​Intelligent water management: Connecting the drops

October 6, 2015 Roman Lis

By Roman Lis

Today, most - if not all - global manufacturing companies have some type of water sustainability program and have set goals to reduce water consumption. A manufacturing client of Stantec was recently surprised to find out that the water utility company for one of their facilities in California had started charging them a 100% surcharge fee on water usage that exceeded their 2013 baseline. For the 3-month period ending in August, it cost them almost $100,000!

Today, most if not all global manufacturing companies have some type of water sustainability program and have set goals to reduce water consumption. What you need to think about is: are you doing enough to identify cost-effective projects that significantly reduce water usage?

I have been conducting water-use assessments across the U.S. for about 15 years and the pace has accelerated exponentially over the last two years, especially in California and other western states. I thought I would share some of my recent experience in identifying and evaluating water conservation measures (WCMs). Following are five important rules to bear in mind as you conduct your own water-use assessments:

1.      Meter, Meter, Meter

Although there are many ways of arriving at reasonably accurate estimates of water usage at the process or equipment level, there is no substitute for flow metering. Considering the inexpensive cost of a flow meter (a turbine-type flow meter with totalizer costs $300 – $400), it’s worth installing these on your larger water users. Flow metering often leads directly to water savings.

2.      Quantify the “True Cost of Water”

One of the things I hear most frequently at manufacturing facilities is that “water projects don’t have good payback periods,” or “reducing water has minimal impact on operating costs.” I have found that this belief is due to the fact that manufacturing facilities are typically thinking about the relatively inexpensive utility cost of water. In practice, there are many other costs associated with the use of water including energy (e.g., pumping, heating, cooling, treatment), chemicals (treatment), labor, maintenance, sewer discharge fees and surcharges, etc. We call these costs the “True Cost of Water.” For a typical WCM, the true cost of water is generally 1.5 to 5 times the water utility cost. Including these costs in your financial analysis can have a dramatic effect on the return-on-investment (ROI).

3.      Evaluate All Facility Operations Including Production

I’ve found there is often a reluctance to evaluate potential WCMs in the production process. Assessors will focus on building utilities such as cooling towers and treat the production process as “off-limits.” Consider all of the following when assessing facility operations including the manufacturing process:

  • Evaluate if auxiliary equipment (ventilation, scrubbers, heating/cooling, pumping, etc.) can be shut-off or turned down when the production process is not in operation;
  • Add or improve controls to automate process;
  • Identify wastewater streams for re-use;
  • Identify unnecessary sources of water loss;
  • Retrofit or replace equipment with more efficient (less water use);
  • Change operating procedures that over-use water.

4.      Maximize the Reuse of Water

WCMs can be organized in two buckets: measures that decrease demand for water and those that reuse water. Water reuse measures in particular can have a great impact in reducing water consumption at a manufacturing facility. 20% annual water savings is often used as a standard for water audits. However, we are consistently able to identify WCMs that reduce annual consumption by 30% to 50% by emphasizing water reuse.  The first step in assessing water for reuse is to understand the water quality requirements of the users as well as the water quality of potential reuse streams and match them accordingly. Consider all process wastewater streams including untreated and treated wastewater. In a number of water assessments, we have found that the treated wastewater effluent had lower concentrations of contaminants than the original supply water. Prioritize matching water users with wastewater that doesn’t require treatment before considering some level of water treatment.

5.      Identify Available Financial Incentives

In a recent water assessment in Southern California, MWH identified $3.5 million (project costs) of WCMs with payback periods ranging from less than 6 months to 3 years. In addition, we were able to find $750,000 of publicly-available financial incentives that reduced the payback period by approximately 30%. Although there is a wide variability in available financial incentives from region to region, the trend is that incentives for reducing water consumption are on the rise.

Content was originally published by MWH Global, which is now part of Stantec.

About the Author

Roman Lis, the Intelligent Water Management Practice Leader, can answer your questions regarding water reuse, recycle and treatment. With more than 20 years of experience in water management, wastewater treatment, as well as multi-media regulatory compliance, Roman specializes in providing services to industrial clients that reduce operating costs, manage risk, and provide a significant payback.

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