U.S. water CEOs talk water reuse progress at annual WateReuse symposium

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Top CEOs in the water reuse sector discussed water recycling during a roundtable at the 33rd Annual WateReuse Symposium on Sept. 10 in Austin, TX. Pictured from left; B Narayanan, CEO of Carollo; Cindy Wallis-Lage, President of Black & Veatch’s Global Water Business; Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem; and Heiner Markhoff, CEO of Suez Water Technologies & Solutions. Photo Credit: WateReuse

Top CEOs in the water reuse sector recently spoke about the incredible growth opportunities in water reuse during a roundtable discussion (video) at the 33rd Annual WateReuse Symposium on September 10, 2018 in Austin, TX. Here is a summary of some of their opinions:

CEO of Carollo, B Narayanan, has more than 30 years in the water business. About 85% of Carollo’s work is with the municipal and public sector. The company is heavily involved with the largest water markets in the U.S., such as California, Florida, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. Narayanan said that his company’s business has seen continuous growth in the water reuse market and he expects that to continue. While, in the 1990s, reuse projects accounted for a miniscule amount of his company’s ventures, by 2017, reuse projects accounted for about 25% of the company’s top and bottom line. This growth, he explained, is driven by supply and demand, and impacted by population growth and migration to warmer climates in the U.S.

“When you look at the net impact of all of this, just in these states we’ve talked about, populations have increased by 85% to 400%,” said Narayanan. “All of this has created demand and stresses the likes of which we haven’t seen before. The supply side is no better, and in fact, it’s made the situation worse.”

Due to issues around contamination and climate change alone, water sources have become increasingly scarce, he said. This has caused the overdrafting of groundwater, particularly in the western U.S.

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Narayanan also noted that there has been a huge “softening in perceptions” around water reuse, which historically has been one of the largest barriers for water reuse. This shift, he said, has also come in the form of social awareness to better appreciate the value of water.

Cindy Wallis-Lage, President of Black & Veatch’s Global Water Business, emphasized to the panel the importance of integration, education, and innovation to develop successful water management strategies. She joined Black & Veatch in 1986.

Wallis-Lage recalled starting at her company out of college in Arizona at a water reclamation plant that used percolation ponds. “It was so controversial, that challenge of ‘can we do this, and will it be accepted, and the what’s the impact on the groundwater?’” Much has changed since, she said. “Reuse really is the answer. We have to step up and utilize around the globe as a solution to make sustainable communities,” she said.

Wallis-Lage said that about one-fifth of the world’s population is in water-scarce areas. She believes in the three-pronged concept of integration, education and innovation. In terms of education, she said: “Words create much of the challenge for reuse. We tend to segregate water and label every drop of it based on its history, versus its potential. We have to break that barrier, and talk about just water, period.”

Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem, told the roundtable that, while water issues are intensifying, advances in smart technology are creating new possibilities at Xylem and beyond. He said those at the conference should choose to embrace the idea of leadership and be part of a mission and purpose for water.

“All of the technologies that are needed to solve our world’s water problems already exist,” said Decker. “It’s an issue of education, it’s an issue of passion, and determination, really working on the hard stuff.”

By 2050, some 25%-30% of the world’s population will not have access to clean and sustainable water, said Decker. While that sounds like decades from now, if any of the people in the room have teenagers, the world will have reached that date by the time they reach Decker’s age, he said.

Decker said the “toilet-to-tap” concept set back the water reuse sector significantly over perception issues, but believes the industry has managed to move on from it. Using terminology such as water purification creates a much better perception around water reuse, he said.

Heiner Markhoff, CEO of Suez Water Technologies & Solutions, emphasized to the roundtable that to help take control of water’s future, it is time to change global thinking about water as a waste product. Monitoring analytics is a huge part of driving reuse forward at Suez Water Technologies & Solutions and the industry as a whole, he said.

Markhoff noted that a lot of technologies are becoming more prevalent, including: membrane bioreactors for wastewater treatment; ozone and UV treatment to make potable reuse possible; brine solutions with electrodialysis reversal and for TDS (total dissolved solids) removal prior to reuse; and for industrial treatment, measures such as zero liquid discharge systems and thermal solutions.

“We’re here to work with you, as an industry, to support that, and play our role in developing more cost-efficient, more energy-efficient and better solutions that bring down operating costs and reduce footprints for reuse solutions to come,” said Markhoff, adding that the industry is working hard to bring down the costs for water reuse.

For more information on WateReuse, visit: www.watereuse.org

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