While Californians might be tired hearing about the drought, the state’s water problems won’t go away anytime soon. That was the stark message of Pacific Institute co-founder Peter Gleick in an op-ed published last week.
“The problem isn’t that we’re in a temporary drought: The problem is that we live in a world with all the characteristics of a permanent drought, punctuated – ironically – by extreme floods,” Gleick wrote. “We must no longer assume that we have, or can get, enough water everywhere to do all the things we want, and as wastefully as we do them.”
One of the ways to treat water less wastefully is by efficiently reusing stormwater and gray water. In the fourth installment of our “Experts to Watch” series, we look at nine leaders inspiring water reuse efforts throughout the state.
Jim Fiedler is the chief operating officer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Utility Enterprise, leading the water supply program. Fiedler’s district owns and operates the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC), the largest advanced water purification plant in Northern California. Through a process of microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light, SVAWPC turns out 8 million gallons (30 million liters) of purified water a day from wastewater. A civil engineer by training, Fiedler has been working in the field for more than 35 years. He’s a board member of the Water Environment and Reuse Foundation and a member of the State Advisory Group for Direct Potable Reuse in California.
Neal Shapiro oversees water conservation, water efficiency programs and watershed management programs for the city of Santa Monica. Shapiro’s also the secretary of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association and has set the standard when it comes to rainwater harvesting systems in Santa Monica. Rainwater harvesting offers numerous benefits, from reducing flooding and erosion to decreasing combined sewer overflows. But one of its still underutilized advantages, Shapiro explained in a July 2015 article, is that we can directly use rainwater for functions for which we would normally use potable water – such as flushing toilets.
Shapiro considers the rainwater harvesting system at Santa Monica’s Pico Branch Library a great example of a system that efficiently recycles rainwater for nonpotable uses in a building and even allows for treatment of the rainwater to drinking water quality if necessary. Projects like these, Shapiro says, can help cities become more sustainable and water self-sufficient.
Deborah Weinstein Bloome
Deborah Weinstein Bloome is senior policy director at TreePeople, a nonprofit focused on fostering sustainable and climate-resilient urban environments. Among its initiatives focusing on water reuse is a 2015 pilot project with the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the engineering firm Tetra Tech to retrofit L.A. homes with a high-tech system to capture and store stormwater that can later be used for irrigation purposes. “It’s an old technology but a new mindset,” Bloome told Next City at the time. The organization also collaborated on a new set of guidelines for homeowners and businesses, announced in February 2016, on how to use nonpotable water outdoors and indoors.
Laura Allen and Cleo Woelfle-Erskine built their first gray-water system in their backyard in 1999. Today, their organization, called Greywater Action, offers workshops and presentations for individuals and businesses teaching rainwater harvesting, gray-water reuse and composting toilets. They also work with policymakers and water districts to develop codes and incentives for reuse systems for gray water, rainwater harvesting and composting toilets. Allen’s book about gray-water systems, “The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape,” came out in 2015. She’s also the lead author of San Francisco’s Graywater Design Guidelines for Outdoor Irrigation. Allen is on Twitter at @LauraAllen_GWA.
Elizabeth Dougherty wants to make water conservation the next rage in California. Dougherty’s the founder and executive director of Wholly H2O, a Bay Area-based nonprofit running education and outreach campaigns about locally appropriate solutions for water conservation and water reuse. Dougherty practices what she preaches, and gets by on just 30 gallons (114 liters) of water a day. “If anyone tells you that it’s too hard to put in gray-water reuse systems, don’t believe them,” Dougherty wrote on the Wholly H2O blog. “Conservation is so simple, it’s crazy.”
Sebastien Tilmans is the director of operations at the William and Cloy Codiga Resource Recovery Center at Stanford University. The center aims to accelerate the commercial development of new wastewater technologies through testing. It considers wastewater not only as an often untapped source for water but also as a resource for energy, nutrients and materials. “The traditional mentality has always been that wastewater is a hazardous waste that we need to mitigate. But we view it as an ore,” Tilmans told Water Deeply in a recent interview. “If you were at an iron mine you’re not getting pure iron, you’re getting iron ore and you need to take out the impurities before you have something valuable that you can sell,” he added. Tilmans is on Twitter at@SebTilmans.
Jeff Mosher is the executive director of the National Water Research Institute, a nonprofit sponsoring projects and programs geared toward ensuring safe, reliable sources of water. Mosher’s also the administrator of an expert panel investigating whether it is feasible to develop criteria for direct potable reuse (DPR) of wastewater. Mosher told Water Deeply that DPR is attractive because it’s local, it’s typically water that is already under your control and it’s reliable. “We have the technology to do DPR. What we are missing are the criteria or the regulatory approach on how it would be permitted,” Mosher said.
Mosher previously worked as an environmental consultant, served as the director of research programs at the WateReuse Foundation and as director of technical services for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.
Erin Mackey is a drinking water and reuse process engineer at Brown and Caldwell, the largest engineering consulting firm solely focused on the U.S. environmental sector. Mackey has specialized in advanced water treatment, water quality, drinking water treatment, drinking water regulations, water resources, reuse treatment, reuse regulations, microcontaminant control, taste and odor control.
Mehul V. Patel is the director of water production for the Orange County Water District. He has specialized in the use of advanced technologies for water reclamation and recycling and oversees the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the largest municipal reuse facility in the world. The GWRS purifies highly treated secondary effluent from the Orange County Sanitation District through a process of reverse osmosis, microfiltration, ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide technologies. The purified water is then recharged to the groundwater basin. GWRS can put out 100 million gallons (380 million liters) per day, enough to serve 850,000 people.
Related Reads on Water Deeply:
Wastewater Becomes a Resource in Silicon Valley
Wastewater Creates Energy, Products – and More
California Eyes Recycling Wastewater for Drinking
How California Could Reinvent the Water Sector
New Regs Aim to Make Water Recycling Easier
More in Our Experts to Watch Series:
Seven Experts to Watch on California’s Groundwater
Eleven Experts to Watch on California Water Rights
Nine Experts to Watch on California Water Policy
Eline Gordts is News Deeply’s Community Editor. She’s on Twitter at@elinegordts.