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Opening address by Robert Glennon sparks discussion of water sustainability challenges and solutions
On Oct. 12, Black & Veatch hosted a roundtable discussion on water reuse with more than a dozen water and wastewater industry leaders attending the WEFTEC conference in Orlando, Fla. Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of Black & Veatch’s global water business, hosted the event; and Cindy Wallis-Lage, vice president and chief of Black & Veatch’s Water Technology Group, was the moderator.
Robert Glennon, a water law professor at the University of Arizona and author of Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It, opened the roundtable with a presentation about how clean, safe water is becoming increasingly scarce while water demands continue to rise as precious resources peak. He cited specific examples of water crises in large municipalities and small towns across the United States and offered practical, sustainable solutions for preventing a water catastrophe in the future.
A discussion amongst the utility leaders identified some barriers to reuse that they have faced, and then explored potential ways to overcome those challenges. Among the impediments to increased reuse they mentioned were population changes, conflicts over water transfer rights and the lack of integrated water/wastewater agencies. To ensure a secure water future, participants agreed, it will be necessary to break away from a silo-mindset and explore regional solutions for water reuse.
Another key to the future success of reuse is a change in public perception of this important resource, participants said. Admitting the problem with their customers’ acceptance of reuse is the first step toward dealing with such concerns. One utility leader shared how his community successfully tackled reuse acceptance by not “sugarcoating” the topic. Educating the public early was seen to be an effective way to promote long-term acceptance of reuse.
Shifting priorities can be a challenge for utilities considering reuse, participants pointed out. One industry leader mentioned a paradox: Utilities that successfully encourage water conservation are actually reducing their revenue, which leads to less funding available to implement reuse.
If future water needs are to be met, participants agreed, reuse will soon shift from being merely prudent to an absolutely critical part of an integrated water portfolio.