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Overcoming Three Water Scarcity Quandaries

Industrial Outlook

Water is a critical component for day-to-day industrial operations. Lack of it can severely limit production and growth. Whether caused by drought, salinity or poor quality, or tied to geography or cost, water scarcity can slow output, stall product development and impede expansion for all types of businesses.

Here are three prevalent water scarcity quandaries and how businesses may overcome them:

  1. Dealing with drought—Businesses in arid, drought-stricken regions certainly face limited or low-quality supply hurdles, and their ability to purchase additional water supplies has been effectively prohibited by climbing costs and regulations intended to drive sustainable reuse. The dilemma, though, has also added a layer of complexity with water rights, particularly in (but not limited to) the Western and Southwestern United States.

    The big question emerging in the debate is: “Who owns the water?” Seemingly, businesses own the water they purchase and use, but what about when it is discharged? With availability so low in dry areas, can they afford to relinquish water rights back to the city when effluent is discharged into a public sewer or irrigation channel?

    A key for businesses battling drought-related water scarcity is getting involved in and shaping the debate on their water rights. Companies must provide a voice for industrial water rights and find ways to partner with municipalities to share water responsibility. Also, leveraging water reuse strategies prior to discharging water minimizes the effect these legal implications may have on reserves as water rights are further commoditized.

  2. Landlocked—Water can be essential for expanding production, and this fact presents a challenge for businesses surrounded on all sides. For starters, there is little to no additional water nearby to draw from. Purchasing more land for effluent storage or expanding treatment facilities may be an impossibility due to land availability and high real estate costs. New regulations on land application also restrict industries from irrigating crops without first reducing the total dissolved solids (TDS) in their effluent and/or storing it seasonally for up to 4 months when water cannot be land applied—a major issue when space is at a premium.

    The combination of these factors points back to reuse as a strong option for landlocked industries to strengthen wastewater management. Reusing a large percentage of water resolves geographic issues and saves the cost of buying up extra property. With stringent TDS limits in mind, it makes sense for businesses to return salt-reduced water back into production.

    Another path to success is segregating process water streams, so that water meeting regulations gets land applied first, and other concentrated streams may be treated at a lower overall cost for reuse. Finally, consider more efficient land use. For instance, instead of building an effluent storage pond, which would require more acreage, construct a tank or multiple tanks within existing facility space or in underground storage bunkers. Businesses storing water in a tank can also treat it there and recycle it back into production or to meet land application limits.

  3. Conquering cost restraints—Cost is at the center of water scarcity issues for most industries—water costs and wastewater treatment costs continue to rise. Businesses may find that buying, treating or discharging water is just too expensive, or that they lack the capital to update antiquated equipment and facilities. Navigating these cost obstacles first requires a cost analysis to determine if increasing water responsibility will bring a solid and acceptable return on investment (ROI).

    Think of it this way—operations, maintenance and capital costs associated with building a new storage tank or employing new treatment technologies may be less than the long-term spend on water from the city as sewer and surcharge costs increase annually. Additionally, the cost of treatment technologies (such as membrane treatment) is going down, which may help industries see a quicker ROI.

    Also worth noting are the added benefits of water treatment and reuse investments: increased production; better branding, marketing potential and social perception via energy conservation and corporate social responsibility; and, in some cases, tax abatements and funding incentives. There is also the consideration of selling treated water to other nearby industries or to the city. This can effectively tip the balance toward a feasible reuse project for industry with a short-term ROI. All of these factors make it easier to justify the capital expense and investment in reusing water.

For more information on overcoming water scarcity, visit the WateReuse Association.

Thinking about implementing water reuse after reading this article? First consider these 10 questions from our Al Goodman, PE, a recognized international expert on water and wastewater.

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