Water Energy

New Winners in the 2018 Blueprint for Fuctional Sustainability Competition!

Rob Slowinski

The 2018 Blueprint for Functional Sustainability's final event took place on Friday, June 1st at REDCAT's black box theater in downtown Los Angeles, below the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In front of an audience of about 100 of their peers, the 16 finalists continued to raise the bar for sustainable design and community architectural integration.

The Water-Energy Program Collaboration Guidebook

The water-energy nexus is a critical concept in California today, due to increasingly stressed water supplies and state greenhouse gas reduction goals. The nexus is described as the interaction between water services and energy services: energy services rely on reliable access to water and water delivery services depend on access to energy. In short, saving water saves energy and vice versa. In California, water is one of the state’s largest end uses of both natural gas and electricity. Of the state’s water-related natural gas use (30% of overall natural gas use), the vast majority goes to residential, commercial, and industrial end uses, at 98.5%. Of the state’s water-related electricity use (19% of overall electricity use), 40% goes to water extraction, conveyance, treatment, distribution, and wastewater systems.

At the 2013 Utility Sustainability Roundtable, conducted by the California Sustainability Alliance and Southern California Gas Company, participants from utilities, water agencies, and cities expressed strong interest in a joint water-energy efficiency program collaboration guidebook to support and enhance coordinated efforts towards a sustainable water-energy nexus. Though progress is being made within the water and energy industries already, a guidebook was envisioned to help fully realize the synergy between these systems.

In late 2014, the California Sustainability Alliance completed the Water-Energy Program Collaboration Guidebook in response to this interest. The intended audience of this guidebook is energy utilities and water agencies in California. The goal is for readers to come away with a better understanding of how energy utilities and water agencies can work together on joint water conservation and energy efficiency programs, and apply this knowledge to new initiatives at their own organizations. The guidebook offers insight and real-world examples along the following joint program development and implementation process:

From research, interviews, and industry experience, the guidebook identifies the top nine collaboration strategies to include:

  1. Establish measurable, specific goals at the beginning of a program and conduct periodic evaluations.
  2. Dedicate a staff member/champion – someone passionate about efficiency partnerships, who actively seeks ways to overcome barriers and come up with creative solutions.
  3. Establish a clear decision-making process and rules of operations, and back this up by drafting legal documents.
  4. Effectively communicate between partners – keep in regular contact with representatives at partner organizations to stay informed and involved.
  5. Be persistent and pro-active. Sometimes a legal agreement will have to be reviewed by the legal department dozens of times – but don't give up on it.
  6. Play to partners' strengths: assume leadership roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise and/or ability to contribute to the program (e.g., one partner has the expertise to lead program design and implementation oversight while the other has the resources to handle program administration).
  7. Use a “one-stop-shop” approach where feasible so customers can find all of their efficiency opportunities and information in one place. More generally, always simplify things for the customer – this will help increase market adoption.
  8. Simplify internal joint program processes – this will reduce expenses and staff time. This includes approval, cost-sharing, and data-sharing processes. When possible, use an umbrella memorandum of understanding to formally establish these process improvements.
  9. Monitor legislation while designing programs; for example, stay current on appliance code changes that will impact rebates.

Readers are encouraged to use the guidebook as a foundation for further independent reading and conversations, as the water-energy collaboration effort must extend far beyond these pages. Additionally, stay tuned for further work in this area, as the California Public Utilities Commission is developing tools to assist energy utilities and water agencies in determining the cost effectiveness of joint water-energy efficiency programs. Download the full guidebook here.

New On-Site Water Generation Policy Brief

California faces growing water scarcity concerns. Droughts pose continuous uncertainties to the water supply, but on-site water recycling could help alleviate the pressures of these uncertainties. On-site water recycling could contribute to increased water supply reliability as well as other environmental goals, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

On-site water recycling systems are primarily one of two technology types - constructed wetlands or membrane bioreactors (MBR). For more information on these technologies, please refer to the Alliance’s report, “On-Site Water Generation: An Analysis of Options and Case Study” published December 2012.

The 2012 Alliance study found that on-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. Nevertheless, most of the existing applications of recycled water are municipal-level wastewater treatment plants. On-site water recycling systems draw wastewater directly from a building’s toilets, showers, and laundry, treat it on-site, and reuse it to meet on-site non-potable needs, such as toilet flushing and irrigation. Installing these systems requires developers to not only manage the initial capital cost, but to confront a challenging regulatory environment. On-site water recycling is a relatively new concept and doesn’t fit neatly into existing regulatory frameworks focused on water-recycling and water- and waste-water treatment. Figuring out how to apply existing regulations – and understanding if the existing frameworks even apply – can be challenging for project developers as well as for those charged with preserving public health and safety. New regulatory frameworks must be developed to enable the installation of these systems.

As a follow-up to the 2012 Alliance Huntington Beach Study, the Alliance investigated further to verify the list of key regulatory hurdles for on-site water recycling and to identify potential solutions. A game-changer like revising the regulatory framework may take considerable time and resources, but the Alliance aims to also present good first steps. These are meant to be easier to implement in the short-term to generate momentum for those goals that are harder to achieve.

To first create awareness regarding the regulatory hurdles facing on-site water recycling system installations, the Alliance has released a new study entitled California On-Site Water Recycling: Policy Brief. This study documents the barriers to on-site water recycling systems and also and presents potential solutions. The policy brief focuses on the following barriers:

  • Lack of clear information about how to apply for permits;
  • Expensive daily coliform laboratory sampling and analysis
  • Stringent certification requirements for system operators


Key study conclusions include:

·      On-site recycled water systems are an emerging technology with the potential to play a role in helping manage California’s increasing water scarcity. 

·      Immediate actions should be taken to perform additional work on understanding potential regulatory models, estimating benefits, and initiating pilot activity.

·      An information portal should be designed so that potential developers of on-site water recycling systems and staff at key agencies have access to detailed information. 

·      One stretch goal to work towards is an exception to the Title 22 requirement for daily coliform sampling for on-site water recycling systems with a track-record of high water quality.

The study also highlights a number of case studies as examples of on-site water recycling. Download  the full report for more details.


New On-Site Water Generation Study


California water supplies are stressed as a result of decreasing supply and increasing demand.  While conservation and efficiency are the most cost-effective solutions, they may not completely solve the problem. Consequently, California water planners are considering multiple alternate water supply options including:

  • Desalination
  • Brackish water treatment
  • Rainwater harvesting (storm water capture)
  • Recycled water

Of these, water recycling is the only option that is applicable across the entire state and which can produce a relatively consistent resource regardless of the season or weather.  Wherever there is a wastewater treatment plant there is an opportunity to generate a local supply of recycled water.

Indeed, generating recycled water is not a challenge, distributing it is.  A major barrier to implementing a successful regional recycled water system is the cost of distribution pipelines. Typically a network of distribution pipelines and pump stations is needed to connect existing municipal water reclamation plants to potential recycled water customers.  Constructing these distribution systems can be expensive ($2-4 million per mile), especially in heavily developed areas such as Southern California. As a result, excess recycled water supply generated by large centralized plants cannot always be used cost-effectively. The Alliance’s 2008 report on recycled water shows that enough existing recycled water supply to meet all of Southern California’s projected increase in water use through 2030 is currently being released to streams and the ocean without benefit.

Recycled water can be implemented on a smaller scale; generating water in the same location as its demand eliminates the need for expensive distribution systems. Additionally, water supply and conveyance accounts for the majority of energy use by the state’s water infrastructure - imported water is among the most energy intensive (especially in Southern California).  On-site water generation has the potential to not only conserve water also save embedded energy in water.

To better understand the opportunity for on-site water generation, the Alliance has released a new study entitled On-Site Water Generation: An Analysis of Options and Case Study The study documents the characteristics of on-site water generation systems and also conducts a detailed cost benefit analysis for a representative case study on the City of Huntington Beach, California.Specifically the studyexplores:

  • Types of technologies available to provide on-site water generation
  • Costs and benefit analysis of the on-site water generation options
  • Primary market barriers to technology adoption.

Key study conclusions include:

  • On-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. 
  • On-site Recycled water systems are most cost-effective in larger capacities. 
  • On-site water recycling relies on a consistent supply of wastewater and thus can provide more water than rainwater harvesting in Southern California

The study also discusses a number of recommendations for California policy-makers to stimulate the production and use of on-site water generation. Download  the full report for more details.

Employing Public Engagement for the Successful Water Reuse Project

Water reuse projects have garnered concern and even opposition from community members and the public. While based on legitimate concerns, public aversion to recycled water is often fueled by a lack of knowledge resulting in an inflated perception of risk. However, active public outreach and participation can effectively shift public opinion. The EPA’s recently released 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse dedicates an entire chapter to the issue of public outreach. The report (specifically Chapter 8) draws conclusions and recommendations from recent studies on public perception of recycled water and steps towards effective engagement. This post summarizes some of those key findings.

The last decade has seen an increase in public dialogue and increased knowledge about water reuse. A corresponding shift in public opinion was shown in a study conducted by San Diego County Water Authority. Conducted in 2004 and 2011, the study found people who “strongly oppose” recycled water dropped from 45% to 11% while those who “strongly favor” it increased from 12% to 34%.

Public engagement should be framed as a collaborative problem-solving effort that focuses on the benefits of a water reuse program. When the public understands the problem at hand (e.g. water scarcity and drought) and the benefits of implementing recycled water, they can better perceive an improvement in the state of affairs. Public participation should begin with an understanding of why recycled water is needed, the available options for reuse, and the potential concerns.

When presenting information on water reuse, a balance between technical detail and easily understood information is important. This creates validity while effectively relaying information. In the same way, the terminology used to present reuse projects can greatly impact the public’s reception. Some of the terms used in the industry are often not well understood or well received by the general public. The EPA Guidelines show that terms such as “Water that is purer than drinking water” or “Very pure water” were reassuring to over 60% of respondents while less than 20% found “NEWater,” “Recycled water,” and “Reclaimed water” reassuring. Based on their findings, the EPA offers recommendations for public outreach terminology and methods. These include:

  • Emphasis on the purity of recycled water
  • Focus on future uses rather than the source by avoiding the prefix “re”
  • Offer analogies and water reuse in the context of the water cycle
  • Make understanding accessible and avoid technical terms

Public involvement generally begins with direct stakeholder engagement, particularly those who will be most impacted. This can involve activities such as surveys, community events, public meetings, presentations, and workshops. While direct contact and activity is important with key stakeholders, media outreach can play a significant role in shaping the general public perception and increase the flow of information and dialogue among constituencies.

Several water agencies serve as prime examples of successful public engagement and implementation of recycled water projects. Orange County Water District (OCWD) was particularly successful in engaging the public through its diversity of outreach for its Groundwater Replenishment System. OCWD also overcame reuse misconception to garner public support for an indirect potable reuse project. Read more about their success here. San Diego County Water Authority facilitates successful public communication by conducting surveys to measure knowledge and opinions of water issues and then sharing the results with the public.

For more details and advice on successful public engagement, check out Chapter 8 of the EPA’s 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse.

New Water-Energy Study, Tool, and Web Content

The California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) has released new water-energy content to assist water agencies in improving the energy efficiency of their infrastructure.  These include the Eastern Municipal Water District: A Case Study of Best-In-Class Water-Energy Programs and Practices report, a Water/Wastewater Agency Energy Analysis and Best Practices Tool, and new website content on selected best practice and emerging technologies for the water industry.

The Eastern Municipal Water District: A Case Study of Best-In-Class Water-Energy Programs and Practices report documents the range of potential energy efficiency and generation opportunities, types of programs and technologies available to help water agencies achieve energy benefits, and the barriers that need to be overcome to increase adoption these practices and technologies.  The Eastern Municipal Water District serves as a case study to illustrate the types of strategies and measures California water agencies can implement to improve energy efficiency.  The report identifies seven key strategies and 27 illustrative measures and emerging technologies.  Some of these measures can reduce energy use and cost by up to 40% with a payback of 2-4 years or increase biogas production by 10-40%. 

As part of this best practices study, the Alliance developed the Water/Wastewater Agency Energy Analysis and Best Practices Tool. The can be used by water agencies to quantify, at a high level, the annual energy costs associated with various sub-systems within a water agency's infrastructure.  Based upon this analysis the tool provides a custom list of best practices and energy savings measures that should be explored to reduce energy use and costs.  The tool is meant to screen and initially prioritize future energy management projects and facilitate discussions within the water agency and between the water agency and its energy utilities.

To supplement the study and the tool, the Alliance added new web-content to document several promising existing best practice strategies and emerging technologies that could reduce energy use in the retail water sector.  These measures include:

These new resources can help water agencies and energy utilities improve the efficiency of California’s water systems.

Sustainability Innovations in the Wastewater Industry

In 2010, I wrote about Imagine H2O (an incubator hosting prize competitions for water innovations) as they launched their second annual prize competition focused on the water-energy nexus. Recently, I attended Imagine H2O’s 3rd Annual Water Entrepreneurs Showcase at which the organization announced the winners of their 2011 prize competition for innovations in the wastewater industry.

This year’s competition attracted 50 startups, from which nine finalists were selected.  The competition was split into two categories, a pre-revenue track and an early revenue track.  Bilexys won the Pre-Revenue Track for its technology that converts wastewater into chemicals which can then be reused in the treatment process.  New Sky Energy won the Early Revenue Track for its technology that combines CO2 and industrial wastewater to extract usable chemicals from the wastewater stream. Additionally, Nexus eWater and Tusaar, Inc. were named runners up in the Pre-Revenue Track— Nexus eWater for its technology that converts residential gray water into near-potable water and recycles its energy for hot water heating, and Tusaar for development of a low-cost technology to remove heavy-metal contaminants from wastewater effluent.

Imagine H2O’s event heralds a turning point in the wastewater industry.  In the past, wastewater treatment was a service and technology field that was often an afterthought.  I found it especially refreshing that three of the four winners and runners up viewed wastewater treatment as an opportunity, not a necessary burden.  By viewing wastewater effluent as a resource (from which chemicals can be manufactured, heat can be recovered, and useable water be produced), the winning teams are both creating economic value and increasing sustainability in the water sector.  These innovations can save embedded energy by reducing energy use associated with water supply and chemical production.  Meanwhile, the remaining finalists in the competition focused on reducing the cost and energy requirements of treating wastewater and producing recycled water, both noble causes.

During the acceptance speeches, one winning team explained they are driven by the idea that “water is one of the few un-substitutable resources on this planet”.  As water-stressed regions (including California) continue to see decreases in supply and increases in costs, it will become apparent that wastewater effluent is no longer a waste but instead a resource and path to sustainability.

Imagine H2O places winners in an accelerator program which provides accounting and financial services; introductions to beta customers, financiers, and market partners; assistance in securing lab and/or office space; and publicity.  If Imagine H2O’s efforts are successful, we may never look at a wastewater treatment plant the same again.

A look at the National Research Council Report: Water Reuse Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply

Is it possible to meet our future water supply needs through the reuse of municipal wastewater? This is a question the National Research Council (NRC) had in mind when the Assessment of Water Reuse Committee was formed by the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board. Since wastewater is discharged into the environment in significantly large quantities—approximately 12 billion gallons of municipal wastewater is discharged to an ocean or estuary each day—the committee critically assessed the practicality of reusing water to meet future supply needs by analyzing technical, economical, institutional and social issues associated with water reuse.

This isn’t a new idea, as water reuse is a very common practice within the United States for irrigation and non-potable applications; however, as the NRC’s report states, using reclaimed water to augment potable supplies has significant potential for helping meet future needs. The EPA previously estimated the extent of water reuse in the United States; as of 2002 Florida was reusing the largest quantities followed by California, Texas and Arizona.  Over 50% of the reclaimed water in Florida and California was used for irrigation. 

So then the question is begged, how will people react to drinking recycled wastewater?  Although it sounds unsanitary, with the right wastewater reclamation technology and monitoring systems, the potable reuse of highly treated reclaimed water becomes worthy of consideration.  The committee found that the current technology is very advanced with room for improvements but no real limitations. To help address public concerns about safety of reuse and the effects on human health and the environment, the committee proposed 14 priority research areas within two categories: health, social and environmental issues; and performance and quality assurance.

Several advanced treatment facilities in California and throughout the world provide examples of successfully managed systems that are expanding local water supplies.  In Southern California, Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System recycles wastewater using advance treatment processes.  Half of the treated wastewater (about 35 million gallons a day) is used to recharge the local groundwater basin which supplies potable water to the county.  Elsewhere, Singapore’s NEWater system recycles wastewater that subsequently meets 30% of the nation’s water demand.  Currently only a small percentage of NEWater is being used to augment potable supplies.

As the world’s water supply decreases and as population increases, the need for water reuse becomes even more vital—especially for water-limited regions.  Although reuse alone will not address the nation’s water challenges, municipal wastewater reuse has the ability to significantly increase the world’s water resources.

Find out more by reading the full report here

Ocean Friendly Gardens

Approximately half of all residential water use in California is for outdoor purposes—and, of that, the majority is used for watering lawns and gardens.  In total approximately 1,300,000 acre feet of water is used for watering lawns and gardens; enough to cover the entire County of Los Angeles with six inches of water.  Producing, transporting, treating and delivering that water requires a significant amount of energy.  In a state that had below-normal precipitation in 8 of the last 10 years (including a 3-year drought), can using such significant amounts of water (and related energy) in this manner be considered sustainable?

New technologies and approaches allow for greater efficiency of outdoor irrigation.  Options range from high efficiency nozzle replacements on sprinklers to weather sensing irrigation controllers.   Meanwhile, some have suggested outright replacement of grass with synthetic turf.  However, one option stands out for not only reducing water use but also adding to the property values of California homes, while at the same time reducing ocean pollution: ocean friendly gardens (sometimes referred to as xeriscaping).

Ocean friendly gardens utilize drought resistant California native plants in plots that are designed to capture home stormwater runoff.  They require little, if any, irrigation.  Water is supplied to the gardens by rerouting downspouts that would normally send rainwater to the streets or sewer systems—water that would otherwise wash pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and oil into California’s rivers and ultimately pollute our oceans and beaches.  Ocean friendly gardens are specially designed to retain the influx of storm water and achieve near-zero runoff.  Contours and dry creek beds built into the landscapes retain water, allowing it to percolate into the ground.

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Pacific Institute Develops Water-Energy-Climate Calculator

By Paula Luu, Communications Associate for the Pacific Institute

There are tremendous opportunities to improve efficiency of household water use without affecting the services and benefits that water provides – and to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Researchers at the Pacific Institute have developed WECalc, Your Home Water-Energy-Climate Calculator, a free online tool that empowers users with information on their water and related energy use and identifies strategies to reduce them.

WECalc asks users a series of questions about their personal water use habits and, based on their responses, estimates total water use and provides personalized recommendations for reducing that use. WECalc also helps users have a better understanding of the connections between water and energy by providing them with an estimate of their water-related energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Numerous studies show that the water conservation potential is substantial and largely untapped. Existing, cost-effective technologies can reduce household water demand by 30% to 40%, and the good news is that these currently available water-efficient technologies can help homes and businesses save water without sacrificing their quality of life. In fact, most homeowners believe that the performance, maintenance, and appearance of the efficient appliances are superior to older appliances.

Water is both heavy and extremely energy intensive to heat. As a result, capturing, treating, moving, and using water requires large amounts of energy. This is particularly true in the West, where water supplies and population centers are often separated by hundreds of miles. In California, for instance, an estimated 19% of electricity use, 32% of all natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons of diesel fuel consumption are water-related. To put these numbers in perspective, consider that leaving the hot water running for 5 minutes uses as much energy as operating a 60-W light bulb for 14 hours! While California’s water supplies may be more energy-intensive than the national average due to the particularly long distances and elevation changes during water transport, about 80% of California’s water-related energy use is due to customer end-use, for example, the energy required to pressurize or heat water prior to use.  Since end-use energy requirements are similar across the United States, it is likely that water-related energy use is high across the country.

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