Guest Post by Lars Hanson
For utilities across the country, water reuse has been attracting a great deal of attention recently, and with good reason. As utilities and the communities they serve grow and mature, they find themselves managing increasing pressures relating to water availability, competition, customer service needs, and evolving regulations. These pressures require the Water Resources Utility of the Future to begin paying more attention to the interrelated nature of the core water management functions, including water supply and treatment, wastewater collection and treatment, stormwater management, and flooding and flow management. In addition to more coordinated planning, new ways of managing water will be needed to coordinate these functions. Water reuse is one water management tool that allows linking these functions, while also potentially providing a financial return when reclaimed water is sold.
But what is water reuse anyway? Water reuse, often referred to as water recycling or water reclamation (and hopefully not ‘toilet-to-tap’), is a general term referring to the treatment of a ‘used’ water source followed by subsequent beneficial use. Simple enough, but that definition perhaps oversimplifies the huge range of water reuse system concepts, and why water reuse projects are built.
Over the last several decades, the economy of North Carolina has undergone major transitions. Once home to thriving tobacco, furniture, and textile industries, we’re seeing more and more emphasis on high tech solutions to modern problems. We’re now a state of leaders in technology, education, manufacturing, green industry, and health care. Of course we’re not alone in this transition, as many communities are experiencing a decline in manufacturing and other once strong industries. In previous posts, my colleagues have written extensively on how water plays an important part in community economic development. But what role does water play in a transitioning economy?
by Harmony Bouley
In the wake of the declining textile, tobacco, and furniture industries, North Carolina’s agricultural sector has remained robust. North Carolina’s agricultural sector, which has production levels that have historically ranked among the top ten agricultural states nationally, continues to be a boon for the state’s economic prosperity. Farmers across the state grow over 80 different crops and types of livestock and employ 16 percent of the state’s workforce. Good stewardship of the resources necessary to provide this bounty is essential to the long term growth of the industry.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a survey showing that $271 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure, including the pipes that carry wastewater to treatment plants, the technology that treats the water, and methods for managing stormwater runoff. This story comes in the wake of national attention on our nation’s water infrastructure needs gap, where it is estimated that an investment of $384 billion is needed over the next 20 years to maintain existing drinking water systems. In the shadow of these large and looming estimates, communities across the country are tasked with meeting the everyday challenges of providing and paying for environmental services, including providing clean drinking water and wastewater treatment.
Recognizing these and other growing environmental challenges facing communities, EPA created the Environmental Finance Advisory Board (EFAB) in 1989 to find ways to lower the costs of and increase investments in environmental and public health protection. As an independent advisory committee, EFAB focuses on lowering the cost of environmental protection, removing financial and programmatic barriers that raise costs, increasing public and private contribution in environmental facilities and services, and building state and local financial ability to meet environmental laws.
A central tenet of community economic development is the belief that in fostering a healthy economy, we are working towards building healthy, vibrant communities. But many would contend that a healthy economy is only one piece of the puzzle. Local governments are increasingly paying attention to other elements of community development work in order to build healthy communities, realizing that they cannot foster a strong economy in isolation from social and environmental factors. One approach to development that addresses these issues is the “triple bottom line”, a method that integrates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental, and financial. Under the triple bottom line approach, growth and development should consider not only economic factors, but also social and environmental impacts of any initiative.
The triple bottom line framework has been adopted and championed by a wide variety of actors, including large corporations, community based nonprofit organizations, environmental groups, and international development agencies. Experts say that triple bottom line sustainability is most achievable at the regional and local scale, so it seems natural that local governments would adopt this approach in their economic development efforts. But what strategies can local governments in North Carolina use to foster triple bottom line impacts?