As a consulting company, much of our focus is on knowing, understanding and anticipating changes in the industry while helping our clients to either be the change, or at least prepare for and adapt to it.
Our beloved water industry has come a long way since the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) was founded in 1974. In those days, most people were largely concerned about simple softening, addressing nuisance water, and making sure that water for business and industry was cheap and plentiful. The U.S. EPA was new on the scene and had barely implemented what we know today as the Clean Water Act.
Table 1. Layered Treatment Options- Possibilities for a layered treatment approach.
Over the last four and a half decades, there has been a massive shift in governmental and consumer focus towards water quality, water scarcity and the true environmental impact of water treatment technologies. We have seen management failures like those in Flint, Mich., as well as political boondoggles, such as the Santa Clarita water softener buyback program, which can be solemn reminders that innovation through regulation is rarely ever a reality.
While water scarcity is a critically important issue in arid areas, such as Southern California, many communities across the U.S. are experiencing shortages of potable water, again illustrating weaknesses in our national water supply infrastructure that is continually threatened by droughts, pollution and population growth.
More than 30 states currently face serious water shortages, and potable water demand is beginning to outpace supply in many cities. Water districts increasingly implement recycling and reuse strategies to provide for their populations. Wastewater salinity continues to be a thorn in the side of water quality improvement, management and reuse industries while arousing regulatory interest. Recently, the city of Solvang, Calif., adopted a program to incentivize adoption of high-efficiency twin-upflow water softeners, instead of trying to ban them outright—all due to the efforts of a local dealer who had the courage to speak up and share her knowledge and experience. Looking past 2018, the water quality improvement industry is seeing significant political and technological impetus to improve and grow.
Table 2. Laybered Treatment Options- a layered approach involves selecting the most appropriate technology for each part of a building.
The Layered Approach
One of the most important ways we can improve our industry without regulatory intervention is to embrace a layered approach to water quality management. The “purple pipe” movement that has grown over the last few years is a great example of a layered approach to interior versus exterior water; the purple pipe indicates water that has been reclaimed and is not suitable for human consumption, but is more than adequate for irrigation and other approved activities. By repurposing previously wasted water, there is a significant savings in the pumping, storage and acquisition cost of water used for non-drinking use.
This same approach can be leveraged inside the home or business where progressive dealers are treating water to different levels for different uses to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact. Other dealers are helping their customers identify why they really want a softener and helping them choose proven salt-free scale control technologies where appropriate.
Many consulting engineers and water dealers have become complacent in taking an all or nothing approach to water quality management in buildings. This approach is short-sighted and needs to end. By adopting a layered approach, the most appropriate technology is used for each part of the building. Why waste resources softening water to flush toilets, when a legitimate scale-control technology might do an adequate job without the environmental impact or potential legislative entanglements?
The only downside to a layered approach is that it will require more piping infrastructure initially, but it is relatively easy to justify the return on investment in most cases.
Tables 1, 2 and 3 illustrate some ways to layer a building’s treatment approach to ensure resources are conserved, and environmental impact is minimized.
Layering your treatment approach will give you and the client ultimate control over where high-quality water goes, and the level to which water really needs to be cleaned while meeting project requirements.
An abundance of options are available for the smart designer or dealer to fulfill consumer needs in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner. Disruptive technologies inevitably displace the outdated products of the past, so it is no surprise to see great leaps forward in adoption of truly salt-free softening technologies, such as membrane separations and electrodeionization. Deploying these technologies as part of a comprehensive layered approach helps with adoption cost and resource requirements. One of the most common misconceptions about membrane separations is that the concentrate water is wasted. This water does not need to be wasted, since it can be repurposed safely for many uses, such as irrigation, dust control, exterior floor washing or toilet flushing, in certain cases.
As we see more emphasis on emerging contaminants, the need for comprehensive treatment to address plasticizers, pharmaceuticals, personal care product byproducts, endocrine-disrupting compounds and microscopic living organisms will necessitate progressively more advanced drinking water treatment technology, which will initially be expensive to apply at the point of entry. Layering the application of these technologies will allow more people to be protected for a lower cost and reduced carbon footprint.
The free market drives innovation when responsible business leaders embrace opportunities to deliver profitable goods and services to their clients in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner. We need to continue to develop high-efficiency systems, inspect and calibrate installed systems regularly, upgrade where feasible, and embrace legitimate alternative treatment technologies. Most importantly, our industry needs to be more vocal in communicating the real benefits of water quality improvement technologies to consumers, legislators and environmental groups.