Bringing Sustainable Utility Operations to Water and Wastewater Utilities

2019-09-11T09:59:56-06:00 September 11th, 2019|Sustainability Management, Water|0 Comments

By Melissa James and Amy Volckens

Water and wastewater utilities are committing to new levels of environmental stewardship.

For water and wastewater utilities, providing reliable, high quality, affordable service to customers is the core of their business. But more and more, water and wastewater utilities are committing to environmental stewardship and sustainability as part of their organizational mission and values.

Beyond being good for the environment, sustainability initiatives foster a wide variety of co-benefits, including improved infrastructure resiliency, a more committed workforce, and favorable perception by the public. And despite a common belief that sustainability initiatives don’t make financial sense, many sustainability initiatives improve the bottom line as well as the environment.

Most utilities have not comprehensively evaluated sustainability opportunities across all business functions, including system operations.

While many utility staff can get behind a commitment to environmental stewardship, the question remains how to put that commitment into practice and drive results that are beneficial to the organization. Brendle Group works with water and wastewater utilities to take a comprehensive look at sustainability opportunities, including resource conservation and recovery, infrastructure readiness and resiliency, impacts to land and natural resources, and alignment with business processes (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Sustainable Utility Operations – Common Focus Areas for Water and Wastewater Utilities

Benefits from operational changes and other low-cost opportunities can be substantial and even on par with capital projects.

Some elements of the sustainable utility operations framework shown in Figure 1 are more commonly addressed than others. For example, larger utilities tend to have formal energy management programs to mitigate energy use and costs since energy is often the largest controllable operating expense for water and wastewater utilities (Jones & Sowby, 2014). Utilities that develop and implement energy management policies, plans, and programs see an average decrease in energy use of 30%, resulting in significant cost savings (Sowby, 2018) and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

For water utilities, low-cost opportunities to save energy through operational changes include source water selection and pumping and storage strategies. For wastewater utilities, those common opportunities include blower, digester, and pumping operations. Working through comprehensive goal setting and strategy development across capital projects, O&M, and business operations can provide a prioritized roadmap to align the organization.  Ultimately, strategy implementation is successful when staff lead the way and have concrete information and organizational alignment to support their decision-making processes.

Our clients are industry leaders that give us the opportunity each day to bring sustainability to unexpected places.

Over the years, Brendle Group has worked with water and wastewater utilities across the country through the planning and implementation of sustainable operations. A couple of examples are provided below.

Denver Water – Completed 2017

As Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility, Denver Water serves 1.4 million people in and around the City of Denver and strives to promote environmental stewardship (Denver Water, 2019). To ensure they are prepared for changes in climate as well as changes in political, economic, and social factors, Denver Water secured consulting services from Brendle Group and other experts to develop a Sustainability Guide detailing strategic goals and commitments in energy, transportation, water, materials, land, ecosystems, people, and infrastructure and assets.

Parker Water & Sanitation District – Completed 2019

Parker Water & Sanitation District (PWSD) serves 50,000 customers in the Town of Parker and in Douglas County, CO. In 2017, when PWSD initiated the development of their first-ever energy management master plan, 14% of their annual operating budget was spent on energy. Brendle Group led a team with Hansen Allen & Luce and Cascade Energy to engage staff, conduct engineering analysis, and develop the plan. Our team found that PWSD has the potential to save up to 20% of its annual electricity use and up to 40% of its annual energy costs. Significant savings potential was identified through low-cost operational changes such as favoring water sources with lower energy intensities and shifting well pumping operations to periods with off-peak pricing.

Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District and Sacramento Area Sewer District – Anticipated Completion 2020

The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (Regional San) and the Sacramento Area Sewer District (SASD) provide regional wastewater collection and treatment services to more than 1.4 million customers in northern California. Both organizations completed strategic planning exercises that identified environmental stewardship as one of four core organizational values (Regional San, 2016; SASD, 2017). In 2019, Regional San and SASD started working with Brendle Group, Hansen Allen & Luce, Cascade Energy, and California State University at Sacramento to develop a comprehensive environmental sustainability policy and plan to guide organizational decision making and to put their environmental stewardship value into action.

Environmental sustainability will become increasingly important in the face of future challenges.

The landscape in water and wastewater utilities is dramatically changing.  Increased development and growth, climate-induced risk from flooding, fires, temperature events, etc. are putting increasing pressure on utilities to provide integrated and comprehensive approaches to their operations and impacts. To meet these current and future challenges and to thrive in the face of aging infrastructure and increasingly complex and more stringent regulations, water and wastewater utilities must plan for and operate at the nexus of environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic vitality.

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References

Denver Water. (2019). About Us. Retrieved from Denver Water Web site: https://www.denverwater.org/about-us

Jones, S. C., & Sowby, R. B. (2014). Water system optimization: Aligning energy efficiency, system performance, and water quality. Journal – American Water Works Association, 106, 66-71.

Regional San. (2016). 10-Year Strategic Plan: 2016-2026. Sacramento: Sacramento Regonal County Sanitation District.

SASD. (2017, April 3). Five-Year Strategic Plan (2017-2022). Sacramento. Retrieved from Sacramento Area Sewer District Web site: https://www.sacsewer.com/

Sowby, R. B. (2018). Correlation of Energy Management Policies with Lower Energy Use in Public Water Systems. ASCE Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 144.

US EPA. (2016, October 28). Learn About Sustainability. Retrieved from Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/learn-about-sustainability#what

 

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