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The Search for Economical Water Reuse in the Desert Southwest Paul Blowers and Hong Zhao Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering The University of Arizona. Water needs for population and sustainable growth worldwide.

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The Search for Economical Water Reuse in the Desert Southwest Paul Blowers and Hong Zhao Department of Chemical and Envi

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The Search for Economical Water Reuse in the Desert Southwest

Paul Blowers and Hong Zhao

Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering

The University of Arizona


Water needs for population and sustainable growth worldwide

The availability of clean water is already a major issue, and will become a ‘water crisis’ if we do not act urgently

Access to Water Remains Insufficient, Especially for thePoor

  • Access to water is far from being a given, and often over-estimated
  • In many parts of the world, access to water also distinguishes the poor from the non-poor.
water needs for population and sustainable growth worldwide
Water needs for population and sustainable growth worldwide
  • Growing worldwide population
  • Most of that population growth is concentrated in urban centers, especially in smaller cities
  • In the next 30 minutes, about 180 children in developing countries (six children per minute) will have died from disease caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation.
  • Water is central for ordinary people in the developing world
  • The lack of access to basic services (water and sanitation) and energy (hydropower) hinders growth in the poor countries.

Issues specific to the Desert Southwest

  • Water demand in many areas in Arizona has already exceeded or will exceed the available supply in the future.
  • Available water sources often are not of sufficient quality to meet required uses.
  • In-state defined Active Management Areas require that supply and demand must be brought in balance by prescribed deadlines, generally 2025.
  • In other areas, such as the Upper San Pedro watershed, local interests are attempting to meet this goal without government mandate. Throughout the state (e.g., Verde Valley) alternative measures, such as agricultural land retirement, water transfers, and conservation, are being considered to ease water shortfalls and current drought conditions.

Issues specific to the Desert Southwest

  • Populations are growing rapidly in states such as Nevada, Arizona, and California
  • There are no readily available sources of new water supplies in many many of these areas
  • Reuse meets the needs of industrial users for non-potable supply and solves environmental discharge problems
  • Drought events such as the one experienced by more than half the country in 2002 debilitate available sources
  • Alternative sources of supply such as desalination are currently, in most cases, more expensive than water reuse.


Tucson, Water, and You



Slope = 12,000 AFY/year

Reclaimed water (as necessary)












CAP allotment = 215,000 AFY

Water Demand, Use (10



Natural recharge of groundwater w/runoff and rainfall = 60,000 A
























The Overall Goal of the Project (Your State Tax Dollars Hard at Work!)

  • Now, comprehensive tools to assist decision makers, educators, and the general public in recognizing the impact of management alternatives on water quantity, quality and cost are not available. Similarly, we lack educational tools to teach concepts of water resources, distribution, competing uses, and reclaim/reuse as a system.
  • We propose to fill these gaps by developing an integrated water management tool. Specifically, this research will develop a comprehensive decision support simulation model to aid management decisions, analyze trends, and perform “what if?” analyses.  

Current Expertise and the Soldiers on the Front

  • This group of the researchers are from hydrology, chemical, environmental and civil engineering , as well as agriculture. We intend to create a dynamic model of water usage so that communities in AZ can plan for all of our needs.
  • Hydrology: expertise in riparian systems, runoff and infiltration
  • Chemical engineering: expertise in modeling the water cycle process, also in using life cycle assessment
  • Civil engineering: provide model coordination and water resources management
  • Environmental engineering: provide design in water and wastewater treatment
  • Agricultural and resource economics: provide economic insight - a economic model can be appended to the dynamic model to supply decision-maker one more tool to assess the situation.

What has Your Tax Dollars Gotten you So Far?

Currently, we are spending much tax money on waste water treatment, but the benefit is just not showing because we have not been persistent in our work.

For example:

90% of the wastewater going into San Diego's $201 million North City Water Reclamation Plant has been discharged into the ocean after going through the expensive treatment process. The San Diego Union-Tribune examined plant records for the first two years of operation and reported October 10 that only 3% of the water has been reclaimed and sold. An additional 7 percent of the water is used at the plant for landscaping, cleaning filters and testing machinery. Commenting on the 16 billion gallons discharged into the ocean since the plant opened, Sierra Club attorney Bob Simmons said, “I can't think of anything to rival it in terms of the magnitude of water waste and waste of taxpayer money. It's scandalous, frankly.”

Simply raising more taxes for this type of project will not solve the problem. The most urgent task is to improve how we characterize the waste water, and find better way to recycle the water in a more effective fashion.


Our Primary Goals for the Industrial Water Reuse Modeling

  • Premise: Water users affect water quality to different degrees, and have varying requirements on their supply.
  • For example, irrigation can employ lower quality water than is acceptable to residential consumers for some quality measures. In the future, residential point of use water treatment may alter this balance. Industrial water users are of particular importance when water quality is a water-use criterion. Their demand for high quality water often requires in-house treatment before or after use. Optimizing industrial operations can reduce their overall costs and produce a potential new water resource.
  • Our part of the project is to create a model of representative industrial facilities important in Arizona so that these sub-models can be incorporated into the overall model of all water usage.

Why Your Tax Dollars Haven't Gone Far Yet…On This

• Inefficiency of the designed water recycle facility.

• Education to the public is not powerful enough to lead people to use recycled water - "Oh, Icky reclaimed water!"

• Water is being used faster then the water cycle can restore it.

• Treated water is often subsidized, exacerbating the problem.

• Groundwater and surface water sources have become polluted and can no longer be used without required extensive treatment.

• New water sources often involve pumping water long distances, desalination, wastewater reuse, and or rationing.


Successful Information Gathering: Hospitals

(And What Happens to the Water There)

  • Water quantity – large consumption
  • Water quality – all the sewage goes to one pipe, no internal treatment of water, either before it is used or after it is used
  • Only normal water quality issues have been monitored and specific treatment takes place ( For example, Legionnaires' disease associated withhospitalwater system is under control after an outbreak in the 80s )
  • Need: Complete data
  • - Not only water quantity data but also water quality data
  • - Flowrate data of each stream in the entire facility, both input and output data
  • Precise data

Issues uncovered by past studies

  • Past work focused more on chemistry and treatment of water rather than optimization of whole process concerning water quantity and quality
  • Focus on recycling and reducing water use wherever possible, consistent with Health Department requirements.
  • Our approach, to look at water quality issues to develop regional models for water recycle without treating it so much in between uses, much like industrial ecology suggests.

The Big Picture of Hospital Inlet/Outlet Characteristics: Water Quality

Wastewater characteristics produced by hospitals


Hospital Water in General: Water Qualities

Hospital waste water effluent has many constituents that need to be treated before post-hospital use:

antibiotic agents

unmetabolized pharmaceuticals

pathogens and other biologic agents

endocrine disruptors

X-ray processing effluents


Hospital Water in Specific: Why do Antibiotics Matter?

Science, September 2001, Vol 293, 1786-1790.


We're Stuck - We Need Representative Water Quality Data from Sample Medical Facilities to Address Water Quality

  • How can we classify water of different water qualities to identify reuse opportunities?
  • --- Comprehensive water quality data for influent sand effluents is needed to meet with the minimum treatment requirement before reuse
  • How can water be reused within or outside hospital?
  • --- Match the water quality data and consumption needs of different industrial sectors

What Does This All Mean Again?

Water reuse and treatment opportunities internally:

The way wastewater is handled now among sectors is very disorganized, using the same treatments and same technologies to handle a wide variety of issues without learning from the best practices in emerging areas

Different grades of water should be treated differently

Minimizing the treatment technology required and using the recycled water in a “matched grade” fashion will optimize the economical and environmental affects on our activities


What Does This All Mean Again?

  • Water reuse opportunities externally: between other industries or other sectors
  • Use the recycled water after some treatment to match with a wider selection or opportunities that will provide better a match for water reuse.
  • This will minimize the technological and economic intensity for each treatment
  • Caveat: this also brings in the problems of pipeline and energy needs to transfer the water to off-site facilities. This requires optimization and life cycle comparison to ensure the best options are pursued.

How Can this Information Help You at Your Facility

  • Socially- if more industrial companies use this kind of recycled water, we are going to have a positive influence on public perception and improve company image
  • Economically- industry will have opportunity to save money and energy
  • Environmentally- it is very efficient to reuse water with the minimum treatment
  • Therefore, here we will benefit from three major aspects. It will be a win-win situation for industry, even the whole society.

How Can this Information Help You at Your Facility

Water influent

Water effluent

You pay for clean water at the inlet and outlet now.


How Can this Information Help You at Your Facility

Water effluent

Water influent

Some treatment



What Will Reuse of Water Mean in Tucson

  • Tucson is home for 750,000 people and has an average annual rainfall of 12 inches
  • The potential evapotranspiration rate averages about 77 inches per year, which is about 6.5 times greater than the approximate total annual precipitation in the area
  • Distribution problems
  • Today, virtually all the water we use originates as stored groundwater
  • More reused water will help relieve the impending water crisis

What Will Reuse of Water Mean in Tucson

  • Public perception problems
  • While decisions about specific treatment methods may be highly technical and best left to professionals, local residents need to express opinions about the levels of treatment they prefer and what they are willing to use. Education will need to help them see that reused water is not necessarily bad water.
  • We can live hereafter 2015
  • More sustainable water use should be applied rather than using up all the groundwater

Which Industries are Critical to Our Quality of Life in Tucson

2) Raytheon Missile Systems - $792,252,171 payroll

3) University of Arizona - $561,432,996 payroll

5) Davis-Monthan Air Force Base - 7,692 employees

11) Phelps Dodge Mining Company - $168,000,000 payroll

12) University Medical Center - $116,500,000 payroll

13) Carondelet Health Network - $138,256,000

14) TMC Healthcare - $100,080,000 payroll

Total employees from these 7 major water users = 39,292

Tucson can't afford to lose any of these major players because we run out of water.


A University/Industry Partnership for Water Reuse Planning

  • University professionals are responsible for interacting with the business and wider community through adding value to services the schools are already offering.
  • This will be achieved by working with the schools to raise the profile of their activities, identifying and securing appropriate sources of funding and developing the commercial value of their intellectual property.

A University/Industry Partnership for Water Reuse Planning

  • Since research problems can no longer be solved in classrooms and companies can benefit from the professionals in academic research laboratories, we believe the future lies in technology and a beneficial university-industry-government collaboration.
  • Strengthening a tradition of conducting high-quality research by developing ways to ensure that laboratory breakthroughs and new technologies are translated into successful commercially-viable products and processes.

A University/Industry Partnership for Water Reuse Planning

  • Link the people which have the same needs and work on the same topic of research
  • Connect the people by information content from internal or external organizations


Funding for this work was provided by the NSF/SCR Engineering Research Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing


Contact Information: