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Need to Change the Perception of Water Reclamation and Reuse
By Eric Gernath, CEO, SUEZ North America
Eric Gernath, CEO, SUEZ North America
Unabated population growth, a warming climate, increasing urbanization and energy demand have made water scarcity a pressing concern for many communities across the county and around the globe. There is not one easy solution. But there are several remedies that when combined, can help. One of those is water reclamation and reuse.
SUEZ has been championing the practice in North America for over 25 years, most notably in its operation of the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, CA, the largest water recycling facility of its kind in the United States. More recently, it brought water reclamation solutions to the East Coast as well.
To be clear, water reuse is one way—not the only way—of mitigating water scarcity issue. But it is a crucial element.
Water reclamation has some obstacles to overcome. Ironically, while water reclamation is a scientifically advanced practice, the biggest hurdles are not technology-based. Rather, they are political will and public perception. That's why I'm encouraged that leading environmental groups and research think tanks, such as World Resources Institute and the Pacific Institute, endorse water reclamation as an essential element in environmental protection. Likewise, I'm heartened to see leaders from communities, industry, government, universities and non-governmental organizations come together, as they did earlier this year at the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership's Resource Revolution of Water Reuse forum, to promote water reuse. It leaves me very optimistic that we will see many more water reuse projects in the coming years.
Water reclamation, after all, has a lot going for it. One of the less obvious benefits is that it takes less energy to treat waste water for recycling than it does to collect, extract, treat and distribute water drawn from groundwater or surface water sources. As Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, told us at the Wharton gathering, water reclamation “can reduce energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There's a lot of ways we can benefit from the system, and we can design them to maximize the benefits.” Given that the demand for water and energy are increasing at about the same rate, it's important to bear in mind their interdependent relationship.
So, where do we turn next? To wherever we find the water-energy nexus. You really don't have to look hard for opportunities. Last year SUEZ announced a project at the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Wantagh, NY. The project will conserve up to 315 million gallons of fresh water each year by using recycled wastewater for industrial use within the plant. Without the water reclamation process, the plant uses about 600 gallons of groundwater per minute for non-potable uses, such as process cooling water and washing down equipment and tanks. Instead, the plant will take water from the screened effluent system and treat it for solids removal and for high-level, multiple-barrier disinfection using chlorination and ultraviolet disinfection.
In the West Basin Municipal Water District in Southern California, the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility produces approximately 40 million gallons of useable water every day, conserving enough drinking water to meet the needs of 80,000 households for a year.(Under a contract renewal we signed last November, the plant will expand enough to produce more than 70 million gallons each day, as downstream demand continues to grow.) The 40 million gallons includes five different qualities of custom-made recycled water that meet the unique needs of West Basin’s municipal, commercial and industrial customers. The West Basin treatment plant is the only facility in the country with such versatility.
The five types of water include:
• Tertiary Water (Title 22) for a wide variety of industrial and irrigation uses
• Nitrified Water for industrial cooling towers
• Softened Reverse Osmosis Water: Secondary treated wastewater purified by micro-filtration (MF), followed by reverse osmosis (RO), and disinfection for groundwater recharge
• Pure Reverse Osmosis Water for refinery low-pressure boiler feed water
• Ultra-Pure Reverse Osmosis Water for refinery high-pressure boiler feed water.
Additionally, satellite treatment plants that benefit from the West Basin facility include the Chevron Nitrification Treatment Plant, which receives about 5 million gallons per day (MGD) of Title 22 recycled water. The Title 22 recycled water is further treated through a nitrification process for industrial applications.
Title 22 recycled water from the Edward C. Little Water Recycling is also used by the Juanita Millender-McDonald Carson Regional Water Recycling Plant in Carson, CA. The Carson Facility further treats through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and nitrification treatment processes to provide high quality recycled water to a refinery user for boiler-feed and cooling tower applications.
"Ironically, while water reclamation is a scientifically advanced practice, the biggest hurdles are not technology-based. Rather, they are political will and public perception"
In Torrance, CA, the Exxon-Mobil Nitrification Facility, uses nearly 6 million gallons of recycled water per day, nitrifying the recycled water to remove ammonia before injecting into cooling towers. Additional water is used as boiler feed water.
The innovation doesn't end there. As part of an expansion process now underway, the Carson Facility will implement ultraviolet advanced oxidation processes to provide up to 1 MGD of barrier water to the Dominguez Gap Barrier. Currently, the Dominguez Gap Barrier receives highly treated barrier water from the County of Los Angeles' Terminal Island Treatment Facility. The Carson Facility currently treats approximately 3.5 MGD of high-quality recycled water, which will increase to approximately 4.5 MGD as part of the expansion project.
These are the more high-profile examples of water reclamation projects. There are others, but far too few. As Lea Senft, constituent advocate from Pennsylvania for the U.S. House of Representatives said at the Wharton water reuse forum, noted, we're a fear-based society and “until we have a drought, or something like that, it's hard to get people on board.” I agree. Without a crisis, people tend not to move. Then again, we have not been short of environmental crises these days, particularly those precipitated by climate-related trends.
So, I'm optimistic that the political will and public perception needed to make water reclamation and reuse commonplace will come one way or another.