As the demand for available clean water continues to grow, due to challenges such as climate change, pollution, the expansion of human populations and the increase of industry, the long-time focus on water strategies to conserve and recycle gain more attention. Water authorities in geographical hot spots such as California, Texas and Florida strive to make societies more sustainable and cost-efficient by seeking ways to augment current sources, leading the way for communities throughout the Midwest.
Advancement in Wastewater Reuse
Recent years have seen a shift in the perception of wastewater reuse, and an exploration of recovering wastewater through triple-barrier processes (also known as FAT-Full Advanced Treatment1) that can result in drinking-quality water. Major industrial consumers of water around the world in industries including power, data centers and food and beverage are integrating water reuse goals into their sustainability plans.
One process necessary for this level of recovery is Reverse Osmosis (RO), which involves forcing a solvent from a region of high solute concentration through a semipermeable membrane to a region of low solute concentration by applying a pressure in excess of the osmotic pressure2. When this process is applied in conjunction with other methods, and repeated in three stages, recovery has been seen to reach as high as 85 percent. At this level of recovery the challenges with scaling and fouling are more significant, and therefore require additional techniques to combat.
Reduced Groundwater Pumping
The volume of available groundwater throughout the United States is being depleted due to a practice of excessive groundwater pumping, or pumping water out of the ground faster than it can be replenished. Over-pumping results in soil collapses, compacts and drops. To elevate the continued depletion, regulators recognize that approaches to reduce the amount of water that industrial operators and municipalities pump from underground aquifers need to evolve. A centralized approach, starting with public education about water saving and improved efficiency, is necessary to see the overall picture to anticipate future supply and demand.
When natural disasters strike, emergency spending derails planned improvements. Recent weather disasters, such as the hurricanes of 2017, threaten water and wastewater infrastructure, causing a renewed emphasis on the long-standing need for improvement.
Other factors that press the need for infrastructure improvement include the impacts of climate change and large-scale developments including highways, dams and pipelines. Although politicians and researches may disagree on what a comprehensive, effective infrastructure plan looks like, key elements seem to be: significant funding, resilient and nature-based solutions and the affordability for clean water for everyone.
Trend Towards Private Sectors
In addition to the cost for improved infrastructure, increases to other capital expenditures for utilities has resulted in higher bills for community members, resulting in public pushback.
The current lack of government infrastructure investment has opened the door for more private sectors to help manage water and wastewater operations for communities. The role of private-sector entities continues to evolve to include roles in ownership, third-party operation and maintenance contracts, as well as public-private partnerships. Although this is certainly not a new solution, it has become more driven. Communities who choose to partner with qualified, private operators realize guaranteed regulatory compliance, cost savings and access to licensed staff, better positioning them for sustainability and growth.
Changes in Materials and Labor Costs
Another result of high infrastructure needs, which is forecasted to exceed $300 billion over the next decade3, is the drive to find more innovative ways to stay ahead of rising costs, including finding newer and lower cost materials and ways to innovate labor.
Changing the material of pipelines from HDPE to PVC can significantly lower materials cost and is certainly an approach that can be effective for some systems. However, the labor cost for replacement process is expensive, much like the labor costs for continued monitoring and assessment of pipelines. In order to make long-term changes for financial stability, a need to develop new ways to reduce labor costs is in order. Besides utilizing advanced technology such as GIS mapping and updated SCADA systems, the implications of trenchless water systems and other innovative approaches must be examined.