A future in the business end of water | nnbw.com

A future in the business end of water

Shirlee Rhodes

In Nevada, water is a direct part of doing business. For many, it may mean only taps and toilets in the office. For others, it may mean securing enough water to serve a new subdivision or to run a processing facility. The cost of water, or lack of access to it, may prevent a new industry from ever breaking ground. As business owners, our goals should be to profit in the short-term while doing what we can to assure the future availability of water. We can accomplish this by identifying our options for saving water. Fortunately, for every type of business there are tools and processes available that can reduce losses and conserve water, and in some cases even reduce energy costs.

Most of us are familiar with water conservation devices that are becoming commonplace in the office and home. Flow-restriction devices for taps, low-flow toilets, drip-line systems and irrigation timers are all good examples. Tankless water heaters, including versions for instant hot water that can be installed at each point of use, are becoming much more widely used in this country. Installation and use of these appliances can save hundreds to thousands of gallons of water each year, per household or office suite.

On the much larger scale of municipal and industrial use, the most innovative options for significant water conservation center on the concept of wastewater reuse. In the United States, we are already reusing treated wastewater, more than nearly any other nation. Most wastewater reuse takes the form of agricultural irrigation or groundwater replenishment. Still, we are not reusing wastewater to the extent or with the kind of savings advantage that is now possible.

Treated industrial wastewater is often used for irrigation, but also for boiler feed or cooling tower water, and for utility or process water. Wastewater from manufacturing generally requires technologies that include reverse osmosis, ion exchange and/or evaporators. In a closed system, treated wastewater is reused time and again, each time after removing unwanted components, then cooling or heating it as needed. A prime example of industrial water efficiency can be found at the Harquahala Generating Project in Tonopah, Ariz. This facility uses an innovative process of evaporation and crystallization to remove impurities, returning high-quality water for reuse with no wastewater discharge from the facility. The process is called zero liquid discharge. Similar facilities have been constructed around the world, including other U.S. locations, Europe, North Africa and Australia.

(You can learn more about the Harquahala Generating Project at http://www.hpdsystems.com/en/references/harquahalazldsystem/5399,zldharquahala.htm.)

Refined technologies that use filters and natural plants have been successfully employed to treat moderate volumes of wastewater at onsite facilities at relatively low costs. Medium- to large-scale versions of these processes have been utilized to treat domestic-type wastewater at locations such as universities, resorts, residential complexes, and retail and corporate centers across the United States. For example, typical wastewater generated at a large residential building in New York is treated onsite. The treated water is then pumped through a closed system of piping for strictly non-potable water uses, such as toilet flushing, throughout the building with significant water and cost savings benefits. For facilities located miles from the nearest hookup, the costs saved by not constructing a sewage line would more than justify the expense of an onsite system.

The concept of onsite wastewater treatment has been applied to corporate high-rise buildings in a unique and innovative way. Imagine a large office building with a beautiful glass-walled atrium. The atrium contains a series of linked containers of lush green plants and flowers, creating a peaceful indoor garden and water feature. The water garden also supplies the final “polishing” stage for water that will be re-circulated for toilet flushing and other appropriate uses within the building. This type of system is nearly self-contained, producing reduced amounts of waste, and saving considerable amounts of water and energy. If your imagination isn’t quite up to it, check out this link http://www.livingmachines.com to a company that creates precisely that kind of functional environment.

The water reuse technologies just described are definitely applicable to northern Nevada businesses. New construction and building renovations will likely provide the most cost-effective opportunities for implementing these new water and energy saving measures. Even industries that are considered to be water-use intensive can be courted if we present them with alternatives that will allow them to save money and be water-sustainable. Business and industry managers can help to implement change by becoming aware of water-saving options, evaluating the feasibility of alternative processes and participating in dialogue with water planners and regulating bodies. Let’s talk about our future and how we can become sustainable.

Shirlee Rhodes, a registered geologist, is the owner and technical consultant with WaterPath, a Reno-based consulting firm that specializes in water rights and water resources. Contact her at Shirlee.Rhodes@waterpath.net or through http://www.WaterPath.net.