Pumps & Systems spoke with the chief marketing officer at GE Water & Process Technologies to discuss how companies and individuals can work to improve worldwide water access.

The pump industry is working to bring clean water to communities in need, and GE is one of these companies using their technology and resources to make a difference. In the May 2015 issue of Pumps & Systems, our Gift of Clean Water coverage featured an article about GE's partnership with WaterStep to design and develop a chlorine generator that has been used to save lives in more than 30 countries. Amelia Messamore, managing editor of Pumps & Systems magazine, recently spoke with GE Water's Chief Marketing Officer Ralph Exton to discuss the significance of clean water and how pumping technology provides access in remote parts of the world.

P&S: Why is water such a significant issue in developing countries? What factors influence access to safe and reliable water sources?

Exton: According to the United Nations Development Program, more than one billion people, or about one in six worldwide, have no access to safe drinking water, and more than two billion lack access to adequate sanitation. If current water usage trends continue, by the year 2025 two-thirds of the world’s people won’t have enough clean water. Water resources, even in developed nations like the United States, are being threatened by climate change, drought, population growth, waste and the growing demand for energy, which requires enormous amounts of water. The widespread adoption of water reuse practices and policies can be the key to immediately and effectively reverse the global threat of clean water scarcity.

P&S: What are the most important steps to combating the water crisis, specifically in developing countries?

Exton: As the world faces growing water scarcity challenges, the need for conservation and recycling of water is more important than ever before. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s freshwater resources is used for industrial purposes. However, by applying existing technologies and systems, industrial plants can capture, purify and reuse their wastewater, in order to reduce the amount of freshwater required. Typically, it is possible to recover 70 percent to 85 percent of wastewater through membrane-based technologies and advanced chemistries and achieve more than 98 percent recovery through crystallization and evaporative technologies. Water also can be reused for many other purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, groundwater recharge and other non-potable uses such as heating and cooling. This can further reduce the amount of freshwater required. On a municipal level, water reuse can enable communities to become less dependent on groundwater and surface water, and can decrease the diversion of water from sensitive ecosystems.

P&S: What are the most important things people should know about the water crisis, and what are organizations and companies doing to combat it?

Exton: Over the last twelve years, the dialogue around the global water crisis has transitioned from scarcity to resiliency. For decades, water scarcity was hotly debated; we now recognize that it is an unfortunate, and permanent, reality. The world does not have enough water, so how we preserve and sustain what we have for the long term is critical.

A call for resiliency — the ability to prepare for, respond to and learn from a major disruptive event — is particularly urgent given the intensity of climate change. Every day, weather-related disasters put substantial pressure on the world’s water systems, from infrastructure to treatment technology. Vigorously pursuing a resilience approach today is the world’s best chance at safeguarding tomorrow. The global water industry — supported and spurred by recent international and domestic policies and incentives — has consensus on four principle pillars of water resiliency prior to, during and after hydrological water events: Robustness, Resourcefulness, Rapid Recovery, and Adaptability. GE and other companies are doing our part to help drive awareness and adoption.

Some real-world examples of how organizations have embodied each principle, include:

  • Robustness: To help ensure its ability to withstand disruption without failing or losing significant function, a wastewater treatment plant near Paris upgraded and expanded its facilities. Using advanced membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology, the plant was ultimately able to treat enough water to meet the needs of approximately 8 million people while reducing the plant footprint by roughly 40 percent and enable compliance with the stringent water quality standards of the EU Water Framework Directive.
  • Resourcefulness: Southern Italy’s dire drought conditions forced one of the region’s oldest and largest oil refineries to consider alternative water options, helping it to manage the disruption of the drought in real-time. To avoid a shutdown, the cogeneration plant utilized a mobile water treatment system to augment the plant system. Once the drought receded, the refinery was able to recover rapidly and return to its original water source.
  • Rapid recovery: Hurricane Sandy caused serious and significant damage to a New Jersey power plant. Many grade-level motors and controls had been flooded and required replacement. Meanwhile, there were no operating de-aerators for both the high- and low-pressure steam systems. The cogeneration plant utilized a mobile water treatment system while the de-aerators were rebuilt and feedwater was restored, helping ensure a quick return to full function following the hurricane.
  • Adaptability: Positive progress is happening in regions cities around the world as cities work to instate resiliency frameworks. In the U.S., Louisiana nuclear power plants now have preparedness plans, establishing temporary water treatment systems to continue operation in the event of complete loss of power. New York City has expanded its Wastewater Resiliency Plan, the nation’s most detailed and comprehensive assessment of the risk climate change poses to wastewater collection and treatment systems.

For more coverage of the Gift of Clean Water, click here.