A roundup of the 2018 Mini-Water Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.
By: Meghan Jensen, VP Marketing & Communications for The Water Council
On April 26 we partnered with A. O. Smith Corporation to hold our second mini-Water Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. called “Building an Innovative Future for Water Policy & Technology in America.” Fifty policy makers, their teams, and water industry professionals and service providers met in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center to learn about our current water infrastructure challenges and opportunities, and how industry is pushing forward with water innovation best practices at the corporate level. The end goal? How technology and policy can help transform the water sector.
With a warm welcome from U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and A. O. Smith’s CEO Ajita Rajendra, within two hours, seven speakers and two moderators shared stories that left attendees feeling hopeful and energized.
The commonality that resonated through each conversation? Affordability, data and innovation. Take a look at what our speakers had to say.
Conversation 1: Water Infrastructure in the U.S.
Keeping in mind that ‘infrastructure’ encompasses drinking water service lines, water and wastewater management, storm water management, dams and flood control projects, and more.
Dr. Andrew Sawyers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Sawyer’s remarks included an update on the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the first loan through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to King County, Washington and efforts to help less fortunate communities across the nation with technical and direct financial assistance to initiate new projects and resource recovery efforts to help businesses generate revenue from byproducts.
Affordability is the number one concern expressed by constituents, so the U.S. EPA is coming up with a new definition of ‘affordability’ and a framework that communities in the U.S. can use as they think about financing water and wastewater obligations. A heavy lift that they’re approaching optimistically.
Urban water issues are also challenges in rural areas so how do we incentivize proactive actions? This is an area that the federal family spends a significant amount of time on, especially on how to address the concerns.
Ryan Seiger, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Sub. on Water Resources and Environment
A goal is to provide more money for infrastructure projects and also provide more affordability. Affordability is a question of scale because what works for urban areas may not work for rural communities. If we change what we change from the time before, the core never catches up and we never see the byproducts or benefits of what we’ve tried.
Prevalent questions from utilities include: where’s the money for infrastructure projects, how do I afford it and then how do I do it? These concerns have led the subcommittee to think about a mentorship program with resources and guidance for utilities to help them through their projects.
We’re experiencing massive brain drain in the water utility world so how can we encourage our youth to go into the water and wastewater industry?
Andrew Harding, Senate EPW Committee
A strong bipartisan effort is integral, and the Senate EPW committee is extremely committed to making their current bills bipartisan efforts.
Rural water needs and issues are front and center. One immediate challenge is sedimentation behind reservoirs and the affect on ranchers and urban flood planning and the core impediments.
Conversation 2: The quiet disruptors: How private industry is taking on water challenges
Companies understand how important water is and how much they use. This conversation was about what the smartest companies do to make their water as ‘productive’ as possible — cleaning it, reusing it, finding profit in what was ‘waste.’
Pat Cardiff, Grande Cheese Company
“Cow water.” As Grande makes cheese, they are left with water that still has some milk solids in it. They’ve figured out how to clean the water and re-use it, for steam, for cleaning; and to use the milk solids they once threw down the drain to make all new products, like protein powder.
Vision: Pull zero water out of the ground and not have any wastewater to put back into the drain. How can Grande keep water out of the drain, because throwing the water away costs 3 times what it costs to clean it and reuse it. If they can send a byproduct to a farm to feed animals, they save money three ways: by reducing wastewater bill, by reducing freshwater bill, and by reducing cost to feed dairy cows. They’ve taken something that was waste 20 years ago, and have recycled it and turned it into a revenue stream, which is now 30% of their profits. The big driver here? The wastewater – because regulations have made “throwing it down the drain” so expensive.
How can water take Grande to a different place in the future? New Grande plants being designed with the goal to be “zero water” — to rely only on the water that comes in with the milk itself. Makes the company more financially secure, insulates them from water risk, allows building plants in water-scarce regions, and makes Grande a good steward of water resources.
The Future: Participated in NASA’s TechConnect for Water Tech Companies in partnership with The Water Council earlier this year. Six team members from Grande met with NASA Glenn Research Center scientists working on low thermal plasma technology, an all-new way of cleaning water, which Grande says they could use if it becomes “operational” rather than experimental. Grande’s goal is to develop a pilot unit to test this since it’s an all-new water tech process.
Patrick Regan, Evoqua Water Technologies
Think of water treatment companies as facilitators. With better storm water management, Evoqua was part of the team that renovated the tired expanses of grass on the National Mall. Since storm water management systems can be costly, a high efficiency screen developed by Evoqua, called VAF, was installed and allows the Mall to reuse storm water to irrigate the grass, cutting the National Mall’s use of potable drinking water to irrigate grass by 70 percent — and making it easier to keep grass in place instead of hard-packed dirt. The Evoqua system also reduces stormwater runoff, turning it back into useful water.
Five years ago the ground at the National Mall had the same density as cinder blocks and the lawns were full of weeds. Now there are four large cisterns below the grass holding one million gallons of water. Here’s how it works: the water coming through the grass goes to the cistern then through the Evoqua screens and right back to watering the grass. (I heard the water coming out of the sprinklers is just less than drinking water quality, although you could drink it.)
Air Products in California – this company needs steam for their manufacturing process and the solution Evoqua worked with them on was to recycle water before it goes to the boiler and then repeat this on the waste. It cut the inefficiency in half and saved millions of dollars a year. Air Products saves 75 million gallons of water a year at this one facility, with this one improvement, in a very water-scarce part of the country.
“Carbon-diversion” technique – a technology deployed in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this technique takes the organics produced in beer brewing and diverts it to a digester, where it makes methane, which is a gas that can be used to make steam and electricity. The process turns what was once a costly waste-product at breweries into a source of energy, clean water, and money — turning a cost center into a revenue center.
Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst (moderator)
Every time you hit enter on a Google search, two tablespoons of water are used. Google uses that much water each time you press “ENTER.” Water is the hidden ingredient that fuels the economy, but water efficiency efforts are having a quiet but dramatic impact: Since 1970 we actually use less water even though we’ve tripled the size of the U.S. economy. Each gallon of water in 2018 does 3X the work it did in 1970.
How do you unleash this kind of innovation? Data. Water data. We measure unemployment every single month. We measure energy use every week. We measure water use only every five years — and then just for that year. We’ll measure water in 2020 and the data will be ready in…2024. We should be measuring water each week, which would cost just $1 per U.S. family per year. We need a “water information agency,” which would drive water efficiency and water innovation.
How Wisconsin is Leading the Way
Rich Meeusen, Badger Meter
Why Milwaukee? It didn’t become a water tech cluster, it always was. Milwaukee grew up on wet industries, like beer and tanning. This gave us our start as a center for water technology. For example, in the 1800s we had 2 things: cows and water, so we became a center for leather production. We also used the leather to make the conveyor belts. Some engineers at a tannery decided to make chain belts for use in processes where leather belts were inadequate. In the 1920s, other engineers noted that wastewater was clogging the drains at the plant. So they took a chain belt and stretched it between wooden frames and put it over the drain. This became the Rex Water Filter and was so popular that the Chain Belt Company changed its name to Rex Chainbelt. Today, that company is a major Milwaukee water technology company called Rexnord, and the filter systems were spun off as Envirex (still in Milwaukee but owned by another major water technology company, Evoqua). All because of a simple water filter developed 100 years ago. This is just one of hundreds of such stories of Milwaukee water technology developments.
Milwaukee has always been a center for water technology, and we’ve come by it honestly. Just like Hollywood became Hollywood, and Nashville became Nashville. We’re located next to 20% of the world’s freshwater. While the tanneries are all gone and most of the breweries are gone, the companies who started up 100-150 years ago to serve the wet industries are still around today. They ‘grew up’ and now there are 180 water tech companies in the Milwaukee region, the largest concentration of water tech companies in the world, larger than the clusters in Israel, the Netherlands or Singapore (and this is a only region of a state – the others are entire countries). To form a cluster, you need a base of existing companies.
Next time you’re visiting the restroom, you’ll think about this…..there’s a Pentair pump behind the wall – a Badger Meter measuring the flow – a Zurn or Sloan valve – a Kohler urinal – an Evoqua water filter cleaning the water – with hot water from an A.O. Smith water heater — all of which are made in the Milwaukee area.
Jim Stern, A. O. Smith Corporation
Call The Water Council if you have a policy or technology question. Please join us for the Water Leaders Summit in Milwaukee on June 27-28, a great event for policy makers to learn from industry on what they’re doing right as well as their challenges.