Innovations in Water Treatment Part 2: Reimagining Water Infrastructure

Last month we shared that Vissers has been at the hub of the global water industry, attending some of Canada’s biggest water events to discuss some of the issues affecting drinking water and discover the latest advancements in water treatment. The first in our three-part series, backflow prevention highlighted the importance of blackflow prevention and cross connection control in healthy water systems. Today, we’ll be revealing some of the latest water infrastructure developments to see how the global water industry is adapting to the ever-increasing challenge of clean water.

Reimagining water infrastructure

One of the biggest issues faced by the water industry is the ageing infrastructure of water systems. The deteriorating infrastructure of water systems and water treatment facilities across the globe can contaminate water supplies with lead and other dangerous contaminants, pointing to an urgent need for upgrades or reinventions. The search for solutions for aging underground infrastructure, sewer collection pipes and water distribution has opened the door to innovative approaches involving city planners, property owners, developers and investors.
According to a report released by NACE International, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, the cost to repair current water infrastructure across the globe is estimated at $2.5 trillion, in Canada alone the cost is estimated at $80 billion or more, according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. However, existing corrosion techniques could lead to up to 35% cost savings. The NACE report recommends removing contaminants from public drinking water and addressing ways to mitigate the corrosion of underground steel and reinforced concrete pipes used in water treatment. While corrosion leads to breaks, leaks and contamination, threatening water availability, new approaches such as the in-situ coating of older pipe interiors without digging up streets can reduce costs of repair.

The need for innovative, sustainable solutions

A report by FLOW (Canada) has highlighted the importance of prioritizing solutions that maximize the capacity of existing water and wastewater treatment facilities before investing in new, large-scale expansion. It points to a need for dedicated funding to support sustainable solutions including water conservation and efficiency programs, optimization of wastewater facilities, living green infrastructure such as urban stream restoration and retention ponds, and technologies that generate energy and recover valuable resources such as nutrients from wastewater. Furthermore, updated regulations to strengthen environmental regulations, promote the uptake of innovative technologies, and address new contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and micro-plastics polluting water are required.

Effluent discharge issues can contravene environmental legislation with catastrophic effects for a company. This risk can be significantly reduced by managing corrosion with regular maintenance, inspections and restorative coating of older pipes, but the first step is to look at system design before reimaging or developing solutions for eroding or absent water infrastructure.

Adaptive architecture for cities facing extreme wet-weather

Water entering stormwater pipes too quickly creates overflow issues and impacts homes and the overall system infrastructure. Advancements in adaptive architecture and design are providing new ways of developing building or cities that actually benefit from intense water flow or the threat of flooding from climate change. For example, China’s Sponge City Initiative uses urban infrastructure and design to reduce flooding from rainwater runoff, increase groundwater absorption and replenish the water supply. According to an article published by CNN, the country’s goal is to have 80 percent of its urban areas absorb and reuse at least 70 percent of rainwater by 2020.
Nanhui New City (Nanhui), is one of 30 Sponge Cities in China, a planned “green” community about 40 miles from Shanghai, where about 45 percent of the city rests on land reclaimed from the sea. With state-of-the-art “eco-friendly” designs for integrating controlled water infiltration into Nanhui’s urban landscape, the city is designed to coexist with the sea and reduce flooding, using wetlands and bioswales to clean water as well as withstand and soak up heavy rainfall. In Nanhui, streets are made of permeable pavement – also known as pervious asphalt or porous concrete – that turns the soil underneath into an aquifer for absorbing and storing fresh water, eliminating the need for complex infrastructure such as underground piping, storm drains or grading.

Futuristic solutions or biomimicry?

While Nanhui is a city built from scratch, some of these design elements can be used in other countries and cities, utilising biomimicry to mimic nature. While many eco cities are high-tech, futuristic endeavours, the off-grid systems used by rural communities provide examples of working with nature, capturing water in tanks and local wells, using stormwater ponds to hold heavy flows, or using septic tanks or reed beds to treat liquid effluent. While not suitable for big cities with apartment complexes where insufficient rain capture from roofs is prevalent and septic tanks can’t deal with significant amounts of waste, nevertheless modern versions of these off-grid systems can be practical in suburbs. Advancements in technology too have resulted in water-efficient appliances, water recycling and household treatment devices for innovative urban water solutions.

Other architects have conceptualized forward-looking inventions. One idea involves water-inflatable barriers that rise when higher tides endanger coastal cities. These can be deployed quickly, and they don’t require the labor needed to build a levee or fill sandbags. In Israel, where most of its water comes from desalination plants, a new water solution is being implemented in the city of Be’er Sheva. Here, water will be pumped to the city from wells and desalination plants along the coast, and a river is connected to a 22-acre lake, bringing either fresh or desalinated water to the city. This presents challenges: fresh water can be supplied from the reuse of the wastewater processing plants, but it could also be an attraction for insects. Desalinated water is disinfected already by its high salt content, but it’s very corrosive, leading to high repair costs for pipes and equipment. We look forward to finding out how engineers reimagine this infrastructure to make the project a reality.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s implementation of the “Water Sector Capital Investment Plan 2016 – 2025” is a case study for reimagining water infrastructure as the drought-ridden country strives to improve water supply, develop new water resources to increase capacity, and expand wastewater services. To achieve this, inadequate distribution systems were extensively renovated and modernized and the energy consumption by the water sector (15% of total energy attributed to pumping of water) was significantly reduced, leading to decreased costs and reduced C02 emissions. Based on a joint study with the German Association for International Cooperation, it was found that new energy-efficient pumping systems, replacing old pumps with newer models and a comprehensive monitoring and control system would amount to energy reduction of up to 33 percent and a reduction of CO2 emissions to over 30,000 tons a year.
Putting water to work

A combination of innovative design, retrospective repairs and adaptive architecture backed by public-private partnerships is needed to develop creative solutions for water infrastructure problems. Residents and policy makers need to work together to decrease water usage, implement water-efficient appliances, water recycling and household treatment and utilize off-the-grid, biomimicry-led solutions. Ultimately a mindset shift is required if we are to develop sustainable solutions in a world characterized by increasing water shortages and natural disasters.
Read the next in our three-part series: How automation redefines the water industry.

If you’d like to find out more about innovative pump solutions for wastewater treatment, pipes for water infrastructure, or simply want to know how to decrease costs and increase efficiency, call our call our toll-free number 1-800- 367-4180. We have experts on hand to help you choose, install, and maintain a variety of equipment for the water industry.