Diving into access and scarcity at World Water Week

General Electric

More than 2,000 government officials, scientists and representatives of industry from more than 100 countries are currently gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, for World Water Week. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the annual meeting focuses on finding solutions for the planet’s most urgent water-related issues. Among those speaking this year is Jon Freedman, global government relations leader for GE Water, who notes in a European op-ed running in papers this week: “A lack of water is not just a problem in the developing countries: in many southern European countries, the water requirement exceeds supply many times over, and water shortages affect 11 percent of the population of Europe in some way.”

Bucket loads of good news: In Spain, the coastal town of Benidorm — which experiences a significant strain on water resources during the tourist season — upgraded its systems with GE water reuse technology. The new ZeeWeed ultrafiltration membranes provide a sustainable source of recycled water that is used for irrigation — thereby reducing demand on the potable water needed by residents and visitors.

As Jon further notes in his essay: “It is estimated that worldwide demand for energy will double and demand for water will increase three-fold over the next twenty years. Consequently, rationalization of water usage is essential. Europe’s water infrastructure must be thoroughly updated soon in order to ensure that water is available when necessary. In parts of Europe, as much as 40 percent of water used is lost through leakages, and in many European countries only a fraction of water used is recovered and recycled.”

Jon Freedman: Time to act.

“The debate on climate change often focuses on energy-related issues. However, energy and water are very closely related to each other, because water is almost always needed in energy production. In the EU, energy production’s share of total water consumption is 44 percent, while in the United States, 90 percent of the water used by industry is used in energy production.

One critical solution, Jon says, is to use the technologies already available to recycle water and to reduce the amount of water needed to produce energy. “But exploitation of them has not been sufficiently tempting because industry can get the water it needs more cheaply by taking it directly from water bodies or from waterworks,” he says. It’s up to governments and businesses to collaborate and find ways to speed the adoption of these technologies, he writes.

Splish Splash: In Germany, GE’s advanced ZeeWeed Membrane Bioreactor allowed the City of Kaarst to dramatically modernize its 30-year old wastewater plant. Effluent from the plant was polluting the NordKanal, an artificial canal built by Napoleon in the early 1800s to connect Germany and the Netherlands. Now the effluent consistently exceeds bathing water quality standards.

Elsewhere on the water front, GE’s technologies are also making a difference in the U.S. Reuters reports in its recent story about GE’s water business: “An example of GE’s technology at work can be found in Loudon Water in Virginia, which serves 175,000 people. Located along the Potomac River in a commuter suburb of Washington, D.C., Loudon faces some of the state’s strictest wastewater quality standards. Last year, Loudon’s Broad Run Water Reclamation Facility started treating wastewater with a GE system incorporating biological agents that clean the water of impurities and a membrane system that prevents them from escaping the plant. That allows it to process higher volumes of water at lower cost than older, chemical-based options, said Tom Broderick, program manager for the facility. The treated water is clean enough for the utility to offer it for industrial use, he said.”

As Heiner Markhoff, president and chief executive of GE Water & Process Technologies told Reuters, there’s a bottomless well of opportunities out there: “What GE tries to do is to align the company with some of the mega-trends, the mega-challenges of the world. Energy is one, healthcare is the other, and the third one is water,” he said.

* Read “GE sees tide coming in for water business” from Reuters
* Read “Five Facts about GE’s water business” from Reuters
* Read GE Reports’ guest post about water sustainability issues
* Read “Tech’s on tap with new GE-Singapore water center”
* Download the speech given by GE’s Heiner Markhoff in Singapore
* Read “GE’s “sustainable cities” road show tours Europe”
* Learn more about GE’s water commitment
* Try out GE’s interactive WaterExplorer
* Learn more about GE’s water technologies
* Read “Making a splash with water wins”

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