Water for People: We CAN Change That

Fill in the blank: If only I had an extra hour or two in the day, I would _________________.

How many of you said: “Bring clean water home to my family”?

I’m willing to guess, not one of you! At times, we’ve all felt there aren’t enough hours in the day to get more work done…spend time with family…exercise…have cultural experiences…to do things that can enhance our lives. But in far too many communities in our world, people – especially women and girls – invest an average of four hours or more a day retrieving water. And this is water for essential life needs…there’s no car-washing or goldfish tank filling going on in these scenarios.

April marks the annual, month-long fundraising and awareness campaign at American Water to support Water for People, an amazing organization fulfilling a mission to assure safe, continuous water for everyone, forever. This year, the organization is rallying people everywhere to ‘Change That.’ This call to action runs much deeper than raising money so girls in poor villages can go to school instead of haul water – what Water for People calls us to change is THE GAME. They recognize that there is no quick fix to the world’s water “inequality.” Instead, access to water for everyone forever, requires society to make changes to constantly be aware, improve strategies, forge partnership and invest resources.

Put another way: When one person or one family has clean, accessible water, their lives are changed. But when entire communities, regions or countries have water, the world is changed. This is what ‘Change That’ is all about – and it gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to do their part.

You can join us in the 2014 Water for People effort throughout the month of April by:

Without needing an extra hour or even a minute in the day, together we can ‘Change That’ – and continue to build a world where all people have access to our most precious resource.

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A Look at the State of the Water Industry in 2014

The following blog is re-posted from the Value of Water Coalition, a group to which American Water belongs, that is made up of both public and private members of the water industry, who have come together at a time when our water infrastructure is at risk. The group’s aim is to educate the public on the importance of clean, safe, and reliable water to and from every home and community, and to help ensure quality water service for future generations.

The American Water Works Association has released its annual State of the Water Industry report, a survey of water professionals that identifies the challenges and opportunities facing public and private water utilities. Here are the report’s key findings:

  1. State of water and sewer infrastructure
  2. Long-term water supply availability
  3. Financing for capital improvements
  4. Public understanding of the value of water resources
  5. Public understanding of the value of water systems and services

We at the Value of Water Coalition see these findings in action every day, and this is why we created this campaign: to educate the public on the importance of clean, safe and reliable water to and from every home and community, and to help ensure quality water service for future generations.

Want to read more? Read the full report here [PDF].

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How Much Water Weight Are You Carrying Each Day?

Granted, BuzzFeed may not be the authority on water conservation. But, recently, the website took a creative approach to encourage its followers to use less water that got my attention, and it led me to look at water use from a different angle.

If I told you it takes about one gallon of water to brush your teeth, you could probably visualize just how much water that is by thinking of the gallon jug of milk in your fridge. If you learned that two flushes of a toilet uses six gallons of water, you may be able to visualize that as slightly more than the bottle supplying the water cooler at work. But when we get to large quantities – the 40 gallons for a load of laundry, the 100 gallons for an average car-wash – it becomes more difficult to “see” how much water really gets used by the each individual.

The BuzzFeed video gives us another way to consider the reality of our daily water usage: water weight. Imagine if you had to carry all the clean water you needed for a day around with you. In this scenario, the average person would be carrying 833 pounds a day or about 100 gallons.

There are two lessons to be learned here. First: appreciate your pipes. And, appreciate the forces at work to assure the infrastructure that delivers your daily water is maintained and kept up to date. If you consider 833 pounds of water per person per day coursing through water systems, it’s not hard to comprehend the wear-and-tear that can occur. If not for these water systems and their maintenance, we’d all spend a lot more time at the gym pumping up our water-carrying biceps!

Secondly, appreciate your water. I can guarantee if we all had to lug all that water, we would appreciate each drop a whole lot more! We wouldn’t waste it, because we would know the amount of work required to haul it. We would value water a lot more because we would know the cost of acquiring it. Whether it’s taking quicker showers or learning to live with a dusty car once in a while, each decision would be weighed in the pounds of water required. How much do you value water? What a weighty thought!

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22nd Annual World Water Day Focuses On The Link Between Water And Energy

Once again, it’s time to see my favorite sign of spring…not birds chirping, or green buds appearing, or flowers blooming, although after this winter I am glad for all these things. This March 22nd is the 22nd annual United Nations World Water Day, the holiday when the UN seeks to raise awareness and address the importance of freshwater, among many other resource related issues throughout the world.

This year’s theme is “Water requires energy, and energy requires water,” which will explore the relationship between water and energy. Roughly 75% of industrial water is used for the production of energy, and 8% of energy is used to transport, pump, and treat water worldwide. Water and energy are two of the most needed resources in the world, and on World Water Day the United Nations will not just view the water and energy policies of the world, but work to change the ineffective aspects of previous policies to better govern the water of the world.

Along with raising awareness, the UN looks to develop and maintain relationships with the stakeholders involved with water and energy sectors, so they can work together to increase the bond between the two resources throughout the world. Every day I’m reminded how energy and water are inextricably linked. Because water must move through many process steps before it reaches customers’ taps, public water supply and treatment is one of the world’s most energy-intensive systems. Before it reaches the consumer it has typically been pumped from the source to the treatment facility, where further energy will be used in the treatment process. Throughout the process, there can be additional inefficiencies if water is lost in the system due to leaky pipes. Once in peoples’ homes and businesses, there is more energy used in order to heat water for showers, washers, cooking, and more.

The water industry has an overarching goal to reduce the energy footprint expended by water services. Reducing the energy intensity of water services achieves several goals at once, including bringing down costs and operating expenditures, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that impact climate change. We announced our own goal in 2009 to lower GHG emissions per volume of water produced by 16 percent from 2007 levels by the year 2017. We have had a number of programs in place to meet this goal – which we actually did in 2012! – but our primary focus was, and continues to be, improving the energy efficiency of the water pumping process, which accounts for approximately 90 percent of GHG emissions. Additionally, water conservation represents an important opportunity to reach substantial energy savings and is consistent with our vision of more sustainable water management.

A water and energy problem anywhere is a water and energy problem everywhere. You can see what you can do to help raise awareness by going to http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday. The links between water and energy can make a big impact in the lives of people across the world, and improving water and energy efficiency is imperative as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies. Better understanding between the two sectors of the connections and effects on each other will improve coordination in energy and water planning, leading to reducing inefficiencies. Policy-makers, planners and practitioners can all take steps to overcome barriers that exist, and innovative and pragmatic national policies can lead to more efficient and cost effective provisions of water and energy services.

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Small Drips Add Up to Big Dilemmas – Fix A Leak Week 2014

3-17-23-14. While these may not be this week’s winning lottery picks, or the combination to a vault filled with precious jewels, these numbers add up to something just as valuable. They are the dates for this year’s Fix a Leak Week, which is taking place from March 17-23. The U.S. EPA and their WaterSense partners are teaming up once again to remind Americans that little leaks can add up to big, and often expensive, problems.

Nationwide, minor leaks contribute to 1 trillion gallons of water wasted each year. That’s trillion with a T. This is an unfathomable number to most of us, but what’s even more unfathomable is the fact that the majority of that loss is completely avoidable. Even a leak as small as a few drops per minute can send hundreds of gallons per year down the drain.

Allowing these small leaks to persist is not a smart use of a precious resource, and detecting leaks is an easier process than you think. There are simple steps you can take to determine whether or not one of your household appliances has a leak:

In the war against leaks, water utilities are fighting the same battles as everyone else, just on a larger scale.
Professionals are working around the clock to detect leaks when they appear and to get them fixed fast. Across the country, we’re always on the job keeping track of the large and complex system, checking water mains, valves, and pipes for potential leaks or breaks by using advanced tools and technologies that encourage resource conservation and efficiency.

But even with our trained technicians and specialized equipment, it’s important to remember that we’re all working toward the same goal. By caring for our water and the systems that help deliver it, both individuals and the water industry can make a difference in reducing water loss across the country.

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Supporting the Ecosystem of Safety and Sustainability in our Communities

As I mentioned in another blog earlier this year, American Water’s environmental grant program for nine years has helped fund innovative projects that improve, restore or protect watersheds, surface water and/or groundwater supplies. Additionally, the company also recognizes that community safety is just as important as community improvement.

To this end, the American Water Charitable Foundation started off the New Year by awarding $126,000 in safety grants to organizations in 14 states, supporting programs and services which keep communities safe such as; neighborhood watch groups, volunteer emergency services, shelter groups, police departments, and fire departments. These community organizations are extremely resourceful and dedicated in meeting their missions to guard human health and safety, even amidst budget cuts and overall financial challenges. We believe it is important for us to offer assistance as they continue their efforts to enhance the overall safety of our communities.

These grants have been awarded in states all across the American Water footprint, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. There are 41 organizations receiving safety grants which will be used in many different ways.

Here’s just a sampling:

To see the full list of recipients, click here.

We all have a responsibility to protect and maintain our communities, and must remember and support the people who are directly safeguarding us, especially those in volunteer or non-profit groups. These heroes depend on our grants, donations, and other sources of funding to keep things going. Community safety comes in all forms, and these efforts all flow back into a larger ecosystem of helping to ensure the livability and sustainability of our communities.

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2014 Environmental Grants Are Your Chance To Make A Difference In Your Community

Supporting community involvement for projects that help directly impact or drive awareness for water issues is an integral role for the water industry to take part in. Our Environmental Grant Program has funded many initiatives in the past, and we are once again accepting applicants for 2014. The program provides funding for projects that cater to water cleanup and protection throughout various communities. Not only do the funded programs seek to improve the water supply of the communities, but they are also educating and informing of any number of water related issues on a local level.

The Environmental Grant Program provides up to $10,000 worth of funding for each project selected, and last year, awarded over $200,000 dollars to 55 deserving groups in 12 states. The funded programs are encouraged to have a goal that will create a long term impact on the environment, and create relationships between communities and organizations by enabling them to work towards a common goal.

The deadline for this year’s Environmental Grant Program is March 31, 2014, and we are thrilled to view this year’s applications and project ideas. Source water protection projects are activities that result in the protection or improvement of the community’s drinking water supplies. Watershed protection projects should focus on activities that improve, restore, or protect one or more watersheds.

Examples of activities include:

To be considered for the Environmental Grant funding, a project must be located within an American Water service area, be completed between May and November of the grant-funding year, and be a new or innovative community program or significantly expand on an existing program.

To learn more about the qualifications to receive Environmental Grant funding, please see our 2014 Environmental Grant Brochure and Grant Application Form.

The waterways that provide water to the communities we live in are beneficial to every individual. Everyone has the ability to restore and preserve the environment, and we are proud to offer our Environmental Grant Program to help.

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Celebrating Edison and the “Intellectual Infrastructure”

We can’t let February pass by without a salute to Thomas A. Edison and what is perhaps his biggest contribution to our world… the spirit of innovation as an interdependent dynamic. The Wizard of Menlo Park would have been 167 years old this February 11. American Water proudly still possesses a work order signed by Edison himself hiring the company (at the time, The West Orange Water Company) to install cast iron water pipe in his lab.

Back then, the 45¢ per foot of pipe and $20 work fee Edison paid us was a good deal! However, it is not the honor of installing pipe for a man of Edison’s greatness that we celebrate when we think of Edison. We celebrate the way in which this one project demonstrates a great intellectual infrastructure that provides stability, fuels progress and enhances our lives every day.

We’re all familiar with the physical infrastructures that define our world – the water mains, power grids, pipelines, and roadways. But have you ever stopped to think about the most powerful infrastructure of them all? The ideas, innovations and improvements that all interconnect to create the world as we know it?

Edison’s inventions drove so much. His ideas and creations are credited with establishing and/or contributing to everything from major worldwide industries such as power utilities and motion pictures, to mass communications and modern research labs. With 1,093 U.S. patents, it is with good reason we consider Edison “the great one.” Yet, one of my favorite Edison quote shows just how humble and not so ‘independent’ he really was:

I readily absorb ideas from every source, frequently starting where the last person left off.

In these few words Edison establishes the critical power of this intellectual infrastructure, stating that no one working to better the world can operate in a vacuum tube (invented by John Ambrose Flemming on the basis of work done by Edison!). He teaches us that no idea is the big idea, but instead the start of something even bigger. He teaches us that ideas never die; they simply connect to each other to create a continuum of progress. And he teaches that the ability to make an impact on this fabulous network of ideas and growth is possessed by every individual.

And so, as we celebrate Thomas Edison, we hope everyone takes his lessons to heart, and we look forward to seeing what the evolution of intellectual infrastructure has in store for each of us!

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Drought Presents A Challenge That Only Integrated Solutions Can Overcome

Drought Presents A Challenge That Only Integrated Solutions Can Overcome

Drought in many regions of the country has continued to be the subject of much recent news, covering every type of concern from the impact on agriculture, to infrastructure, to politics, to ecosystems, and on and on. Adding to the drought itself, we are up against challenges including climate change, reduced snow pack in many areas, and the historical record of water variation itself (the oldest ongoing documenting of rainfall is only about 150 years old). And while this is a serious problem for states as varied as California, Texas, and parts of the South East, it is not an insurmountable one.

When I wrote about the need for infrastructure updates amidst drought before, I touched upon how the concept of Total Water Management (TWM) is a major part of answering this problem. Also known as One Water Management and Integrated Water Resources Management, TWM is essentially the idea of water stewardship applying to all water services – supply, quality, agriculture, energy/hydropower, flow management, and security against floods. The expectation is that this will lead to a better use of resources for adapting to tightening economic resources, population growth, aging infrastructure and climate change.

The goal of meeting demand even amidst drought is certainly attainable and is a daily preoccupation of the water industry. Focusing on delivering viable services to various communities, the industry has developed a set of innovative solutions to supply water, including:

Water Reuse

Water reuse is one solution, and in understanding its significance, consider first the break-down of water usage. In Southern California, for example, about 70 percent of water is used for agriculture, 20 percent for golf courses, and 10 percent for businesses and homes. While proportions will vary across states, the principle is the same. The majority of water is used for agricultural and commercial ends, and does not need to be equal to drinking water.

Furthermore, wastewater, long since considered a problem and pollutant, can be treated and reused to meet the needs of our largest consumers: those in the agriculture and commercial industries. This would significantly ease the strain on rivers, lakes, and aquifers that provide us with clean and safe drinking water.

Desalination

Reclaimed water need not only be confined to wastewater; highly saline sources, such as ocean or deep groundwater can also be treated. The process of water reuse can involve desalination, where the salt content is removed, and membrane filtration, where contaminants are removed via a membrane process. Furthermore, these technologies are continuously being streamlined, becoming more cost effective and energy efficient. We’re currently seeing this put to work alongside partner groups in the Monterey Water Supply Project, a solution to the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply shortage.

Planning

In addition to water reuse, I can’t stress how important good-old planning can be as a solution. We’ve seen growing populations across the west that have built entire communities without fully taking water supply into consideration. Arizona, as an example, demonstrates the value of planning and has done better than other states in maintaining a steady water supply.

Developing a sophisticated infrastructure system and working with water industry experts on planning, Arizona has developed a more efficient method for meeting demand, as well as a method for anticipating it. By analyzing climate patterns it can provide water to residents during droughts and thus avoid severe water shortages. In this sense, Arizona demonstrates that even when a state has a less than adequate natural supply of water, successful management is still possible.

Smaller communities can also benefit from planning. The dozens, if not hundreds, of individual communities that have sprung up in the arid regions of the West and South West rely on their own water systems, to the detriment of water efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and quality. Often times, the solution is as simple as linking these small communities together to a common water system. By centralizing their services to a larger plant, people can benefit from lower costs, greater water conservation, and better service and quality.

Innovation

Proper water management stems not simply from technology and planning but from linking opportunities together in ways that are innovative and effective. For example, leak detection technology, whereby an acoustic monitor attached to a pipe can “listen” to pipe sounds and transmit this information back to a service person, can be combined with meter reading technology so that both forms of information can be collected, transmitted, and processed at once, saving energy, time, and money.

Likewise, developments in solar energy can significantly reduce the energy needed to treat water and wastewater. In sunny states like Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Arizona, the incentives are even greater.

Before our known recorded climate history, it’s likely that California and other states have been through droughts for much longer periods of time than the last few year’s we’ve been experiencing, but obviously not with the populations and needs for quality and reliable water that exist today. We have the means and methods to prepare for and react to this type of climate change, but being proactive is the key element for successfully managing the issue, rather than waiting and reacting when a problem is at the door. By working together with partners and applying TWM solutions we can make sure that future water needs are met.

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Insights About Water From Outer Space

It’s an ironic truth most of us have been advised to heed at least once in our lives: sometimes you have to view a situation from a distance to more clearly see what’s right in front of you. In the case of ‘seeing’ our water resources, that distance was approximately 220 miles, viewed from the International Space Station (ISS) by astronaut Chris Hadfield. Among many fascinating observations in his article We Should Treat Earth as Kindly as We Treat Spacecraft, Hadfield offers several I find particularly interesting:

“It was remarkable to see from space how predictable people are. Our homes and towns are almost all in places with moderate temperatures, and they generally have the same shape—a thinly occupied outer shell of suburb surrounding a densely populated core, all based around a ready source of water… Also visible from the ISS is the fact that all of the really good spots to live are taken. In our 70,000 years of wandering, our ancestors have had a look at pretty much everyplace on Earth, and the first arrivals put down roots in the best locations Now those spots are full; living anywhere else requires modification of the local environment. And that takes energy. The farther we get from the heat/water sweet spot, the more energy it takes.”

When we live in water-centric communities it can be difficult to seriously consider the possibility of ‘running out’ of water. Sure, at times we entertain the idea of ‘roughing it’ with the heart of an adventurer and find ourselves camping for a weekend in the woods, crossing the country in an RV, or even traveling to outer space. We welcome these ideas because we know they are short-lived, and we can always return to ‘normal life’ and bounteous water whenever the romanticism wears off. Or can we?!?

It may seem absurd at first, but what Commander Hadfield points out is that conserving water, food, energy, or any vital resource on earth is no different than the conservation required in any of those ‘romantic’ situations. Planet Earth is, in essence, an ISS, an RV, a tent in the woods… the water resources are finite.

Moreover, what makes the situation on earth direr is that, unlike a short-lived water-limited adventure, the demand for water is increasing as the population and industries grow. The ISS sustains six astronauts, and they always know how many people they have at any one time. Therefore, they know what the demand will be and how best to allocate their resources in order to also conserve their resources for survival. On Earth, we are not sure how to calculate the demand, nor how far the water will have to be transported from the “sweet spots” in order to meet the demand.

So how do we make sure there is, and will be, enough water to go around? The answer is: with awareness of the situation and careful balance, with respect for the systems already in place to conserve water and maximize the efficiency of its usage, by being visionaries who see challenges before it’s too late and act proactively, and with a concentrated effort to evolve our water technology and capabilities in a way that outpaces demand. With an astronaut’s perspective, perhaps we can become better passengers on spaceship earth.

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