By Melissa McDonald, Business Development, Organica Water and Jonathan Lanciani, President & CEO, Organica Water
(This article appears in the August, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)
Signatories of the ACUPCC recognize that global warming is a real issue and have created substantial progress in the energy arena. Another crisis looms: the quality and quantity of water. Water and energy are interdependent and interrelated, and the vast majority of energy produced today relies on water. Extracting oil, natural gas and generating electricity are all water intensive processes. At the same time, treating and distributing water is energy intensive. In many cities, the distribution of water is the largest user of energy. In order to make a significant impact on lowering energy, we must look at how we use water. Since campuses are some of the largest consumers of water and energy within communities, we are eager to help with this mission.
Organica is pledging to construct and operate several $1.5 million BlueHouse pilot projects, valued at $1.5 million, for ACUPCC institutions which will provide immediate cost savings on campus. These projects, which require no upfront capital, focus on issues surrounding water reclamation, reuse and energy problems associated with sustainable water management.
The average college campus uses more than 80 million gallons of potable water per year for HVAC, irrigation, and sanitary needs, much of which can be supplemented by non-potable water sources. As the population rises and water demand grows, freshwater supplies are becoming an increasingly scarce and expensive resource. The emerging issues associated with climate change compounds the water problem for many areas across the United States. We face groundwater shortages, coastal erosion, saline intrusion into aquifers, and extended periods of drought. Until recently, the US has had relatively little exposure to water crises. However, we have the opportunity to learn from places like China where water scarcity has impacted health, quality of life and economic growth.
More than half of China’s cities suffer from water shortages, affecting millions of people. The groundwater in some parts of the country is dropping approximately four feet per year – ninety percent of which is polluted. Shenzhen, the fastest growing city in China, offers a particularly worthy case-study. Until May 1980, it was a small village with a few dozen families. Over the past 30 years, the population has grown to be 20 million, with a growth rate as high as 1.5 million people a year for the last three to four years.
Shenzhen is a densely populated city, where employees live in housing adjacent to their workplace, most of which produces more than 40% of China’s IT technologies. Electronic manufacturing uses 3-10 times more water than other industries, and when coupled with dense populations, significant water supply problems were created. Organica created a solar powered water reclamation and reuse solution that met the industrial park’s water needs. This facility not only treats water in an environmentally friendly manner, but does so to a quality suitable for reuse.
In the US and around the world, climate change is impacting precipitation trends to a significant degree. As water consumption rises due to increased demand, we must consider alternative water management strategies. The interdependency of water and energy is well founded and has led many to conserve, but that alone will not yield a sustainable solution.
Because of water scarcity problems in conjunction with aging infrastructure and stricter regulatory requirements, the cost of water is rising by about 9% annually. In order to combat these rising costs, many campuses have instituted conservation plans which have had a measurable impact on both costs and resources. Some have installed wells; some have installed rain cisterns or low-flow toilets. HVAC, irrigation and sanitary needs all use potable water; imagine the cost benefits associated with lowering our reliance on potable water intake, when the possibility for reclaimed water exists.
Organica Water Inc. offers campuses a different approach: decentralized water reclamation and reuse. Based on an initial feasibility study, Organica is offering qualified ACUPCC campuses an opportunity to participate in our University Pilot Project. This pilot project requires no capital from the institution itself. The facility, aptly named “BlueHouse”, is unique in the fact that it combines conventional methods of water reclamation with advanced ecological engineering to treat water through the use of a highly complex, adaptive ecosystem attractively housed in a greenhouse. This 1,500 sq.ft. facility is designed to recycle approximately 24 million gallons of water per year, which can be used for a variety of non-potable applications like cooling tower or boiler make-up, irrigation, and toilet water. The BlueHouse will help significantly decrease potable water intake, saving money and energy – resulting in a more cost efficient use of water, while providing reliable source of water during times of drought. What is truly unique about the BlueHouse is its ability to act as a living, and learning, laboratory. As a functional research facility, it can expand research potential in a variety of disciplines such as engineering, microbiology, ecology, and even public policy. All of this at no cost to the institution, yet capable of saving the campus money by reducing dependency on potable water.