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WaterSmart Innovation Conference 2013

I just got back from the annual WaterSmart Innovation Conference for 2013 in Las Vegas.  This annual event is focused on water scarcity issues and is sponsored by EPA WaterSense, Alliance of Water Efficiency and Imagine H2O.  The first announcement was the government shutdown had required EPA to cancel their participation so several of the presentation by them were cancelled.   This year’s conference focused on Urban Water Conservation, so there were several plenary sessions on water harvesting, retention and reuse.

There was a preconference workshop on Water Entrepreneurship conducted by Imagine H2O on Tuesday that focused on their annual “X Prize” style completion.  Over the last 5 years, they have generated $30 million in venture capital investment in the companies who submitted innovative product and business ideas to the completion.  This workshop provided participants with a hands on demonstration of how innovative products are developed and what it takes to produce a successful business plan and product.  Our group settled on a new surfactant that can be put onto lakes to significantly reduce evaporation, is biodegradable and “approved” for use by the EPA.  Since up to 40% of water evaporates from reservoirs and canals, this could be a significant product.  As ideas developed, we focused on canals since they are a controlled environment and the surfactant could be applied uniformly across the surface and skimmed off before entering a supply point to insure very low concentrations in the water supplied.

The Keynote was presented by Kim Marotta, Vice President of Sustainability for MillerCoors Brewing.  They are very active with their farmers on improved irrigation approaches for their hops and barley.  They also are active in their communities, several of which are projected to be out of water by 2050.  Reduced snowpack in the Rockies has impacted Golden, Colorado’s Coors plant, so they are actively working with the community on water harvesting and efficiency.   They discussed significant production water usage reductions through recycling, steam condensate return and other efficiency methods.

This Conference is somewhat unique in that it has 8 tracks with only 30 minutes per presentation with 5 minutes in between, so there is a lot of material covered in a short period of time and people stay alert and presenters concise.  The downside is there is limited opportunity for questions. There is also a large exhibitors and poster gallery.  The conference has a broad range of participants and presenters, but are primarily Water Districts, Suppliers and Municipalities.   Municipal water system and water companies provided insight into the extensive work being done on green infrastructure, water harvesting, irrigation, plumbing and stormwater management.  Some of these focused on community involvement in water efficiency programs and others focused on incentives provided to both residential and commercial customers to improve water efficiency.

There were several sessions on the general reduction of water use in municipalities as a result of more efficient appliances, weather stations on landscape irrigation, industrial water reduction and other efficiency actions.  Mary Ann Dickerson, Director, Alliance for Water Efficiency referenced Jan Beecher’s work at MSU on the work she is doing on water rate management.  Another presentation focused on the Water Energy Nexus from the perspective that if water and energy utilities work together on incentives and rate structures, often win-win rate solutions can be achieved.  Municipalities in the west are also facing significant decreases in water allocation due to drought.  Smaller municipal systems are the most vulnerable due to smaller customer base, installed capital equipment and regional demand for agricultural water.

There were a couple of interesting new products this year.  One was  a oxygenation column that used a novel hydraulic lift principal to aerate water going into a column with a standpipe that created head pressure and forced air bubbles back down a parallel column significantly improving aeration.  There was a lot of discussion on nano-bubbles, but only one working demonstration.  The nano-bubbles were so small and prolific they appeared to turn the water grey.   A lot of the work being done is focused on SCADA control systems for weather stations, ground moisture, automatic valve controls on irrigation and smart system solutions both for municipal and agricultural applications.  People are creating useful dashboards for businesses and homes to monitor water usage and sewer discharge.  Municipalities are rapidly changing to smart meters because they are more accurate than mechanical meters that tend to under report usage.

Water scarcity is the profitable water market segment.  Sustainable Water Works and the Innovation Factory are focused on developing technology in these sectors including filtration and desalination to produce products and businesses in Southeast Michigan that can be exported to the world.  The abundant concern of Water Districts in the West demonstrate the need for innovation to improve water supply and reduce waste and usage.

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