The Impact of the Green Movement for Improving the Energy Efficiency of Water and Wastewater Systems

Several years ago, an article was featured that reviewed the U.S. Green Building Council?s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program as a tool to encourage environmentally compatible elements in buildings, including improved energy and water efficiencies. ?

In addition to providing an outline of the LEED point system (to address ?greener? air, materials, light, water and energy elements), the article highlighted some examples of New York City-based structures that represented an early collection of LEED-certified buildings. The article specifically drew attention to the handful of buildings that had elected to invest in the water efficiency element of the LEED program via the installation of? total water re-use systems, automatic faucets, low flush toilets and rooftop rainwater harvesting designs.

Since the publication of the USGBC article, there has been a growing interest in green initiatives. New incentives have been offered by the federal and state governments such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for infrastructure projects and special U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) funding set-asides. One of the biggest drivers behind the expanded interest in the green movement is the need by owners of municipal systems to reduce their operating costs (energy usage, carbon emissions, water use, solid waste).?

Major annual conference programs like those hosted by AWWA and WEF have begun to add entire conference tracks focused on going green. Recently, the AWWA?s Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE) 2011 touched on the importance of increased energy efficiency in order to improve the sustainability of a water utility while achieving significant long-term cost savings and embracing green initiatives that are distinctly more environmentally friendly.

Even the annual Design-Build Institute of America?s (DBIA) water conference has expanded its allocation of panel sessions specifically focused on the green topic. After all, commercial and industrial buildings account for 28 to 32 percent of the potable water usage in the United States (in addition to 75-plus percent of the country?s electricity consumption).

And at the latest annual DBIA water conference held this spring, a number of sessions addressed the role of the design-build alternative delivery approach as a facilitator for achieving USGBC LEED certification of a building, including water and wastewater treatment facilities. Presentations reviewed the impact of the green movement on the design and implementation of water and wastewater facilities along with the role of the design-build delivery method to effectively drive the energy efficiency improvements within the operations of a given water and wastewater treatment system.

According to Matthew Yonkin, a senior manager at Siemens Water Technologies, the ?design-build delivery can speed up the implementation of energy efficient project installations.? A faster delivery of a completed project will lead to a quicker payback on the investment. And, energy efficient projects for water and wastewater facilities, if installed in a timely fashion, are recognized as self-funding. In other words, the savings for this kind of investment and installation can be quickly realized. Consequently, design-build and possibly design-build-operate energy efficiency projects are better able to attract funding from private-sector sources compared to more traditional channels like taxes, assessments and bond issues, which can prove to be difficult options for a given water and wastewater authority in the current economically challenged climate faced by municipalities around the country.

Cheryl Robitzsch, a design manager at Haskell, noted that achievement of LEED certification for a water and wastewater plant requires ?owner participation, advanced planning, permit agency cooperation, and on-site management of materials and resources during construction.? The U.S. Navy selected Haskell to design and construct a $13.5 million wastewater treatment plant at one of its naval support operations located in Indian Head, Md. Haskell is using a design-build approach for the project.

The control facility of the plant is specifically being built to satisfy the criteria for silver-level LEED certification. According to Robitzsch, the design-build approach will provide more effective means for achieving this desired LEED certification because the approach requires ?integration of design and construction, early contractor involvement, advanced owner/engineering/construction planning, and tighter team collaboration.?

More importantly, the design-build delivery approach will better ensure price certainty, improved timeliness in the delivery of the finished product, and greater assurance of achieving LEED certification given the effective coordination that is required between all parties involved with the project.?

Will military water/wastewater projects of this type stir up interest by municipal water/wastewater systems in the USGBC?s LEED program? Will managers of municipal water systems recognize the beneficial role of the design-build approach for delivering a successfully finished LEED-certified green project on time and within budget?? According to Joe Kanto, an assistant project manager at Haskell, the USGBC?s LEED certification program has definitely generated an ?increased buzz? among municipal water authorities.

Only time will tell if this increased enthusiasm can yield a steady flow of projects. Certainly the packed AWWA and DBIA conference sessions that focused on environment and energy efficiency serve to reinforce the interest municipalities have demonstrated for green initiatives like the retrofitting of the operational buildings of a given water and/or wastewater system. Stay tuned.

Kathy Shandling is the Executive Director of the International Private Water Association (IPWA) ? a global advocacy/non-profit organization that serves as a conduit between the public and private sector players involved in the water/wastewater infrastructure project and service arena.

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