Melissa Meeker, GWIC Director, Gwinnett County Government
A profound shift in the water industry has been developing over the last decade with the emergence of wastewater as a valuable resource. Although we all know non-potable and defacto reuse have been happening for years, communities around the world are now having conversations about how best to manage recycled water as a precious resource, not a disposable product. This wouldn’t have happened without technology advancements enabling us to collect, monitor, test, and treat water more efficiently and effectively. In fact, potable reuse continues to be a driver for the industry, demanding innovation for things such as on-line, real time sensors. Embracing innovation has enabled our industry to shift from wastewater treatment to resource recovery and a growing emphasis on smart communities and systems as a way to better manage compliance and resources.
But most utilities are constrained by financial and institutional challenges that discourage innovation and embracing new technologies. Daily operating and maintenance realities coupled with project backlogs and emergency repairs leave very little remaining budget or manpower to adopt new methods or purchase new infrastructure. Even a county as large and progressive as Gwinnett, located in the northeast Atlanta Metro, struggles with these challenges. To address this, Gwinnett has decided to partner with a non-profit organization to develop a Water Innovation Campus that will function as a global hub for innovation that can integrate applied research and demonstrate emerging technologies, while collaborating with academia and industry when necessary.
The campus will include the infrastructure necessary to demonstrate and test new technologies and data management systems using live utility data from a host of facilities—giving those of us at utilities the ability to look at new technologies in parallel in order to demonstrate and document the differences and benefits of each for their operations and staff. Our goal is to make it as simple as possible for utilities to actively participate in demonstrations so they can see first-hand how something may or may not benefit their utility and to quantify their return on investment. And to let the independent non-profit organization coordinate the process, reducing pressure on the utilities—a big advantage for small and midsize utilities with minimal R&D budgets.
"Embracing innovation has enabled our industry to shift from wastewater treatment to resource recovery and a growing emphasis on smart communities and systems as a way to better manage compliance and resources"
As utilities collect an ever-growing suite of data (millions of data points weekly), and the public demands access to the data, we need to determine the most impactful way to interface with the public. For instance, what information do citizens and organizations most need? What is driving this need for data? Understanding the concerns of our stakeholders will enable us to provide information that has the power to educate, promote conservation and change habits. And by sharing data in a safe and efficient manner with our partners in the industry both public and private, we can leverage the expertise of thousands of professionals and academics.
Our vision for advancing water resources has officially begun. We broke ground at this amazing facility in October and were joined by over a hundred partners just as excited as we are to get started. We hope you will join us in this journey to push our industry to be better and smarter in how we manage, and facilitate, innovation in order to protect water resources for future generations.