By Diane M. Calabrese / Published July 2023
Profligate use of water is a thing of the past. In retrospect, though, it may never have been quite so reckless as now portrayed.
But anyone who uses water—that’s all of us, not just those in commerce and industry—knows what counts is doing more with less. What’s the least amount of water that can be tapped to accomplish a task efficiently?
Washing machines use minimal water, shower heads hold back volume, and pressure washers couple water with mechanical and chemical (soft scrub) assistance to do more. The list is a long one.
In this decade we have firmly gone one step beyond conservation of resources. We have moved to sustainable use.
With water, what could be more sustainable than a capture-treat-reuse loop? The tighter the loop, the more promising and efficient a system.
A mobile contract cleaner who does not have to return to base to get a tank refill logs fewer travel hours and uses less fuel. On-site water recycling, no longer a fantasy, makes such savings possible.
Treatment systems that make use of coagulants and flocculants—to gather and aggregate, facilitating removal—are being designed to meet on-site needs. As they become cost effective, they will become standard tools.
Let’s start with water capture, which is the horse that pulls the cart. Many members of our industry developed water capture systems even before environmental regulations nudged all contractors in that direction, and they are justifiably proud of the systems they developed.
“The most important innovation in water capture to date is the Vacu-Boom™, which is 100 percent effective and easy to use,” says Ron Robarge, president of Spartan Manufacturing Corporation, d.b.a. Pressure Power Systems in Kernersville, N.C. The trademarked system is endorsed and recommended by environmental regulators across the nation.
Not only can the system that Robarge cites capture wastewater, but it can also be used to collect other non-flammable liquids. It works outdoors and indoors.
The system from Robarge’s company consists of flexible, vacuum-operated, hollow tubular sections and fittings that can be connected in different configurations to capture the water and pump it into a holding tank or directly to a legal discharge point. It has been adopted by users ranging from power washing contractors to commercial and industrial facilities.
Capture systems, such as the one from Robarge’s company, are foundational to the treatment systems that follow and make reuse of water possible. Wastewater is just one target for recapture. Other targets include stormwater, greywater (e.g., from showers), brackish water, and agricultural runoff.
Treatment is nothing more than local adoption and adaptation of a global process: natural recycling of water. Water covers 70 percent of the planet, but only 2.5 percent is freshwater; and not all freshwater is accessible.
Technologies for water capture and treatment speed up a natural process. Yes, wastes would eventually settle from runoff water or be removed (filtered out) as water seeps through layers of soil and rocky substrate. With capture and treatment, though, nature gets a big assist in replenishing itself.
On-site capture/treatment/reuse extracts the most from every drop of water. There’s less need to return to the well, i.e., tap more freshwater. Reuse is the ultimate form of conservation of resources.
By this time most of us have encountered a hazmat response crew in places that made us wonder whether the response was more than necessary. True, safety first. But if responders could assess potential harm before donning head-to-toe personal protective equipment, it would save time.
Reliable systems for capturing wastewater contribute to a simplicity of environmental responses. With adequate capture in place, water does not stream towards public water supplies or pools, and hazmat crews can better assess threats.
Effectiveness paired with simplicity is an unbeatable combination. Combining the two has been an ongoing objective of Douglas R. Latimer, the president of Latimat 2.0 in Innisfil, ON, Canada.
The Latimat Wash Pad is a product of Latimer’s company. “It may be constructed in an assortment of shapes and sizes depending on its application,” explains Latimer.
A range of sizes means the pad can fit small cars, tractor trailers, and aircraft and rockets. Then, there’s ease of use.
Latimer’s product includes a bottom sheet made of flexible, durable, waterproof material such as vinyl or polyurethane. That composition is important in providing pliancy sufficient enough for the pad to be consolidated and moved.
The pad can “be folded, collapsed, or rolled upon [our company’s] electric storage reel to be transported to multiple sites,” explains Latimer. But the ease of use only begins with choices in size and compactness for transport.
New designs from Latimer’s company are attentive to the many needs of those collecting wastewater. The pad can now be heated “for winter use to prevent effluent from freezing,” says Latimer.
Moreover, overspray can now be thwarted with fully enclosed inflatable tents that are erected over the pads. “The enclosures prevent further icing of the surfaces during washing operations in winter weather or during pandemic outbreaks where overspray is a concern while sanitizing articles,” explains Latimer.
The features built into the design of the pads have been developed with the end user in mind. For instance, the pad has a primary and secondary wall. Should the primary wall be deformed by the entry or exit of a vehicle, the secondary wall contains the effluent.
Air, foam, or L-bracket styles of containment walls are offered in heights ranging from two inches to 24 inches. Drive on/off pads are limited to five inches in height to prevent plowing (pushing the pad), explains Latimer. Pressure relief valves ensure seams do not blow out when tires pass over the walls of a pad.
New from Latimer’s company are WAVE mats that move wastewater to a collection point for retrieval via a sump pump or wet vacuum with internal pumping to a holding tank or recycling system. Also new are hydrocarbon filters.
Let’s say it starts to rain before the wash job gets going. Does a contractor really want to collect rainwater or have water spill over the mat? The hydrocarbon filters allow the rainwater to exit the mat.
The foregoing is just a sampling of the innovations from Latimer’s company. For example, future models of the automatic drive-in/drive-out bracket mat will have walls as high as 60 inches so that they can contain up to 50,000 gallons. That’s important, explains Latimer, “should there be a catastrophic failure of tanker or fuel bladders within the containment system.”
We will get there, but it’s complicated.
“I will leave wash water recycling systems to the experts,” says Latimer. “I have sold plenty and had multiple issues and failures to clean effectively the effluents for reuse due to emulsification of hydrocarbons with customers using wrong detergents. Oils must be able to float to the surface without emulsifying, otherwise a blinding of the filters occur.”
Latimer reminds us that since the 1990s serious efforts have been underway to develop on-site recycling systems. Manufacturers now offer equipment designed with pH control, BOD [biological oxygen demand], COD [chemical oxygen demand], TSS [total suspended solids], and TDS [total dissolved solids] in mind.
In many ways what manufacturers in our industry are trying to do is scale down recycling systems already deployed. Water reuse is the goal, whether at an industrial plant or a power-washing job site.
On April 14, 2023, the WateReuse Association [Watereuse.org] in Alex-andria, VA, congratulated Orange County, CA, as that jurisdiction completed the largest water recycling facility in the world. The Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) came online in 2008, then producing 70 million gallons of water per day (MGD). It now produces 130 MGD, enough to serve one million people.
GWRS takes highly treated wastewater that would have been discharged into the Pacific Ocean and purifies it with a three-step process of microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. The result is potable water that meets all federal standards.
Every iteration of water reuse is underway around the planet. Non-potable recycled water is being used for irrigation, in cooling towers, and in industrial processes.
And if the iteration is not yet in full practice, it is being explored. The EPA maintains an online platform for its National Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP). A list of WRAP activities can be perused at the EPA.gov website.
WRAP activities indicate how much the EPA is fostering collaboration (e.g., among rural entities, among industries); encouraging dissemination of best practices (e.g., Israel is a world leader in reuse); prodding (e.g., recommending incorporation of reuse tools in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, permitting); using incentives (e.g., Small Business Innovation Research, SBIR, partnerships); and offering recognition (e.g., awards for reuse innovation in conjunction with private entities).
EPA ties reuse to sustainability, which in turn improves security and well-being of people, communities, and a nation. It also raises the umbrella of “resilience”—a term that points to strength derived from flexibility.
Conserve water: our industry is well ahead of the curve. Reuse water: our industry is moving quickly along a new trajectory.