Managing a Precious Natural Resource: Water

Managing a Precious Natural Resource: Water

By Gary Peterson, Founder of Peterson Madsen Group, Inc

We’ve all been hearing about recent advances in clean technologies (solar and wind power, biomass, hydropower, biofuels, etc.). It’s becoming more affordable every year and is recognized in mainstream media and engineering circles as reliable alternatives to traditional energy systems. Logically, the majority of us embrace these renewable technologies as we would any standard energy conservation improvement.

Many of our colleagues are sounding the alarm regarding a natural resource that has been overlooked, and that is water. Organizations are consistently looking for ways to reduce operating costs while improving efficiencies. They’re keenly aware of their facilities electric/gas costs and consumption, evident by the implementation of energy reduction strategies, but it appears that water preservation flies under the radar. The cost of water seems to be relatively inexpensive when compared to electric and gas prices. Couple that with the false sense of a plentiful supply and this natural resource becomes a low priority on the “to-do list.” I am not necessarily referring to proactive water-intensive industrial facilities or drought stricken regions. But there is financial profitability, environmental stewardship and socially responsible benefits when an organization includes water management in their overall conservation program.

Here are some alarming statistics from the WaterAid Organization: 

  •  2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, one in three of the world’s population. (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2014 update)
  • Achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation would save 2.5 million lives every year. (WHO, Global Burden of Disease 2004 Update, Geneva: WHO, 2008)
  • For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of at least $4 is returned in increased productivity. (Hutton, Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage, WHO, Geneva, 2012: page 4)
  • Hygiene promotion is the most cost effective health intervention according to the World Bank. (Saving lives, WaterAid, 2012)

A brief look at four main categories when considering a water conservation program for facilities:

Process water and utility water improvement: This includes measures for water purification to improve processes, extend boiler and cooling tower cycles resulting in lower utility water usage, and enhance thermal transfer resulting in lower energy use and longer equipment life.

Recovery of energy and valuable stock resources through water reuse: This includes process and utility water discharge streams that contain recoverable thermal energy – either through direct reuse or through heat exchange. It also involves measures to improve discharge water quality to a point that it is recoverable. This applies to the recovery of value streams that are stock loss through discharge, e.g. biomass, process material such as fiber, or nutrient constituents.

Waste water treatment for compliance with discharge regulations: This includes measures for reducing constituents from entering waste water streams, treatment methods to achieve discharge limits, measures to reach zero discharge and methods to recover biomass from discharge as a value stream.

Discharge water recovery: This includes measures to restore discharge water quality by recovering and recycling water during a process. It can involve segregated process and utility discharge streams, CIP and sanitization streams, i.e. all general industrial waste water discharge streams.

Examples of some water conservation measures:

  • Low flow plumbing fixtures
  • Greywater reuse
  • Insulate piping
  • Leak repairs
  • Steam boiler blowdown
  • Cooling tower recovery
  • Reduce water pressure
  • Rainwater harvesting

At a minimum, organizations should expect these components when conducting an “initial water assessment:”

  1. Analytical assessment of the facilities water usage data and compare it to industry best practices
  2. Strategy proposal for site water metering, with an IT-based management solution (if applicable)
  3. List of proposals for water conservation measures that includes definition of scope, pilot and project management and criteria for implementation success
  4. Budgetary estimate of the savings, environmental impact and implementation cost for each proposed measure, (budgetary cost/benefit analysis)

When commercial and industrial buildings institute a site-specific water conservation program, associated energy costs will decline. These benefits are also achievable in other sectors such as multi-family housing, healthcare facilities, data centers and campus environments.

An organizations future ought to incorporate water preservation. Perhaps energy conservation programs should be called “energy and water” conservation programs.