Double Impact

Dec. 26, 2011

In speaking of the need for water recycling, Jim Lauria, vice president of sales and marketing for Amiad USA, says the fact that communities are using drinking water to flush toilets is “just insane.”

He continues: “Not every application needs the highest-quality water, so, in many instances in the United States where they are watering lawns with drinking water quality material coming out of the municipal pipes, we can use lower-quality water for irrigation purposes and industrial applications like cooling towers. In the United States, we have to get more tuned in to use the quality of water that is required.”

Amiad USA is one of many companies throughout North America and globally that has developed technologies to meet that challenge.

“Water is becoming more and more scarce as residential developments continue to grow, as do water-intensive industries like semi-conductor, food and beverage, mining, and some of the emerging energy industries like shale gas,” says Jeff Connelly, Vice President, Engineered Systems, for GE. The company has a wide range of offerings in water recycling systems and processes.

Environmental regulations are getting tighter, Connelly points out. Additionally, companies are seeing value in taking more of a “green” approach.

“We find many of our large customers now are paying more attention to what we call the “˜water footprint’ and are setting aggressive goals to reduce their freshwater consumption by “˜x’ percent over “˜x’ number of years,” notes Connelly.

To that extent, GE assists its customers through mapping their water usage and water footprint and bringing in company experts to help them deploy various water recycling technologies. “It’s not only for their economic benefit, but for an environmental benefit and, frankly, for public relations as well,” says Connelly.

Customers are now realizing water costs can be one of their largest operational expenses, he says. “Every day, you take it for granted that water goes on, you pay your water bill, and it’s just part of the sum cost of doing business. In many locations, you not only pay for the water you draw in, you pay similar fees for the disposal of the water, so you’re really paying for the water twice.”

The ability to reuse that water has a double impact. “The less you’re drawing in from a fresh source, the less you’re sending into waste, so companies are realizing there’s an economic benefit for just being smart with water conservation that is much larger than they ever realized,” explains Connelly.

Water-intensive industries are starting to engage companies such as GE earlier in the planning cycle for new facilities, designing water treatment and water reuse systems in the footprint from the beginning, as opposed to trying to modify an existing footprint, he says.

The capital expense is one of the biggest challenges, notes Connelly. GE has a team that works early in the planning cycle to help customers address that. “We’ll hear about a power plant that is maybe five years out, and it’s that time that customers need to start thinking about where they are going to pick the location, even that early in the process,” he says. “What are the local regulations? What are the sources of fresh water supply? What are the discharge requirements and environmental regulations? It’s doing a thorough job that early in the cycle of understanding the operating conditions for water. In some cases, it could greatly influence their selection of a site or whatever operation they’re looking to expand.”

Part of that decision also involves the electric utilities that will enable the company to operate the right kind of water conservation strategy in a given location.

Connelly notes the water/energy nexus is a factor that needs to be considered early in the planning stages. “You need energy to produce and filter water. GE has a very large power plant business, and our customers typically focus on the power island early on–where the turbines go, where the generators go–and they leave the water piece of it as an afterthought. That’s starting to change.”

Increased sustainability can be introduced into the process through renewables. “There are some small operating power plants and water treatment facilities that are using wind turbines to provide the energy to pump the water,” explains Connelly. “There hasn’t been a real breakthrough in terms of larger-scale plants that can use renewable. We’re studying lots of ways to combine some of those technologies today.”

The shale gas regions throughout the US are an example of the role that water quality plays in water conservation, he notes. “You don’t have to look too far any day in the newspaper to find an article about the environmental impact of some of the hydraulic fracturing processes. One thing we’re focusing now in our business segments is the fact that the gas companies that are drilling these wells are–and rightfully so–being tasked to really clean up the water.

“Secondly, they’re being tasked to minimize the amount of water they’re bringing to the waste treatment facilities,” continues Connelly. “We’ve got evaporator and crystallizer technologies that can take the wastewater down to zero liquid. If you don’t have to dispose of any liquid, that’s a very good solution for the environmentalists.”

Photos: GE Power and Water
GE assists customers in mapping their water usage, and company experts help deploy water recycling technologies.

Other GE systems are being developed and piloted that would capture the wastewater, filter out the undesirable elements and leaving reusable water–in some cases, up to 80%. “Shale rock is going to continue to be a major industry going forward, so managing the water in terms of quality and reuse is going to be big in this industry,” adds Connelly.

GE also is working on improving the efficiencies of water recycling for water-intensive industries. “In a typical bottling plant with conventional technology, you’ll probably use 70 out of 100 gallons, with 30 gallons put out to waste,” he says. “We’re piloting some systems allowing them to make product out of 100 gallons and only send two gallons to waste.”

Companies that adopt the “entire package” of lowering energy costs and recycling water are going to be the “major players” in the next 25 years, he adds.

As for dealing with public perception, Connelly says when GE builds it water technologies in new neighborhoods, the company will put it in what resembles a house so it doesn’t look like an industrial treatment plant.

Inside the house is filtration equipment that allows an entire neighborhood to recycle wastewater for such purposes as irrigation. “The economic benefits for communities and residences are tremendous,” says Connelly.

In Henderson, NV, GE’s ZeeWeed 500 reinforced membrane technology has been incorporated into a water treatment and reuse system that enables the city to reclaim 100% of its water used indoors and reuse more than one-third of it for landscape irrigation at golf courses, highway medians, and a cemetery.

The ZeeWeed membrane provides a physical barrier to suspended solids, bacteria, viruses, endotoxins, and other pathogens used to produce water with very high-purity and low-silt density.

Its reinforced hollow-fiber membrane is designed to ensure longevity and address difficult-to-treat water sources such as municipal or industrial wastewater, enhanced coagulation, and high turbidity water.

Henderson’s Southwest Water Reclamation Facility (SWRF) has the capacity to treat 8 million gallons per day (mgd) of wastewater and will initially operate at 4.5 mgd. In addition to membrane bioreactors, the system also features an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection process to treat wastewater to some of the highest-quality levels in the country. The SWRF cost $94 million to construct and was expected to be fully operational by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, GE’s ZeeWeed technology also has been deployed in a wastewater project in King County, WA.

Construction on the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant began in 2006, and the plant began treating wastewater in 2011. A conveyance tunnel will initiate operations in 2012, with treated wastewater being piped to King County’s West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle, WA, or South Treatment Plant in Renton, WA.

Part of the facility is devoted to community education, with public meeting space inside, and a restored wildlife habitat and 70 acres of publicly accessible open space and trails outside, to mitigate the community and environmental impacts of Brightwater’s construction and operation. Public art educates visitors about the utility’s clean water mission.

The advanced treatment technology–which will handle an average of 36 mgd of wastewater–is expected to produce an effluent that’s 70% cleaner than conventional wastewater technologies. The reclaimed water will be used for irrigation and industrial processes, thus reducing the amount of water being taken from the Sammamish River for irrigation.

A 13-mile conveyance pipeline and a 600-foot-deep outfall in Puget Sound is part of the system, as well as reclaimed water distribution pipelines in the same tunnels being built for Brightwater, which is helping to save money for King County.

Jessie Israel, the Resource Recovery section manager for King County, says Brightwater was planned to meet future capacity needs in the north end of King County, so while it started off as solely a wastewater project, further studies showed that the GE treatment process would be able to produce reclaimed water that could be recycled for other efforts with the amount of loading going to Puget Sound being substantially less.

In dealing with public perception issues, King County worked with the University of Washington, which conducted a number of studies on how the reclaimed water affects food and horticultural crops, groundwater, and soil as many similar studies are done in much drier climates. The studies confirmed that the Class A reclaimed water uses are safe for people and the environment.

Kristina Westbrook, P.E., King County Reclaimed Water Program Lead, says the county has one customer lined up who will use the reclaimed water for irrigation, and that there are several other potential end-users such as sports fields, commercial entities, and agricultural operations that are also showing interest. “In agricultural use, it reduces customers’ reliance on fertilizers, and that’s a great positive that’s come out of our research and something that the customers are looking for, too,” she says.

“Reclaimed water is not the right water for everything, but for certain uses, it’s absolutely right,” says Israel. “That reduces our reliance on using drinking water for things where drinking water is not the right choice.”

Carollo Engineers in Walnut Creek, CA, focuses on the design, planning, construction, and management of water and wastewater facilities, with recycled water as part of its efforts. Tracy Clinton, water reuse specialist and vice president at Carollo Engineers, has been with the firm for 20 years. The firm’s staff also includes those with advanced academic degrees who focus on water, wastewater, and recycled water; a staff member conducting UV validations across the country for different manufacturers; and filtration experts.

“Years ago, it was considered a byproduct, and maybe we needed to do it,” says Clinton. Water reuse was on the radar only in a few small projects, with many in the planning stages.

“Then, we started to realize these lead to knowing where the design projects are going to be and where the next phases are,” she continues. “We started getting more into the reuse and design, and Carollo made a decision to get into the research end, knowing that while research certainly isn’t a money-maker, it puts you into the forefront of technologies.”

In recent years, water utilities and other entities started looking at the “full picture”, says Clinton, including the bottom line with environmental, social, and financial aspects. “Before, everybody was just looking at the financial: What’s it going to cost? Is it practical? And, do we need to do it?”

The effort was led by such states as Florida. “Their options were “˜Do you want recycled water or do you want no water? Those are what we have to offer’,” says Clinton. “They have people lining up to receive recycled water, whereas, in California, there is still a little bit of hesitation about it costing a lot of money, so it’s not as practical to implement.”

That attitude is changing as more people seek to be “green” and sustainable, and also are looking for ways to save on costs. “I worked on some projects years ago when regulators wrote it into the permit that an area would be receiving state water, so they would have to do a reuse study to see if it would be practical,” says Clinton.

While a study in the past may have concluded it wasn’t practical, “Now their constituents and the public is asking for it and questioning why it’s not being done,” she says. “Reuse has become huge, and it’s expected that at least you will have a study that tells you where you’re going to do it if it becomes practical or a need and a value becomes apparent.”

Clinton’s educational efforts have expanded to focus on the water/energy relationship.

A few years ago, she brought up the relationship between water conservation and energy efficiency in a presentation to some Florida water agencies, “and they looked dumbfounded as to why I would care so much about this,” she says. “I realized that, in places like California, there are a lot more hills and an elevation difference, so we’re having to pump a lot of water, and, in Florida, it’s pretty flat, so a lot of it is more gravity. At the time, they didn’t even conceive of the water-energy nexus there. I think they have gotten to that now more out of necessity.”

In contrast to attitudes of two decades ago, Clinton sees that reused water is now considered another water source. “People consider the various water sources they have at their disposal, and, whether you’re along the coast, in the valley, or in the mountains, you look at rainwater, groundwater, well water, surface water, and recycled water.

“Everybody is looking at every water drop that comes into their area and figuring out how can they account for it, capture it, reuse it, and not have to build,” says Clinton. “I haven’t heard anybody talking about building dams or any large capturing infrastructure.”

Storage, however, remains an issue. Water is often located away from where people are, so extra storage is a continued concern, Clinton says. Land is always not available. Storing it in groundwater is becoming a more viable option, she adds.

Clinton says it is becoming more common for recycled water to be accounted for in everybody’s water portfolio, especially in the US.

During a recent visit to Oklahoma, Clinton observed a project where city officials were favoring watering a golf course using indirect potable groundwater recharge levels. “They realized the value and need for it, and skipped the irrigation-type uses and went straight to the big reuse, but historically, we’ve seen a lot of times when regulators don’t necessarily let you go to that step without proving that you can efficiently and effectively run a reuse system,” she says.

Clinton agrees with others that cost is a challenge in establishing a reuse system. But it’s not the only challenge. “Cost is a huge factor when you start thinking of the value of it and determining if it’s really needed,” she says. “Think of it as a pyramid. At the bottom you’ve got the technical base, and it’s got to work. Next to that is the economic and financial analysis. You’ve got to be able to afford it.

“At the top of it, you’ve got the political will,” continues Clinton. “Even if you have the other two, if you don’t have the politicians behind it, it can really be stopped–and we’ve seen it stopped, or at least delayed.”

When a project is in the pipeline during an election year, it can sometimes become a point of contention, “so you really need to consider with the political will, and do you have politicians who understand the need, the value of water recycling, and who will help move it along as opposed to hurt it,” she says.

And while Clinton agrees with others that public perception hasn’t caught up with technology, environmental groups are offering support to water recycling efforts for such purposes as keeping water in rivers for the sake of fish. “I don’t know if I can picture public perception and political will wanting to move forward with direct potable reuse, but that’s one of the areas we’re moving towards,” she says. “Technology is getting a lot more practical, more common, and cheaper in that more people are learning how to do it.”

And more technologies, such as filtration and disinfection, are being approved. “We’re moving more toward the new technology, the direct potable reuse,” says Clinton. “One of my favorite aspects of my job is working with the people who are going to be using it and making sure they’re comfortable, acceptable, and that there’s a good product for them to count on.”

Among the projects Clinton is currently working on is one in Ukiah, CA, where plans call to use recycled water against frost protection for the vineyards and orchards. If the water is pulled from the river from March to May, it can affect the fish population.

“It’s interesting that everyone has different reasons and rationale for working on reuse, whether it’s draught or such–this one, it’s more frost protection,” says Clinton.

Another project is in Oxnard, CA, where plans call for the construction of a highly advanced water purification treatment plant to go to eventual groundwater recharge as soon as regulators approve it. One of the developers dual-plumbed parks, schools, and homeowners’ associations.

The plant was to have been finished by the end of 2011, with main portions of the pipeline already finished. Oxnard expects to be serving customers by the summer. The recycled water is slated to irrigate golf courses, parks, schools, medians, and process users for a variety of industries.

Clinton’s firm is now in the stage of allaying public concerns about water recycling. “The city was a bit hesitant because they didn’t think it would go so well, and they were amazed,” she says of the public meetings. “Now they see people are supportive. They’re looking at a reduced rate of 15% less than the price of potable. To be able to save money is always good news for the high water users.”

Amiad USA Water filtration systems are used for agricultural, industrial, municipal, and commercial use. The company sells filtration systems to protect and safeguard downstream processes, with the biggest applications to protect membranes and disinfection processes, drinking water plants, and wastewater plants.

Filtration systems also are used for ingredient water in beverage plants and for agriculture.

Lauria believes that the resistance to water reuse for most entities is based in economics because “in order to do this, you need to hook up whole different distribution systems.”

He says while it can be disheartening to consider the shortcomings of the whole infrastructure, individual projects are drawing attention for significant water savings.

For example, his company was involved in a project at a Bank of America building in New York City, whereby rainwater was captured and used for toilet flushing, irrigation, and indoor landscaping.

Lauria credits LEED for “doing a good job of giving credit for doing the right things to use non-potable water for toilet flushing.”

He also says there are states like Utah that take proactive approaches. “Over the years, they’ve installed separate lines,” he says. “One line is culinary water, which is potable drinking water, and another line is for irrigation where they pull water from canals and don’t treat it to the same level as drinking water. They’ll filter it and make sure it doesn’t plug the nozzles, but they’ve got two separate systems.”

Purple pipe must be installed in order to achieve that in established communities, Lauria points out. “The economics is then you’d have to have two water systems–one drinking and one non-drinking water,” he adds.

Lauria sees many municipalities are now coming on board to separate low-quality water from high-quality water and use it for particular applications.

Case in point: the East Bay Municipal Utility District in California is sending treated wastewater to a Chevron refinery for use in cooling applications that don’t require drinking water quality.

Lauria notes another trend in places like Florida, which essentially has a wet and dry season and where stormwater is being captured during the wet season and being stored in Aquifer Storage and Recovery programs rather than sent to sea and wasted. “During the dry season, they can take that water they captured during the wet season and use it for different purposes such as irrigation and industrial applications where the water doesn’t have to be of drinking water quality,” he says.

In addition to economics, planning is another critical factor in water reuse strategies, Lauria says. “We’re talking about infrastructure that is 100 to 150 years old, so we’re doing a lot of digging of pipes,” he says. “The planning has to be done so, when things have changed, you’re ready to make the right changes in the right direction to have dual systems.”

The planning stage entails knowing what water is needed for the service and how much. “How much you’re going to need for cooling, how much you’re going to need for flushing toilets, and how much you’re going to need for each individual application,” says Lauria. “Only a small part of the water is required indoors for drinking water.

Photos: GE Power and Water
The footprint of onsite treatment is small and manageable.

“Seventy percent of the water used in the world is for irrigation,” he adds. “Twenty percent is used for industrial, and only 10% is used for consumption for drinking and cooking. That’s one of the things that can be done to really understand what percentage of water is required for each application in a given period.”

Going forward, Lauria predicts there will be more decentralized systems.

“The days of having one central wastewater plant or one central drinking water plant servicing a huge community is going to be a thing of the past,” he says. “I think decentralized systems and smaller systems with a smaller footprint are going to be critical, and that’s what’s going to be involved in planning as well.”

Also going forward is the need for smarter technology, Lauria says. “We like to think of our designs as 21st century technology, and, in those technologies, the equipment is going to have to be smart technology,” he says. “It’s going to have to be able to communicate to the processes up front and behind the application. It’s got to use less energy, because, with the price of oil continuing to rise, there’s a whole water-energy nexus.

“You need a tremendous amount of water to extract oil, to cool nuclear power plants, to generate steam for power plants, and to grow biofuels,” he continues. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to extract, treat and distribute clean water.”

Lauria says if the US intends on being energy independent, “it will put unprecedented pressure on our water resources, because we’re going to trade water for energy and vice versa.”

Any designs will have to entail a large amount of recovery and have a small footprint, he says.

Decentralized systems will not be able to have a lot of people managing them and will have to be operated remotely, adds Lauria.

Additionally, “they’ve got to be something that can be used with a minimal amount of chemicals, because you don’t want a bunch of chemicals stored and maintained at a decentralized site,” he says. “All of those things we look at as 21st century criteria have to be important in how you design these systems.”

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

Photo 140820417 © Susanne Fritzsche |
Microplastics that were fragmented from larger plastics are called secondary microplastics; they are known as primary microplastics if they originate from small size produced industrial beads, care products or textile fibers.
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Photos courtesy Chino Basin Water Reclamation District.
From left: Matt Hacker, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Marco Tule, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Board President; Gil Aldaco, Chino Basin Water Conservation District Board Treasurer; Curt Hagman, San Bernardino County Supervisor; Elizabeth Skrzat, CBWCD General Manager; Mark Ligtenberg, CBWCD Board President; Kati Parker, CBWCD Board Vice President; Teri Layton, CBWCD Board member; Amanda Coker, CBWCD Board member.