Developing Our Shared Water Future


Andrew Kricun, P.E., BCEE
Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority

 

A predominant theme in human history, and for the foreseeable future, is whether mankind's ingenuity can find the necessary means to preserve and sustain the planet's finite resources for future generations. In short, the mission of all responsible parties must be to “save the planet.” The clean water and energy industries have a tremendous opportunity, and a corresponding responsibility, to do their part to create this sustainable future.

The water utility of the future will strive to: encourage water conservation, optimize water quality treatment (instead of merely seeking permit compliance), minimize energy consumption, and utilize green energy opportunities to the maximum extent. In the future, clean water utilities will reach beyond their conventional role of wastewater treatment to provide and market byproducts -- such as treated effluent and biosolids -- as commodities that can be used in sustainable ways. Lastly, the clean water utilities of the future will be fully integrated into the communities they serve – not merely as service providers, but as environmental stewards and good neighbors. Achieving this future water utility requires partnership between the industry and customer of the future.

The advent of new technology will help industry leaders move even further ahead, but there must also be an industry-wide commitment to disseminate existing best practices and technologies to narrow the gap between "best-in-class" utilities and the rest. The "best-in-class" utilities have always sought, on their own, to continually improve. However, our greatest environmental gains will be made by encouraging today’s below-average utilities to implement industry best practices. In doing so, we will create the clean water industry of the future.

It is also essential that we develop the clean water customer of the future. This future customer will understand the importance of conserving water, optimizing wastewater treatment, minimizing energy consumption, and sustaining infrastructure. They will also be willing to pay the user rates necessary to accomplish these objectives. Developing this future customer begins today. Clean water utilities can do this by being as cost effective and as transparent about cost efficiencies and environmental objectives as possible, while in the longer term investing in environmental education efforts.

Meanwhile, advances in technology will increase opportunities for synergies between clean water and energy utilities. With the help of benevolent regulations, energy utilities could be incentivized to assist clean water utilities to extract the latent energy available from their processes. Conversely, treated effluent from clean water plants could be used as non-potable process water in power plants.

Looking forward, the integrated utility of the future may consist of clean water plants and energy generation plants operating side-by-side in a synergistic fashion to help save the planet. However, doing so will require a paradigm shift for all parties involved:

  • from a clean water utility striving for mere permit compliance to one committed to optimal environmental performance.
  • from a clean water industry focused on individual achievement in silos to one that embraces widespread dissemination of best practices across the industry.
  • from a clean water customer with an aversion to rate hikes to a willing partner who funds the infrastructure necessary for optimal environmental performance and sustainability.
  • from clean water and energy utilities that never "mix" to integrated utilities working together to conserve our precious water and energy resources.

Opportunity is the flip side of challenge. It is essential that clean water and energy utilities work together to meet our growing environmental challenges by seizing the myriad opportunities available for closer synergies and better environmental performance.

 

 

 

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