. No matter what our titles and specific responsibilities, we’re all in this together, managing the same precious resource.
Author's Bio: Cindy Wallis-Lage is president of Black & Veatch's global water business.
HTMLOutput: Object reference not set to an instance of an object.
HTMLOutput: Object reference not set to an instance of an object.HTMLOutput: Object reference not set to an instance of an object.