How Do Green Water Systems Support Job Creation? -Green Water Systems
Although the earth’s surface is two thirds water, more than 97 percent is saline. Most of the rest is tied up in glaciers or ice shelves, which contributes to our diminished freshwater drinking supply. In addition to climate change, the U.S. is now dealing with major regional droughts which, in 2016, afflicted New England, the Southeast, and California, sparking wildfires that killed millions of trees and damaged crops and livestock across vast areas of the country. Why don’t we turn to well water to get us through this challenge? According to NASA satellite data released in 2015, the world’s largest underground aquifers, which supply fresh water for hundreds of millions of people, are being drained at a distressing rate. Although it’s a beginning, it’s not enough for us to create green water systems, which will help replenish our local aquifers through green construction. As a society, we also have to invest in a water infrastructure to insure a reliable and durable supply.
On the surface, desalination is very effective. Why don’t we simply remove the salt from seawater and utilize it? “Desal” is a green water system used on ships every day and by countries with low supplies of fresh water including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
In Carlsbad, California, the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere has started to provide San Diego County with 50-million gallons per day (50 MGD) of fresh water since December 2015. It cost $1 billion to build, generating 2,300 jobs during construction and 575 jobs during operation. Up the coast in Huntington Beach, the same operator, Poseidon Water, is in the final permitting phase to build another 50 MGD plant, generating 2,000 jobs during construction, 18 full-time jobs and 322 indirect jobs once the facility is in operation by 2019.
A desalination plant can provide millions of dollars in economic stimulus over its lifetime, but are these jobs truly green? Desalination works by forcing seawater through semi-permeable polymer membranes that that act as a barrier to salt, mineral, organic and biological compounds, including pathogens, while letting freshwater through. It’s a process called reverse osmosis which is highly energy- intensive, making it very expensive. While drawing in seawater, pipes for desalination plants suck up plankton, larvae and fish eggs, degrading the ocean’s ecosystem. Very salty brine is pumped back into the sea, a concentrated stew that’s not conducive to marine health. Due to these factors, the Sierra Club is circulating a petition that the California Coastal Commission deny the Huntington Beach plant its final operations permit.
Surprisingly, water recycling can be a better green water system that supports job creation. Despite the term, the process does not move H2O directly from toilet to tap. The Groundwater Replenishment System in Orange County generates double the capacity of the Carlsbad desalination plant, 100 MGD a day. It’s the world’s largest advanced green water purification system that generates potable water through recycling. The plant is a joint project of the Orange County Water District and the Orange County Sanitation District. The water is purified in several stages:
First, wastewater is pumped into holding basins filled with 270 million micro-filters, then forced under high pressure through reverse osmosis membranes.
Next, it’s treated with hydrogen peroxide, then exposed to ultraviolet light. After all that, the recycled H2O is not added directly to the water supply; half goes into to the earth to produce a freshwater buffer so seawater doesn’t intrude on OC’s freshwater ground supplies. The other half is pumped into percolation basins where the water seeps through sand and gravel to replenish Orange County aquifers. The plant uses one-third the energy needed to desalinate seawater, and cuts discharges into the ocean rather than add to them.
Plant management says that since the facility opened in 2008, it has generated thousands of green jobs. There are several innovative ideas for global drought; Europe seems to be ahead of the U.S, and we’re catching up through companies that are becoming more sustainable due to demand from consumers and Millenials. Large corporations like Nike and numerous others are joining the race to increase their circular sustainability within the company. They’re taking various measures such as recycling, re-using, re-purposing, grey water systems and other methods, which create more jobs and less carbon footprint. They also help preserve the planet and enhance safe and healthy green water systems.
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