Louis D. Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, famously stated in 1932 that individual states in the U.S. were “laboratories of democracy” for policy experiments – and it would seem this metaphor could also be applied to the sustainability efforts of many municipalities and regions across the globe.
Through innovation, experimentation, and “stretch goals,” communities are developing and implementing sustainability programs uniquely suited to their local conditions.As we finalized the inaugural issue of the Black & Veatch “Strategic Directions in the U.S. Water Utility Industry” report, we noted that sustainability is increasingly viewed in the U.S. as a driver for investment and positive returns. Sustainability is evolving into a “value mindset” as opposed to a strictly environmental concept.
More generally, when faced with difficult challenges of asset deterioration, more stringent environmental regulations, declining revenues, increasing operating costs and dwindling capital reserves, many water utilities around the world have made the principles of sustainability foundational to their approach to solving complex problems.
This balancing of the short term with the long term can be difficult to do effectively – it is more a management art than a science. Seeking ways to optimize economic, environmental, and community benefits and sustain them over the long term without unintended negative consequences requires innovation and careful planning. This is particularly true when the political, regulatory, and economic environments are uncertain and fraught with risk.
One thing is for certain – water is essential to life and there are no substitutes. It is also the lifeblood of society in that it is a critical resource for energy production, food production, mineral production, transportation and recreation. It is this centrality of importance that makes local water-related challenges a good starting point to achieve wider-reaching sustainability goals through partnerships with other industries and stakeholders.
For example, when the water level in Wivenoe Dam was dropping rapidly in Brisbane, Australia, from 2004 through 2007 due to extreme drought conditions, finding an additional water supply was the single driver in implementing reuse. However, the primary end-users for the reclaimed water turned out to be power stations, which were in danger of losing their cooling water source. The implementation of the advanced water treatment plants provided both an increased water supply and a guaranteed, sustainable energy supply for the community.
When Calpine, an independent power producer, required cooling water for a new 300 megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired power station in Mankato, Minn., the city offered the effluent from its wastewater treatment plant. By providing wastewater plant effluent to Calpine, the city was able to address the impending phosphorus restrictions in its discharge permit, and Calpine was able to get the cooling water it needed to generate energy. The water reclamation plant, which opened in 2006, has resulted in significant financial savings for the partners as well as approximately 680 million gallons of freshwater annually through reuse. These types of partnerships between utilities and municipalities should be the model for the future.
DC Water (District of Columbia) has recently undertaken a biosolids management program at its Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The program will include thermal hydrolysis, anaerobic digestion and combined heat and power (CHP). The program will reduce the use of diesel trucks for biosolids hauling, offset the purchase of natural gas and electricity, and produce a biosolids product that can be used as fertilizer. The 15 MW CHP project is being delivered through a contract with Pepco Energy Services, which will operate the facilities for 15 years.
All of these examples are great models for sustainability. And there is a strong economic component to each one. Water resources and infrastructure across the water cycle are indispenable contributors to global sustainability, and their roles are set to expand greatly well into the future.
This article has been republished with permission by Black & Veatch. To view the original article, visit Black & Veatch’s Solutions Magazine.