This is part one of a two-part series where we'll continue our conversation on plumbing resiliency, expanding a little bit more into the weeds on drought prevention and water reuse with Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy; Micah Thomas, Senior Director of Program Development and Compliance at the Green Building Initiative, also known as GBI; Pat Sinicropi, Executive Director at the WateReuse Association; and Mike Collignon, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Green Builder Coalition.
Sarah Porter is director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Established in 2014, the Kyl Center promotes research, analysis, collaboration and open dialogue to build consensus and support of sound water stewardship solutions for Arizona and the West.
To learn more about the Kyl Center, visit https://morrisoninstitute.asu.edu/content/kyl-center-water-policy.
Micah Thomas is GBI's primary content expert and heads the development of the Green Building Initiative's user-friendly assessment tools and rating systems. As senior director of program development and compliance, Thomas refines the assessment, rating, and certification processes, and develops customized tools and processes to meet the specific and unique needs of federal guiding principles compliance users.
To learn more about the Green Building Initiative, visit https://thegbi.org.
Pat Sinicropi is the executive director of the WateReuse Association, the only national organization dedicated solely to advancing policy, technology and innovation, and public acceptance for water reuse. Sinicropi has nearly two decades of experience as a policy expert and advocate on water-related issues in Washington, D.C.
To learn more about the WateReuse Association, visit https://watereuse.org.
Mike Collignon is the executive director of the Green Builder Coalition, an organization he co-founded in 2010. He engages in national- and state-level advocacy and publishes regular content for Greenbuilder Media.
To learn more about the Green Builder Coalition, visit https://www.greenbuildercoalition.org.
Christoph Lohr: Welcome to this week's episode of "The Authority Podcast: Plumbing & Mechanical." I'm your host Christoph Lohr, vice president of Strategic Initiatives with IAPMO. This is part one of a two-part series where we'll continue our conversation on plumbing resiliency, expanding a little bit more into the weeds on drought prevention and water reuse with Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy; Micah Thomas, Senior Director of Program Development and Compliance at the Green Building Initiative, also known as GBI; Pat Sinicropi, Executive Director at the WateReuse Association; and Mike Collignan, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Green Builder Coalition.
It's my great pleasure to introduce our four panelists that have joined up for our podcast recording here today, starting off with Sarah Porter, who is the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Established in 2014, the Kyl Center promotes research, analysis, collaboration and open dialogue to build consensus and support of sound water stewardship solutions for Arizona and the West.
Sarah, welcome to the show.
Sarah Porter: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Christoph Lohr: Absolutely thankful to have you on here. Next up is Micah Thomas. Micah Thomas is GBI's primary content expert and heads the development of GBIs user-friendly assessment tools and rating systems. As senior director of program development and compliance, Micah refines the assessment, rating, and certification processes, and develops customized tools and processes to meet the specific and unique needs of federal guiding principles compliance users.
Micah, thanks for joining us today.
Micah Thomas: Thank you for having me on, Christoph. I'm excited.
Definitely excited, too. Next up is Pat Sinicropi, who is the executive director of the Water Reuse Association, the only national organization dedicated solely to advancing policy, technology and innovation, and public acceptance for water reuse.
Pat has nearly two decades of experience as a policy expert and advocate on water-related issues in Washington, D.C. Pat, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.
Patricia Sinicropi: Sure thing, Christoph; thanks for inviting us.
Christoph Lohr: And last, but certainly not least, is Mike Collignon. Mike is the executive director of the Green Builder Coalition, an organization he co-founded in 2010. He engages in national- and state-level advocacy and publishes regular content for Greenbuilder Media. Mike, really thankful that you took time out of your busy schedule as well to join us today.
Mike Collignon: Oh, honored to get the invitation and be a part of such a great group.
Christoph Lohr: Well, let's go ahead and dive right in.
You know, we talk a lot about, at the beginning here, I've made that introduction in regards to the concept of water reuse and this focus of using water reuse to help with drought prevention and drought preparation. And all of that wraps up into disaster mitigation. Droughts are obviously more of a slow-moving disaster rather than a quick and sudden disaster. So it plays a very specific role and a very important way into a really big issue. I guess when we talk about the big picture, throwing this out there to our panelists, what are some of the big-picture water-reuse policies out there?
Patricia Sinicropi: I'll start, Christoph. I would say, several years ago at the end of the Obama administration actually, the administration issued a compendium of water-reuse policies across the U.S. And one very important policy statement at the beginning of that compendium was a statement in support of water reuse, a statement that encouraged communities and businesses to really look to water reuse as a way of addressing drought and other environmental water-related challenges. And following on that statement, the Trump administration actually launched an initiative.
The national initiative, referred to as the National Water Reuse Action Plan, put together an action plan that contains over 50 action items that really placed a focus, a national focus and spotlight on different action steps and different policies that states could pursue, that local municipalities could pursue, to help accelerate the adoption of water recycling.
While there is no federal regulatory policy related to water reuse, the states operate and take the lead in implementing regulations and rules guiding the adoption of water-recycling projects. The federal government does have the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, and between those two federal statutes have really provided the guardrails for states to come in and lead us on water-recycling adoption, and they are, and it's great to see the federal government also leading that collaboration through the Water Reuse Action Plan and through funding programs that the government invests in and make available to support the communities' deployment of water-recycling projects.
Christoph Lohr: Well, that makes me wonder, Pat, do you know of any sort of examples of various cities and municipalities, maybe especially in the Western U.S., because I think that's probably the one that comes up the most, where they're using some kind of water reuse to in preparation of drought conditions?
Patricia Sinicropi: Well, yeah, there are plenty, and of course the more famous or the larger projects are in California, in Texas, Arizona. One in particular, of course, the first really large-scale potable reuse project, was built in Orange County, California, Southern California. It supplies approximately 100 million gallons a day of potable fresh water to residents in Southern California. That really made quite a splash when they began that project; the project involves recharging a large aquifer, underground aquifer, and using it as an environmental buffer to help clean and treat the water, and then pulling it back up, sending it out to residences. But after that, I would say, the largest project is on the horizon in California. The city of Los Angeles has made a commitment that by 2035, the city will recycle all its wastewater and provide it for customers to use as a potable water supply.
So that's an exciting, bold initiative. It's going to be probably the largest water-recycling project that we will see in the next decade or so coming online. So the West is certainly leading the way on potable reuse in the country.
Christoph Lohr: Well, and you mentioned Arizona, and that makes me think, Sarah, you're online and obviously you're here in Arizona with me.
My sense is that Arizona has definitely been on the forefront of many of these concerns. Any good examples that are worth highlighting here as well?
Sarah Porter: Sure. Arizona, especially in the most populous areas, which would be really Phoenix to Tucson, kind of the central part of the state, reuses about 93% of the water that enters the treatment system.
And the reuse goes to all kinds of different applications. There isn't a direct potable reuse application yet, and I think that's just a matter of the lack of need for that big investment, but it's out there. And our Department of Environmental Quality has recently gone through a rule-making process to enable DPR as cities evolve into needing it.
But currently wastewater is treated and reused for golf courses, which I think is true in lots of different parts of the country, drier parts of the country. There are really interesting partnerships for the reuse of water for recharge or other uses with manufacturers that create a lot of wastewater.
So a great example of that is the Intel plant in Chandler, east of Phoenix. They partnered with Chandler to actually build a wastewater treatment plant. And the city of Chandler takes the wastewater from that plant, the treated water, and banks it, and I think one of the things that has really made Arizona step to the forefront of reuse is that we enacted a cap-and-trade system for groundwater about 40 years ago, which suddenly made wastewater or effluent. Nowadays, we're not supposed to even say effluent, we're supposed to say reclaimed water, but it made reclaimed water an asset because the entities that treat wastewater and create reclaimed water own that reclaimed water. It's special. It's some of the most fungible water in the Arizona system. Every type of water, groundwater, surface water, all comes with a set, some special constraints. You use it or lose it in terms of in-state surface water; groundwater can't be transported over from one groundwater based into another, that's a state law, but wastewater basically isn't subject to those constraints.
So while it costs something to treat it and to store it, it's some of the most usable water, and cities can basically treat water and then recharge aquifers with it and accrue credits under our cap-and-trade system for groundwater in the groundwater-managed areas of the state.
Christoph Lohr: I was going to say, I liked your terminology of banking the water. I remember reading a few articles, even one just the other day, that talked about that process here in Arizona. One that always sparked my interest, especially having taken classes on power plant design in college, was Palo Verde nuclear power plant utilizing the wastewater.
Sarah Porter: I should've mentioned that one. That's the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, and it's the only nuclear power plant in the world that isn't next to a big body of water. Because you need a lot of water to cool a nuclear power plant, and years and years ago the entity that owns Palo Verde, APS, Arizona Public Service, entered into a deal with cities in central Arizona, Phoenix, Scottsdale, others, to send their treated, now we say reclaimed water, to Palo Verde for cooling the plant. And nowadays I'm not sure that deal would be made because that water has higher and higher value, but at the time, for its time, that was an extremely innovative thing to do.
Christoph Lohr: Yeah. And frankly I think it's a good reminder of how water can have an impact on energy in many ways, and to me, it was very innovative having taken classes on nuclear power plant design. It was pretty cool. A number of years ago, I even had a chance to take a tour of the plant and it's pretty impressive.
Sarah Porter: Yeah, it's very cool. And I haven't had the chance for the tour though I think I'm on like the B list, the waiting list, but I have been told that the water is cycled something like 19 times before the very, at that point, briny water is put out into an evaporation pond. So there's all this push for very high efficiency in terms of its use in that case, partly because it's not cheap. Palo Verde, APS, renegotiated its deal with the cities a few years ago, and it regards that water is as somewhat costly. And it's an interesting deal because it provides a revenue stream for those cities that they're realizing from what other cities in places that are more water rich may be regarded as a problem. Something to get rid of.
Mike Collignon: Sarah, is there any movement to change the law forbidding the basins or is that too politically charged?
Sarah Porter: Yeah, that's a very fraught issue. Probably not going to happen anytime soon. There are some basins that are carved out for transfer of groundwater, but there's a lot of resistance, as you can imagine, in rural areas to having their water pumped out of their aquifers and moved to the cities.
Christoph Lohr: Going back to, I know we just kind of focused on Arizona, but Pat, one of the other things that you had kind of said, and sort of alluded to in your previous answer too, was that there's a lot of spots, not in the Western U.S. that are worried about drought prevention, drought preparation, or water reuse in those efforts.
Can you speak on some of those from a high level?
Patricia Sinicropi: Sure. Well, one project in particular is in Georgia, Gwinett County. They draw their water supply from Lake Lanier. And of course, Lake Lanier is also a water source for Atlanta and for communities in Florida and Alabama. And so they've had to turn to water reuse as a way of replenishing Lake Lanier so that the lake can continue to supply the water for thousands of customers in that Southeastern region. Interestingly, more and more on what we're seeing on the East Coast is aquifers are being depleted at a faster rate than there is rainfall, sufficient rainfall, to replenish them.
And this has happening up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and utilities and communities are turning to water recycling to help replenish those aquifers at the same time as they deal with other adverse impacts of climate change. And a great example of it, of this, is in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where they're seeing rapid depletion of their groundwater supply, which is causing saltwater intrusion issues, land subsidence issues, and the project that they are undertaking, it's a great name, it's called the SWIFT Project, Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow. And that region will, within, I think, 20, 30 years, recycle 100 percent of their effluent discharges into this underground aquifer so that it can be taken up as a water supply for potable water supply, and at the same time, basically hold up the ground and prevent the subsidence that's occurring from continuing to occur. And of course, that region of the country, reason why I love talking about this project is because the Southeastern Region, Hampton Roads, Virginia, accounts for, I think, the largest number of military installations in the country. So it's an important region to the national defense infrastructure. And they've really been suffering from a lot of flooding, and as I said, a lot of saltwater intrusion threatening their potable supplies. So it's a great project that demonstrates the multiple benefits that a water-recycling approach can provide to a community that may not necessarily be facing problems caused by persistent drought, but are facing serious water-resource pressures from a combination of factors, including drought, but including population growth and rising sea levels.
Micah Thomas: I think that's interesting. One of the projects, Green Globe-certified projects, that I have in terms of reclaimed water and water reuse is actually a government project. I can't specify the name of it, but it's based in Alabama.
They scored greater than 50% for reclaimed water within our system. They use a cistern that's an exclusive non-potable irrigation source that's provided by rain harvesting with an industrial reuse water. They also have a roof runoff they connected to a below-ground system for the rain harvesting, and the water level of the cistern and irrigation flow is tied into their building automation system.
And then the makeup water for the cistern comes from a local non-potable water source so that no potable water is used for irrigation. I thought that was interesting. Also based in Alabama, certified just last year.
Patricia Sinicropi: Great, I'm going to have to look into that project. I hadn't heard about that project yet, but that's a great one.
Another great project that we love to talk about is another project in Virginia. It's a project that Loudoun Water manages, and Loudoun Water sends hundreds of gallons a day to these huge data centers that are real water hogs because they use water for cooling. And one fun fact is that 70% of the world's internet traffic at one time, I don't know if it still does, but flows through these data centers in Loudoun County, Virginia, and but for the recycled water that they use to cool those facilities and those data farms they wouldn't be able to locate where they're located.
So water reuse is really sustaining our economic foundation in many ways and the economic foundation of these newer, cleaner technology sectors.
Christoph Lohr: It's interesting that you say that, Pat. If there's anything from just the first portion of our conversation here, it's becoming pretty clear that water reuse can have a really big impact. Not just drought prevention, but population growth and everything else, and it's really a national thing. I think a lot of times we think, "Oh, drought, we just have to worry about the West," but it's obviously the whole country and, global, I would imagine, would kind of extend to that, and here in the country, there's this impact on energy and national defense and technology, new technologies, like you mentioned.
So, let me ask you another question here. Are there some future trends that we're starting to see formulate right now when it comes to water reuse? Let me throw that over toward Sarah. Is there something that you've maybe seen?
Sarah Porter: The biggest thing I've seen is what Pat alluded to, which is in the more water-challenged parts of the Southwestern U.S., I see a move toward a greater acceptance of deployment of direct potable reuse. So that's, for a long time, people were concerned that the, as it was always called, the "yuck factor" would prevent or put off the day when DPR became part of municipal water portfolios, but we're seeing it. Orange County; San Diego has made a big commitment; L.A.; more cities I think all around the Southwest are looking at DPR. I think that's the big trend.
Mike Collignon: I think the question really, Christoph, if you're talking about future trends, is at what point are we going to have to look at reuse being a part of our building codes? I don't know if it's really a question of if anymore. If you look at any recent drought monitor map, you see that a high, high percentage of the Southwest is in exceptional drought. To your earlier point about it not just being a West or a Southwest thing, look at the most recent drought monitor map and you'll find moderate drought in the upper Midwest and even in the Northeast. So I just asked the question to the group here is, what do you see as far as reuse being incorporated into building codes?
Sarah Porter: I'd like to jump in there. This is Sarah. Because of the way water regulation evolved, there has been a preference, maybe not a thoughtful preference, but definitely a preference for centralized systems. And so as I mentioned before, we have this high degree of reuse in the places where groundwater is managed in Arizona, where there's an essentially a cap-and-trade system, because that places a value on reclaimed water.
And I always think this tension between, there's a kind of group that loves decentralized systems and wants gray water systems that are watering landscapes, for example. And I think that's interesting, this tension between localized or decentralized reuse and centralized reuse is interesting and worth exploring.
Decentralized reuse doesn't necessarily make sense in every case. It makes some local non-expert the responsible party for implementing a reuse system. And possibly it means that you have decentralized service rather than centralized service. But on the other hand, it can expand opportunities to reuse water.
So I think it's worth exploring which is preferable and why, and how do you embed those preferences into policies to enable the optimal use of reclaimed water?
Mike Collignon: Well, and to your concern about the decentralized systems, the elephant in the room is maintenance, right? Maintenance of those systems at the individual or the homeowner level, is that being done or not?
Is that being monitored or not? You get into issues of potential water-quality issues. So it is a topic certainly worth thinking about, but there are some pitfalls there.
Patricia Sinicropi: And I'll just jump in on this topic. I think it is decentralized or how we like to say distributed on-site systems are becoming a trend in the sector.
And I think that's because of several reasons. One is to address supply pressures in the West in growing communities that want to accommodate development but don't necessarily have the supply to accommodate it. On-site systems that are used for non-potable purposes, flushing, cooling, can play a very helpful role.
And in the East we're seeing drivers of legacy systems that are really becoming overburdened by the growth pressures that they're experiencing. So, for example, New York City is really looking at on-site decentralized systems as a way of mitigating impacts from their combined sewer systems during storm events.
Now, there are challenges to decentralized systems and certainly the maintenance challenge, operational challenges do exist, but I think that at least with respect to larger commercial buildings adopting decentralized approaches, commercial buildings that typically could provide the operational capacity to maintain the system properly and safely, I think you'll be seeing more and more of those systems coming online in an integrated way, where there are very mature, centralized systems that are ... maybe reaching the life of that system and need to develop different approaches to managing their water resources locally. So I think decentralized systems will be part of our future, part of the future mix, and the challenge before us will be to figure out where they make sense, as Sarah said, where they don't make sense, and how to integrate them effectively and safely into our mature, centralized system approach. So that's a lot of the work that the Water Reuse Association is focused on now, and we'll see where that takes us.
That concludes part one of our two-part episode with Sarah, Micah, Pat, and Mike. Join us next week when we’ll continue our conversation and discuss water reuse from the decentralized-versus-centralized approach, limits that policymakers need to be aware of when it comes to utilizing water reuse programs for incentivizing conservation, and finding the right reuse solutions for local populations. See you next time.