Do environmentalists, governments or the general population think about water and reusing water as much as other depleting energy sources? Perhaps not according to Will Kirksey of Worrell Water Technologies. LTK Green Living interviewed Mr. Kirksey, Senior Vice President, to find out more about water, wastewater, and the water crisis.
About Worrell Water Technologies
Worrell Water Technologies is a privately owned company located in Charlottesville, Virginia and was founded by environmentalist Tom E. Worrell. Their mission statement, "To re-think, and re-build, the way the world uses water. We think it's high time that our ways of handling our most precious natural resource catch up with 21st century technology," is especially important in these days of conservation, low-impact living, and energy concerns.
Interview: Will Kirksey of Worrell Water Technologies
LTK: What is your background?
WK: In the past thirty-five years, as a civil engineer, I have worked in the private sector, government, and non profit organizations to develop and implement sustainable infrastructure technologies. My work has ranged over various infrastructure systems and issues such as water, energy, and transportation; and after 9-11, infrastructure security. Water has always been an important focus for me and that led me to come to work for Tom Worrell.
LTK: What Is Your Main Focus at Worrell Water?
WK: I am in charge of our two commercial product lines, the Living Machine® wastewater treatment system and the HydroSecure II® high security drinking water system. The Living Machine technology adapts the ecosystem processes at work in a tidal estuary and accelerates them to treat domestic wastewater. The HydroSecure was developed in partnership with Department of Defense and other government security agencies post 9/11 and was put into place by our government to protect water from toxins introduced by terrorist attacks.
LTK: What Is the HydroSecure II and how can it help us with our water concerns?
WK: The HydroSecure II takes the technology from the original system designed for large government facilities and miniaturizes it for the commercial market. Businesses, homeowners, and local government can install the HydroSecure II much as the government did to protect the drinking water of senior executives. The HydroSecure is the only drinking water security system to pass the Department of Defense's rigorous testing program, which was based on worst-case scenarios. HydroSecure can defeat chemical threats, radiation threats, and biological threats to produce purified water that meets EPA drinking standards.
The HydroSecure II can be used in a variety of settings to help keep water uncontaminated. The current model is targeted to places like hospitals, offices, schools, and larger residential uses. Worrell Water is also working to produce a more affordable model that can do the same thing for the average household.
LTK: What water facts most concern you?
WK: The facts that document the converging trends of the depletion of freshwater resources and the growing needs. The government forecasts the demand for water to triple in twenty years, while water availability is already approaching crisis proportions in many areas. The impact of these trends is multiplied when we consider that clean water is not only the key to human health, but also to the environment, energy production, agriculture, and the economy. There are many specific facts that illustrate the interconnection of these issues, such as over twenty percent of all the electricity generated in California is used just to move and treat water. Conversely, many alternative energy sources require large volumes of water (for example, some biofuels require over twenty times more water than does gasoline to produce a gallon of fuel).
The fact that helps keep all this in perspective is that even though about three-fourths of the Earth's surface is covered by water, only a little over two percent is fresh water, and most of that is in the polar ice caps. In other words, more than 99 percent of the world's water supply is unavailable for humans.
There are also disturbing facts about delivering for use the water that is available. Centralized water systems require huge investments to build and a large percentage of those systems are aging with extensive maintenance needs. With water mains failing, millions of gallons of water are being lost. In essence, according to the EPA, "water infrastructure repairs will cost over $335 billion in the next two decades.
LTK: What is the solution to centralized water systems?
WK: I think adequate water for our future depends on a transition to a more ecological, watershed based system. This means integrating the installation of decentralized water systems like the Living Machine® technology with maintenance and life extension of the existing systems that are working.
LTK: What is the Living Machine?
WK: Basically, the Living Machine is a decentralized, ecological wastewater system that combines the natural processes of tidal estuarine ecosystems with 21st century technology to treat and reuse wastewater. It uses no chemical additives or industrial processes and is low on energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. It produces water that is ready for reuse on site where it is installed.
LTK: Can you give us examples of where the Living Machine is being utilized?
WK: We have several dozen installations in a variety of situations including schools, resorts, zoos and animal shelters, and the food processing industry. For example, a zoo located in the Netherlands realized an 84 percent decrease in their water bills with the Living Machine in place. Additional examples include the El Monte Sagrado Resort in New Mexico, the Esalen Institute in California, the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, and the Old Trail School in Ohio.
LTK: Why don't cities and towns use resources like the Living Machine?
WK: Some innovative cities and towns are beginning to investigate Living Machine technology to help reduce the load and growth pressure on their centralized systems and to provide for local reuse. Like most of us, cities and towns are realizing the importance of conservation and reusing water. Just as some cities have water conservation days when it comes to watering gardens, government officials need to go a step further. They need to understand what an important resource water is for the economy of their communities and how much water reuse could reduce waste. It's a mindset that needs more education about the possibilities of new technology in order to change.
LTK: Are there grants available for water reuse systems like the Living Machine?
WK: Yes, the EPA is a great place to get more information on grants available to municipalities and organizations that want to put in water treatment and reuse systems. There are also grants available to Native American reservations for water reuse systems.
LTK: What are some of the key issues on water today?
WK: The key issue is to stop viewing water as a commodity and to begin to understand it as a fundamental need for human society, on a par with the importance of energy. Unlike energy, there is no alternative source for water. The best thing we can do is conserve and reuse it, just as natural ecosystems do. Our best overall approach is to restore and work in partnership with natural watershed cycles, applying improved eco-system based technologies, and stop using water only once. We all have to learn to adapt to the natural concepts and apply the best technology and practices to recreate integrated human-natural ecosystems. The importance of decentralized water systems is also an important issue I think will come to the forefront with more education.
LTK: What are your final thoughts on the future of reusing water?
WK: We are in a situation where we can't solve problems one at a time. We have to take an integrated, living systems approach to multiple, interrelated problems. For example, there is much discussion on finding alternative energy sources. We need to include water in those discussions and in the analysis of alternatives. When we begin to include water and energy in the same context, the connection with other key issues, such as the environment, climate, and the economy also become part of the context. We can't solve our water problems or our any of these other problems if we don't think about all of these things as a whole.
More Information on Worrell Water
LTK: Where can we get more information on Worrell Water?
WK: The Worrell Water website offers a lot of information on what we do. It is also a great place to educate people on the importance of changing how we think about water and use and reuse our water.