Water, water everywhere?

I have been working with some Canadians, who are looking at bringing to the UK their skills in re-using waste water. They did it very successfully at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

In essence, waste water in the UK is generally treated good enough to throw away. But it contains a rich stream of goodies – heat, fuel and water. If you can separate them it can become a genuine resource. It is clear that we need to look at ways in which we can better use the resources we are fast using up. As the population grows, we have to think about these sort of things.

I was amazed at the weekend to find an article (through Earth Baby’s excellent blog) about Denver in the United States. There it is illegal to re-use water. You buy your water from Denver Water – and you are allowed to use it – once! They you have to give it back to them – and they treat it! They claim they use it 7 or 8 times before giving it to Nebraska…

To make matters worse – Denver Water even claim right to the stuff that falls from the sky. It is illegal to collect rainwater and re-use it. You might own the gutters to the house, but you are collecting it for them (to clean up and sell back to you). There is some fan static language as to why – “it will injure vested water rights”. Oh, that’s ok then! At least we all know and you are upfront about it.

Putting to one side the arguments about monopolies, selling ice to Iceland and being ripped off generally, this is an amazing position to adopt in 2012. It surely can’t be sustainable on any level? America – leaders of the free world? Hmmmm.

The next big thing?

Like most people in my Industry the ‘green’ agenda pops up quite frequently. I have taken an interest of late, partly as I have been working with the University of Nottingham on whether ‘green buildings‘ are attracting a premium. That work is coming to an end and I will post the results here shortly.

I am always interested in some of the new thinking in trying to reduce our carbon footprints.

I met Hydra Renewable Resources a couple of weeks ago. They are a Canadian based company who are looking at wastewater management. Their starting point it to protect our scarcest resource – water. They also look to extract or harvest the wastewater stream itself. They have a three pronged approach…

Firstly, they treat wastewater to a level and standard that greatly exceeds the minimum recyclable standards, this treated water can be effectively recycled back into the system. This water can replace the drinkable water currently being used for agricultural irrigation, toilet flushing and many industrial applications, effectively reducing demand for potable water by around 40%

Then sludge, the bi-product of the sanitation process, is also used. They use sludge as feedstock to their reactors and create methane, which in turn powers in-house generators. This process can generate enough electricity effectively take the treatment facility off the power grid, completely eliminating the operating costs of electricity as well as the added cost of discarding sludge.

Finally wastewater comes into a treatment facility relatively warm. This thermal resource is normally ignored. But by using radiators and a closed loop distribution system the heat is harnessed and can be used to supply heating, cooling and hot water for residential, commercial and industrial projects. Each treatment facility can harvest this resource in quantities equivalent to approximately 20% of the heating, cooling and hot water requirements of the source city.

This sort of company are pushing the boundaries of the technology; I am looking forward to working with Hydra! This may well be the next big thing!

Water Water everywhere – but not in Vegas soon?

I was watching Piers Morgan on his travels last night – and he was in Sin City. I enjoyed the program last week when he visited Shanghai – and it gave me a hint of what to expect on my forthcoming trip!

But last night what grabbed my attention was the small water problem they have in Nevada. It seems that over 90% of the water in Las Vegas comes from the Hoover Dam (the electricity produced also powers home for 750,000 people in Los Angeles). But in 9 years the water behind the Dam has dropped by an estimated 120ft. It has been dropping by 1% each year.

As ever, it was the visual image of the white clean rocks at the side of Lake Mead like a bath ring which really pressed the message home. Patricia Mulroy, manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, appeared on the programme and suggested they could be at a catastrophic level in just 8 years. Catastrophic might mean closing down Las Vegas. Electricity in Los Angeles is at risk too.

Global warming in generic terms was blamed for the capacity of the Lake plummeting from 96% to around 39% – between late 2000 until June 2010.

The City, meanwhile, just consumes inexorably. But the fact is that they only use 3% of the water from the Dam and of this only 2% is consumed on Sunset Strip. Evidently 90% goes to farms and ranches!

The Water Authority have a number of schemes to try and help – this includes paying homeowners to replace turf with gravel. But also a massive engineering project of trying to pipe in water from elsewhere. And there are classes to help you learn to reduce waste. They might need some of those bottles I blogged about yesterday!

This was an eye opener of a programme, but the stars on the show (Paris Hilton, Sylvester Stallone and the like) seemed oblivious.

Clearly something needs to be done, but it seems that they are racing against a ticking clock.

This doesn’t look like a good place to invest! House prices have dropped by 50% in a year. If they don’t sort the water issue the drop might be 100%….

Thanks to Mike Krawczynski for the image.

Bottled water – the sustainable way?

As many will know I’m not exactly ‘green’. I do take an an interest in green buildings, but am concerned about the mis-information we get. I also have concerns about green bling – which has the capacity to undo some of the good technology.

We have an obsession it seems with bottled water – and this is probably one of the least sustainable modern phenomena. In 2007 we drank 2.1 billion litres of the stuff. That’s quite a lot – in context you could fill around 5,826,000 olympic swimming pools with it.

A story caught my eye over the weekend – in America a new product has been launched – the Bobble. It costs $9.95 (about £6.60). It basically takes the re-usable bottle a stage further – it incorporates a carbon filter to make ‘filtered’ water. The web site claims that the filter is good for 150 litres.

I think this is a great product in several ways. Firstly it does what is says on the tin – it is re-usable and thus sustainable. It is very cost effective. But better than this – it looks fantastic – and much better than the current crop of plastic bottles on the supermarket shelf (perhaps with the exception of the Paul Smith Evian bottle).

Once again, it’s a simple idea, done well – I look forward to getting hold of one in the UK.

Failing that I will have to pick one up in the USA on my next trip. I am worried though that flying to New York to pick one up at Bloomindales might not be altogether green?