Water & wastewater headlines in 2014... and what to expect in the new year
Water and wastewater treatment is a sprawling industry, affecting everyone from you and me to manufacturing facilities and municipalities. As water is a resource that is essential for human life, we were glad to see it get a lot of attention in 2014. From the severe drought conditions of the Southwest, to drinking “toilet water”, here are a few of the top headlines this year and some speculation about the future.
1) The seemingly never-ending drought.
The severe drought in California and the Southwest has had a widespread impact on day-to-day life of residents, agriculture, business, and legislation.
One thing is certain: the water crisis in California will lead to innovation in water conservation and re-use that will serve as lessons for us all. California has a long history of environmental innovation and technology is already being created to respond to the crisis.
In 2015, and for many years to come, industrial facilities and municipalities will look for ways to recycle and re-use water. Even if your state isn’t experiencing harsh weather conditions, fresh water prices are steadily increasing throughout the country. As regulation on wastewater gets tighter and the cost of freshwater continues to rise, water re-use is a natural answer for anyone looking for greener solutions — it’s good for the environment, and for business.
2) The “ick” factor is real.
“From toilet to tap” — this headline was exhausted in 2014. Many municipalities (including the City of San Diego and Orange County), are exploring the idea of treating wastewater for public consumption. This is directly in response to the scarcity and cost of fresh water, but there’s an obvious stigma associated with treated wastewater that the American public struggles with.
A sample of the public’s opinion was illustrated this November when Match.com founder Gary Kremen won a seat on the Santa Clara Valley Water District board, ousting former incumbent Brian Schmidt. The race was close, but many speculated that a direct mail campaign, funded in full by NEC, clinched the win for Kremen. Though Kremen publicly denounced the mailing (as he also supports the re-use of potable water), its affect was powerful:
“Brian Schmidt wants my family to drink water from the toilet?” says a woman’s voice that plays from the audio card, adding: “Say no to toilet water; say no to Brian Schmidt.” It reads in part, “EWWW!”
Drought-stricken cities in Texas have also begun to transition to recycling potable water as city reservoir’s quickly dry up. Wichita Falls City Manager, Darron Leiker summed up the worsening water crisis simply, “We can’t conserve our way out of this.”
More and more municipalities will embrace sophisticated wastewater treatment technology and their PR teams will be hard at work gaining the favor of the public.
3) Speaking of sewage… this bus runs on waste.
The Bio-Bus is the first bus in the U.K. powered by fuel derived from sewage and food waste. It can run for about 186 miles on a single tank of fuel, which is about the annual sewage and food waste of five people according to a press release by the Smithsonian. The bus runs on biogas, which can be rendered from landfills, wastewater, manure, and agricultural waste.
If this process proves to be cost-effective, we’ll be seeing a lot more poo-powered technology.
4) Re-Using Frack Flowback Water
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, is a drilling process that has been in the news for many years now. While the process of drilling requires several million gallons of water, the focus of 2014 was flowback water: water that returns to the surface after drilling.
Disposal of the flowback water proves to be problematic; there are large quantities of it and it is contaminated with chemicals and brine. It cannot be disposed of into freshwater sources and while deep well injection is practiced throughout the country, it faces heavy criticism. Treatment and re-use has become the logical, economical, and more environmentally-acceptable solution.
The fracking market is huge – 36 billion dollars and growing – and many companies are vying to design an efficient, cost-effective process to treat contaminated flowback water. Companies making headlines this year included Boston-based Oasys Water, who successfully use forward osmosis and a proprietary solution to treat highly contaminated water and Gradiant Corporation.
As the demand for proven technologies in the treatment of flowback water grows, you can be sure to see more innovation and investment, as well as regulation within this industry in 2015.
5) The Safe Drinking Water Act turned 40.
Safe and clean tap water from virtually any tap in the country is a convenience that most of us take for granted. And, it’s a relatively new development. The first federal standards for drinking water were developed in 1914, but weren’t exactly comprehensive. A Public Health Service study in 1969 concluded that millions of Americans were drinking “potentially dangerous water”. In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was born (not to be confused with the Clean Water Act that was passed in 1972).
Whether it’s related to the Safe Drinking Water Act or not, we can expect more legislation and policy regarding water and water treatment to come. As freshwater becomes more scarce (and expensive), local and state governments will have to rethink infrastructure and treatment to meet the needs of their residents and businesses.