Energy Production & Reduction

Wastewater Innovation Saving Energy, Saving Money

CambiReactors

New Sludge Processor at Blue Plains

By Ken Pantuck

In addition to being the largest facility of its kind in the U.S., the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, in Washington D.C. is also now the first in the nation constructing power-producing Cambi units to treat sludge.

After the water we use in our homes and businesses gets sent down the drain, it goes to wastewater treatment plants, like Blue Plains, where processes remove large debris, settle out dirt and grit, consume organic matter, and disinfect the water before it gets discharged. But these processes leave behind leftover solids or sludge, which is where the Cambi units come in.

The units act like a giant pressure cooker, where the combination of pressure and heat speeds up the sludge digestion process. In addition to processing sludge at a faster pace, it also produces Class A biosolids, which can be safely sold to the public for use on lawns and gardens.

The innovative features of this new technology, currently used successfully in Europe, go beyond just treatment. While conventional wastewater treatment plants use mega-quantities of energy, these units will actually provide a source of energy for the plant, generating enough methane to run three gas combustion turbines that will supply about 40 percent of electricity needed to run the plant.

When operational, the Cambi units will also reduce odors, as well as sludge transportation costs and related pollution.

A few weeks ago, some of my colleagues and I toured the stainless steel reactors and associated digesters as they were going up, as part of DC Water’s $900 million improvements at the Blue Plains plant.

Saving energy and costs, reducing sludge volume and odors, while creating biosolids which we can use on lawns and gardens, makes me think this type of technology may have the potential for broader applications at wastewater treatment plants across the U.S.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Lowdown on Why Water Use is Down in DC

By Ken Pantuck

It turns out that when it comes to water conservation, what goes up sometimes does come down.  And what each of us does in our homes really does have an impact.

Water consumption in the District of Columbia is down from an average of 125 million gallons per day in 2004 to 100 million gallons today, according to recent reports from DC Water.   Similarly, the amount of wastewater going to Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant has declined over the past decade.

A shot of DC’s urban water resources Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

A shot of DC’s urban water resources. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

How did this reduction occur?  It seems to be a combination of factors.  Homeowners have decided to use water-saving appliances in new homes and to replace water consumptive fixtures.  DC Water has pushed an effective and ongoing program to repair and replace aging and deteriorated sewer segments.  Proactive steps have been taken to eliminate other sources of water in the system, like tidal intrusions. And rainfall and ground water levels have been lower than normal.

Although earth is often referred to as the “water planet” with about 70% of its surface covered by water, less than 1% of the water is available for human use.  Water supplies are finite, and the residents and wastewater utility in DC are helping to protect this critical and precious resource where they live.  The story of water use in the district shows that the collective action of individuals can make a big difference to ensure there is enough clean water for generations to come.

The water conservation message is simple and something that any municipality, large or small, can easily promote.  Encouraging residents to use less water is low cost and can produce significant savings.  For example, the 25 million gallons of water savings in DC also results in a savings of $2,500 per day in processing costs at the Blue Plains Treatment Plant.  Even more important, lower rates of water use means that less water is going through a wastewater system, which can relieve the pressure on treatment plants during large storm events.  In a smaller plant, this could mean the difference between expanding the plant or not.

What can you do to help reduce water use where you live?  One thing is to look for WaterSense-labeled water appliances for your home.  WaterSense is an EPA partnership program that seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, homes, and services.  Get lots of tips for how you can save water in your home here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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All Aboard for Earth Week

By Tom Damm A group of us got Earth Week off on the right track Monday when we set up EPA information tables at one of the busiest train stations in the country – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. It was part of the third annual Amtrak-EPA Earth Day Fair, and commuters and school kids cruised the aisles, stopping by to ask questions, pose with mascots like Swampy the Frog, and check out displays on a variety of environmental topics.

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

Water issues were well represented.  We had information on green landscaping, WaterSense products to save water and money, and our Net Zero Energy push to help water and wastewater utilities cut energy costs. At my table, I had fact sheets on the importance of streams and wetlands, particularly small streams that feed bigger ones and play a key role in the quality of water downstream. Visitors were attracted by the sign, “How’s Your Waterway? Check it out Here.” I demonstrated on my laptop how they could determine the health of their local streams, creeks and rivers with EPA’s new app and website, “How’s My Waterway?.”  We just plugged in their zip code and in seconds their nearest waterways showed up on the screen with information on their condition. “I always wanted to know that.  I fish.  Thanks!,” was one response. You still have a few days to get involved in Earth Week activities happening in your area. And if you don’t get a chance to join in this week, remember, Every Day is Earth Day. About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water Savings on Tap for Fix a Leak Week 2013

By Kimberly Scharl

Fix a Week 2013 bannerMarch 18-24, 2013 is the EPA WaterSense program’s 5th annual Fix a Leak Week, a time when we remind you to check your household plumbing for leaks.  American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. But fixing leaks can be easy and inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on utility bills!   Need some ideas to mark the occasion of Fix a Leak Week?   We’ve got some for you…

Save water in your own home!

Being handy around the house doesn’t have to be difficult. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves.  These types of leaks are often easy to fix.  You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.  Check out this video by Spartanburg Water on detecting a leaky toilet.

Check it out!

There are tons of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week!  Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

Charlottesville, Virginia is hosting the “Fix a Leak Family 5k”, an event where runners and non-runners alike can learn about water conservation.  Besides the trail run itself, the event will feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.  This event is also featuring face painting, a DJ, and a nature trail making it fun for the whole family!

The West Virginia Public Service Commission in Charleston will be visiting local elementary schools to discuss the importance of water conservation with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Hands-on demonstrations will illustrate scarcity of potable water, areas of the country where shortages of water are a problem, and how those shortages affect individuals in other regions of the country.

Do you know of other events happening near you next week?  Tell us about them in the comments!

Come Chat with Us!!!

To kick off Fix a Leak Week, WaterSense is holding its 2nd Annual Fix a Leak Week Twitter chat on Monday March 18th from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern.  Log into your Twitter account during that time and use the hashtag #fixaleak to tweet messages about your plans to make a difference during Fix a Leak Week!

Flo, our spokesgallon, will be joining in too!  Throughout the Twitter chat, we’ll be posting pictures of Flo as she travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region sharing water saving tips.  Here’s a sneak peak of Flo, can you guess where she is?

Our Spokesgallon Flo with the Liberty Bell

So join in the conversation!  Make sure to follow @EPARegion3 to catch all Flo’s journeys in our region, and follow @EPAwatersense and the #fixaleak hashtag to get more tips during the chat.

Take the Pledge!

Join us and thousands of your friends and neighbors in taking simple actions to save water.  Take the “I’m for Water” pledge, and make a resolution this year to save this precious resource.

For more information on Fix a Leak Week and the WaterSense program, go to www.epa.gov/watersense.  You can also follow WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter!  Make 2013 about water and take the pledge today!

Tell us how you are saving water this Fix a Leak Week in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency since 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi.  She is a financial analyst and project officer for the Water Protection Division, Office of Infrastructure and Assistance.  She is also the Regional Liason for the WaterSense Program.  Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Saving Water and Energy – the Trickle Down Effect on Your Wallet

By Matt Colip and Walter Higgins

Just like homeowners, wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities have to control their energy usage because their budgets are so tight.  While you and I can install attic insulation or turn off lights when they aren’t in use to lower bills, plans for reducing energy use can be a little more complicated at water and wastewater treatment facilities. Still, there are many strategies available to reduce energy usage at water treatment facilities.  Oh, and you can help too.

One way a treatment facility can trim down its energy use is to start from the source and reduce the overall community demand for drinking water and waste water to be treated.  Less water used in communities means a lower cost to you on your water and sewer bill.  By promoting the use of water efficient WaterSense products and water conservation practices by the citizens within their service area, water utilities can reduce energy use significantly. Just think about how much less water facilities would have to treat and the energy that could be conserved if all of us used even a little less!

Have you ever driven by a waste water plant and noticed a large flame coming off one of the stacks?  That’s gas that is produced in the operations of the plant and is typically burned off.  Instead of flaring, it can be beneficially used to run turbines that can generate heat and electricity for the plant (otherwise known as Combined Heat and Power).  Also, some facilities are beginning to install solar photovoltaic panels on the plant grounds to offset the total electricity used by the plant.

On May 8th, EPA, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, hosted an Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately their carbon footprint.  This conference highlighted several areas related to energy efficiency along with innovative solutions to wastewater treatment.

Interested in hearing more about what happened at the conference? The presentations can be found on our website. For additional information, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Authors: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. Walter Higgins is in Region 3′s Water Protection Division where he manages grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects.  He is also involved in working with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency and has been with EPA since 2010.  Prior to EPA he was a soil scientist with the Montgomery County Health Department, in Pa.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Higher Education: Messaging with Green Roofs

By Nancy Grundahl

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of May will focus on Clean Water, Jobs, and the Economy.

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green roofs have much to offer.

  • They hold rainfall that would otherwise run over impervious surfaces carrying pollutants to our streams.
  • They act as magnificent insulators, significantly lowering the HVAC needs of a building.
  • They provide habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies and bees.
  • And, some may provide a park-like escape for people working in the building.

So, it’s no surprise that green roofs are gaining in popularity. And, it figures that someone would start designing green roofs to be like works of art or to convey a company’s message. I don’t mean by using signs or statues, but by using plants and soils with different colors and textures.

It makes sense.  There’s an audience out there – or, rather, up there.  People in nearby taller buildings, pilots and their passengers.  There were 448,129 aircraft takeoffs and landings at Philadelphia International Airport in 2011. Multiply that by the number of people with window seats and you get a tremendous number of potential onlookers.

So, we’re calling on all “higher-ups.”  Have you seen green roofs that you’d like to tell us about?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Fix a Leak: Little Effort, Lots of Savings

By Tom Damm

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of April will focus on Water Conservation.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the ECA installs faucet aerator during Fix a Leak event.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the ECA installs faucet aerator during Fix a Leak event.

Consider this: The average American home leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water a year – about the amount of water needed to wash 280 loads of laundry or take more than 600 showers.  A faucet that leaks at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year.

Though my family cringes when I volunteer to fix things, knowing that I’m likely to do more damage than good, even I could handle this one:

Unscrew the end of the faucet spout, pop out the existing rubber washer and filter screen, install a low-flow aerator and its washer, reattach the end of the spout.

That’s it.  Time involved? About 30 seconds.  Watch this video of how to install the aerator if you don’t believe me.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the Energy Coordinating Agency demonstrated how quick and easy it can be to save money and water during a recent EPA Fix a Leak Week event at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, where sets of new fixtures – aerators, showerheads and toilet flappers donated by the Delta Faucet Co. – were being installed throughout the building.

“Fix a Leak Week is a time for us to highlight the benefits of finding and fixing residential leaks,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, having just repaired a leaky fixture in his own home. “So we’re urging everyone to take three basic steps – check, twist and replace.”

  1. Check for leaks. Toilet leaks can be found by putting a few drops of food coloring into the tank and seeing if color appears in the bowl before you flush. Don’t forget to also check irrigation systems and spigots.
  2. Twist and tighten pipe connections. To save even more water without a noticeable difference in flow, twist on a WaterSense labeled faucet aerator or showerhead.
  3. Replace the fixture if necessary. Look for the WaterSense label when replacing plumbing fixtures, which are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and perform as well as or better than standard models.

Can’t wait to break out the tool box.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On the Road to Wastewater Energy Savings

By Matt Colip

Kent County Wastewater Treatment Plant has implemented some innovative energy efficiency measures, like solar panels, instrument optimization, and sludge drying greenhouses.

Kent County Wastewater Treatment Plant has implemented some innovative energy efficiency measures, like solar panels, instrument optimization, and sludge drying greenhouses.

It’s a fact that a modern, four-cylinder hybrid engine gets much better gas mileage then a larger, earlier generation, eight-cylinder engine.  Both get us where we need to go, but at different levels of energy use and fuel costs.

A similar concept can be applied to our local wastewater and drinking water facilities.  Operators of these facilities  are becoming more aware of just how much energy they use and more informed about ways to reduce energy usage. There are many methods of wastewater treatment, but just like cars, these processes vary in energy use and cost.

One easy way for water treatment operators to learn about the latest strategies in making their facility energy efficienct is by referring to EPA’s guidance document Ensuring a Sustainable Future: An Energy Management Guidebook for Wastewater and Water Utilities.  It’s designed to guide treatment plant operators through the process of maximizing their facility’s energy efficiency, while also reducing their costs.  The guidebook utilizes a four-step approach: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

They can also attend the May 8 Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg that we blogged about recently. This event (held by EPA in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) is for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately carbon footprint, and will highlight several areas related to energy efficiency.

As a homeowner, you can help your drinking water and wastewater plants save operating costs by becoming more water efficient yourself. One way to do this is by utilizing WaterSense products in your household.

For more information on energy efficiency, please visit our website. For information about the Energy Roundtable event, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. He is also interested in technologies that promote efficient living, strives to practice what he preaches, and is moving to a house on a pervious pavement street in Philadelphia. Matt’s love of bicycling took him on a solo cross country tour (riding from San Francisco to the New Jersey shore) as well as around Puerto Rico and across Ohio with colleagues and friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Save the Date: Energy Roundtable Conference

washingtonaqueductBy Matt Colip

Drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 3% of energy use in the United States, and are typically the largest energy consumers in communities, sometimes accounting for 30% of total energy consumed. Energy as a percentage of operating costs for drinking water systems can reach as high as 40% and is expected to rise in the coming decades. So you may want to give your neighborhood wastewater treatment plant a heads-up about a way it can save money and save energy.

EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are sponsoring an Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg, PA.  This event is for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately carbon footprint, and will highlight several areas related to energy efficiency.  This innovative and collaboration-oriented event will start with a primer on Understanding Your Energy Bill, followed by a Discussion of Tools to Assess Energy Use, Energy Audits, and Available Funding Sources.  This conference is not your run-of-the-mill lecture – no, we want to hear from real, live wastewater treatment operators and help others learn from success stories at saving energy and reducing costs!  This event will be an open discussion roundtable.  If you are an operator and would like to be involved in the Roundtable as a “Champion” of energy efficiency or as a Mentor, please send an email to the contact below.

Here are the essential details:

ENERGY ROUNDTABLE CONFERENCE

May 8, 2012

Penn State University– HARRISBURG CAMPUS

Science & Tech Building – Room 128

777 West Harrisburg Pike

Middletown, Pa.

For more information on energy efficiency, please visit our website. For information about this event, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.  We hope to see your water treatment operator there!

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. He is also interested in technologies that promote efficient living, strives to practice what he preaches, and is moving to a house on a pervious pavement street in Philadelphia. Matt’s love of bicycling took him on a solo cross country tour (riding from San Francisco to the New Jersey shore) as well as around Puerto Rico and across Ohio with colleagues and friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Longwood Gardens has Largest Green Wall in North America

By Nancy Grundahl

For more information on the green wall at Longwood Gardens, click here. Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens.

Longwood Gardens in southeast Pennsylvania has established the largest green wall in all North America.  Located in Kennett Square about 30 miles from Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens is an oasis of landscaped beauty.  Built by Pierre du Pont between 1907 and the 1930’s, the gardens were turned over to a foundation in the 1940’s to ensure that the general public would be able to enjoy them for years to come.

The idea for the green wall started as a sketch on a cocktail napkin. Longwood desired a grand new entrance to the East Conservatory Plaza.  And, because they handle almost one million visitors a year, there was also a need for more restrooms. The result is a curving structure with 17 restroom pods strung together. The walls consist of 3,590 modular panels mounted on a steel framework. Each panel houses a carefully selected variety of plants, about 47,000 plugs in total. The plants are fed by drip irrigation of water enhanced with liquid fertilizer.

The living walls – which have multiple water benefits – help connect visitors with plants, dampen noise in the area, provide moisture and oxygen to the air, and moderate the temperature of the microenvironment in that area. Green walls are one of the tools used by architects and planners to create more sustainable communities. Depending on the design and whether they are indoors or outdoors, green walls can enhance the water environment by slowing down a significant amount of stormwater runoff, resulting in healthier streams. Green walls can also be a way to reuse grey water, such as wastewater collected from washing and runoff from roofs. The plants can purify the water and the system can reduce overall water consumption.

For more information on the green wall at Longwood Gardens, go to:  http://www.longwoodgardens.org/EastConservatoryPlazaPR.html.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.