• Will Sarni

Innovating our way out of water shortages


The water level of the Russian River in Sonoma County is way below normal.


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The current trend with water utilities is that water conservation is critical and water prices need to increase. Utilities have to cover their costs while confronting lower use and revenue. Essentially, water prices must rise to cover rising fixed costs despite declining volumes.


What if we turned this thinking around? Lower water use results in paying less driven by technology innovation?


There was a thought-provoking column in the September 2015 Global Water Intelligence issue from Debra Coy exploring that very idea. And it touches on two key issues — the cost to replace US water infrastructure and the price of water.


As noted by Coy, the Sonoma County Water Agency in California is pursuing this alternative strategy of using innovation to drive down its costs of treating and conveying water. The agency is pursuing a strategy of combination of wastewater recycling, energy cost savings, stormwater retention and management of natural creek flows. All with the goal of staying ahead of declining demand for water.


What if this strategy was scaled? Could we drive down the price of water while increasing conservation? We would be in a position of placing a higher value on water, manifested through conservation, while also rewarding users through lower pricing.


The application of innovative water management technologies and practices to drive down water prices also cascades into tackling another key issue — which is that we need billions of dollars of investment to replace our aging water infrastructure.


What if technology innovation drove lower prices and lower water infrastructure costs while increasing capacity to fuel economic development, business growth and well-being (access to safe water)?


The key assumption here is that we will replace 20th Century (or earlier) infrastructure with the same or similar infrastructure — centralized water and wastewater systems.


What if technology innovation drove lower prices and lower water infrastructure costs while increasing capacity to fuel economic development, business growth and well-being (access to safe water)?


Coy cites the example of innovation in consumer electronics — technology innovation resulting in lower costs and greater technology adoption. We do have examples in the water sector with innovation in desalination membranes driving down costs but need more of them.


For the private and public sector to continue to thrive in the face of increased competition for access to water we will need 21st Century strategies. What may have worked in the past will not get us to where we need to be in this century – economic development, business growth and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 – “ensure access to water and sanitation for all.”


This is not just an opportunity for developed economies but critical for developing economies.


#InnovativeTechnologies #WaterSolutions #WillSarni #WaterFoundry

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 "We never know the worth of water 'til the well is dry."

~Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732