Water is both a life-giving source and a potentially devastating force. Citing this range of water’s power during the opening session of Weftec (New Orleans; September 24–28; www.weftec.org), New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu described how the city has triumphed over the devastation that occurred eleven years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit. People now have a great appreciation for water, he said, where it may have at one time been taken for granted.
We are often reminded of the power of water — both too much and too little of it — such as with the recent force of Hurricane Matthew, and the droughts experienced in numerous places around the world. At Weftec’s opening session, the many roles that water plays in our daily lives were depicted in a short video, which summed up water’s importance with the potent message “without clean water, life stops.”
For those of us who live in parts of the world where we haven’t had to think much about our water supply, recent news like the water quality issues in Flint, Mich., have made us realize that having clean, fresh water is something that we cannot take for granted, and have to work to achieve.
A quantified approach to conservation
Water scarcity is a worldwide issue. In his keynote address at Weftec, Joe Whitworth said that with the world’s growing population, water scarcity is a growing concern, and that “very few people see it coming.” Whitworth is the president of the Freshwater Trust (Portland, Ore.; www.thefreshwatertrust.com), a not-for-profit organization that focuses on outcome-based conservation to protect freshwater resources.
Referencing his book, “Quantified: Redefining Conservation for the Next Economy,” Whitworth gave examples of simple things that can be done, and quantified, to make a difference in water sustainability. One example involved a situation in Oregon where water effluents warmed the waterways they were being returned to, making them too hot for the salmon to exist. Cooling the water was accomplished by planting trees to shade the watershed, which was a much less expensive alternative than other solutions. Whitworth maintains that there is much that we can and should do to address water scarcity, and not just because it is the “right thing to do,” but because it is the “smart thing to do.” He says that the best investments are actually the most sustainable investments. To the Weftec audience, Whitworth emphasized that engineers can make a really big difference in worldwide water issues.
Advances in technology
The crowded aisles of Weftec’s exhibit hall held examples of engineers and others working to improve wastewater treatment and related issues. As an example, results of a year-long demonstration of the Zeelung MABR* technology at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago reportedly showed the potential for intensified nutrient removal as well as energy reduction. And scientists are working on innovative technologies, such as the plasma oxidation technology described on p. 7 in this issue.
The importance of clean, fresh water in our lives is something that many of us do not often focus on, until it is no longer available. It was inspiring to see the technologies presented at Weftec, and to meet some of the people who are indeed focusing their expertise on water-related issues. ■
*For more on this technology from GE Power & Water, see “Turning wastewater treatment into resource recovery,” Chem. Eng., November 2015, p. 7