Zintro experts outline issues facing the water industry

By Maureen Aylward

Water is one of the earth’s most precious resources, and the water industry is afloat with new ideas on how to address global water issues. Zintro’s water experts were asked to provide their opinions on the latest innovations in utility performance, industry issues, and water scarcity solutions.

NEER, a water treatment consultant, says that there is always a conflict of interest between agricultural, municipal, or community and industrial needs. “With fast industrial growth in developing countries, the water conflict is getting intense,” he says. “Although governments allocate water for industrial applications, the pressure from agricultural and community needs is restricting industrial supplies.”

NEER says that industry must find innovative ways to generate water, e.g. water from air, low-cost seawater desalination, and develop waterless applications and industrial appliances, such as air cooled condensers, washing machines, dishwashers, and car washers. “Industries need to implement the highest levels of water conservation measures, water recycling, water harvesting, and achieve zero discharge status,” NEER says. “Above all, there must be training and development of the industrial workforce, which is severely lacking, and teaching awareness of water issues in schools to create a mass awareness on water conservation.”

Bob McAlpine says that population increases are placing greater demand on a shifting resource. “Our increasing demand for water is taxing our ability to supply water for domestic, agricultural, environmental and industrial needs,” he says. “Increasingly, we are turning to desalination, groundwater recharge, wastewater re-use, and water conservation to meet demands. Energy costs for treatment and distribution of water are getting higher, so low-cost solutions are needed as well as energy efficient treatment innovations for drinking and wastewater treatment.” McAlpine further points out that water is becoming more expensive. As prices increase and supplies are compromised, water conservation practices in places such as Australia and Israel are leading the way in the effort to make the best of a scarce resource.

Dana Wregglesworth, an expert in industrial and municipal water, water reuse, and wastewater treatment says that utility performance is squarely focused on operating expense savings. “The single largest operating expense savings involves capturing energy use reductions by cost effectively integrating next generation technologies that saves utilities 25 to 40 percent of cost without compromising environmental compliance,” says Wregglesworth. “This involves rapid adoption of technologies that are often in early development, which requires a change agent attitude that is unusual in this marketplace.”

Santiago Cotic, an expert in industrial water and wastewater treatment processes, says that water scarcity, stricter regulations, and a steep rise in the cost of energy and commodities are the three major drivers for innovation in water utilities performance. “Pushed by these drivers, we have found enormous advance in wastewater reuse technologies, seeking optimizations in energy consumption, while achieving output quality standards that have previously been out of reach,” says Cotic. “Taking this into account, in my opinion, one of the most important innovation is the side stream membrane bio-reactor (MBR) process known as Airlift MBR, which takes MBR to a new order of magnitude.”

Petar Johnson, an expert with 20 years experience in the environmental and sustainability fields within government and industry in Australia, says that water quality shortages around the world largely rise from inefficient use of freshwater. “Ecosystem services for waterways are an undervalued element and must form part of the equation in determining the extractive potential for freshwater,” says Johnson. “An effective regulatory and allocation-based setting for a freshwater system will always deliver a more sustainable and resilient solution for water users in a region.” The primary challenges and solutions are policy and regulatory ones, not technological or market based solutions, he points out. “This type of thinking allows a stepping stone to a detailed analysis rather than a technological and commercial fix, which is inevitably going to fail with enormous consequences, not just for human users but for the quality of the freshwater system.”

Steve Williams, an expert in rainwater harvesting, storm water management, hydrology, and municipal water issues, sees innovations in rainwater harvesting to be a solution to storm water, water quality, and quantity issues. “With the growing need for clean water and the expense of paying to treat and manage storm water, rainwater harvesting can be easily collected off of large roof areas in industry for an attractive return on investment with everyday use,” he says. “It allows for decentralized systems, which relieves the total dependency on centralized systems.” Another benefit Williams points out is the reduction in energy costs by not having to pump water long distances from treatment plants. “Rainwater is used in many parts of the world in food and beverage production. With the amount of water being wasted in urban and industrial areas from rain events, rainwater harvesting is a new resource, especially in moderate to wet environments,” he says.

By Maureen Aylward

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