Friday, February 26, 2010

What is your Water Footprint?

Carbon footprint is a major topic of discussion these days and every one seems to have an opinion on it, one way or the other. While that debate goes on, I would like to introduce you to the concept of Water Footprint. Have you thought about it?

Several items play into creating our Water Footprint: the water that is consumed by us, the water that is used to create and dispose the products we use, and the global trade of these products. The total Water Footprint can be broken down into three major components: the blue, the green, and the grey. Blue water footprint is the volume of freshwater used up from the global water resources to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community. For example, the use of water to irrigate crops. Green water footprint is the volume of water used up from the global green water resources such as the rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture. And, grey water footprint is the volume of  wastewater generated from goods and services used and is calculated as the volume of water required to dilute the wastewater to attain a quality better than or equal to international water quality standards. The graphic below shows your total water footprint.

Slide 6 -->
Source: Hoekstra,  A.Y. (2008) Water neutral: reducing and offsetting the impacts of water footprints, Value of Water Research Report Series No.28, UNESCO-IHE.

Historically, we have been aware of only the little box on the left named "water withdrawal" because that is what we see as the gallons of water consumed on our water bills. But we fail comprehend the amount of water we consume on a daily basis via the products and services we use.

Here is your water cost for common items used daily:
A cotton shirt = 2,700 litres (713 gallons)
A cup of coffee = 140 liters (37 gallons)
100 gms (~3.5oz) of chocolate = 2,400 liters (634 gallons)
1 kg (~1/2 lb) sugar = 1,500 liters (396 gallons)
1 kg (~1/2 lb) tomatoes = 180 liters (48 gallons)
1 glass of wine = 120 liters (32 gallons)
1 hamburger = 2,400 liters (634 gallons)
1 kg leather (as in shoes, bags, etc) = 16,600 liters (4,385 gallons)
1 sheet of A4 paper = 10 liters (2.7 gallons)

And yes, the 'green fuels' like bio-ethanol and bio-diesel have water footprints too. This footprint does not get incorporated into the case for "green" energy, but they should!! See the figure below.

Slide 27
Source: Gerbens-Leenes, W., Hoekstra, A.Y. and Van der Meer, T.H. (2009) The water footprint of bio-energy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS Early Edition, doi:10.1073/pnas.0812619106.

Next, there is a global perspective to water footprint since global trade influences the water footprint to a great extent. Consumption of goods in one place has significant impact on the water resources in another place – and that is nothing new.

Here is a comparison of the countries with their water footprints – no surprises, really!

Slide 33
[Hoekstra & Chapagain, 2008]

I am not against global trade, but buying local would be a good practice. It's hard, I know!
I don’t want you to get all guilty and stop drinking water and eating, but being conscious of your impact in this world is a good thing to be aware of. You can buy your way out of your carbon footprint and feel all giddy about it, but the only way to offset you water footprint is to be aware of the choices you make.

To the "Green Community", I urge you to start including water footprint in your calculation. A design / plan can only be truly sustainable if "WATER" is considered along with energy.

To all you tech savvy people out there who care about your water footprint, there is an iPhone App for you!!

Credit: Thoughts and information presented in this blog is from It is an amazing website with loads of information. I urge you all to visit this website and learn more about Water Footprint.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Desalination - US vs. Australia

It is interesting to note that over the last six years, Australia has been able to permit, design, and start construction on six major seawater desalination projects, and three of those plants are already in operation. That is amazing! On the other hand, desalination plants in the US tend to get embroiled in loads of problems, and California's first, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, is yet to be constructed. It took ten years of planning and five years in the state’s permitting process to receive final approvals from every required regulatory and permitting agency in the state, including the California Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission and Regional Water Quality Control Board. After all that, every other week we still see lawsuits raised for one issue or the other, only to be struck down by the courts.

This makes one wonder - why is it such an issue in California and not so in Australia? Just like the Australians, Californians live on the coast and have very similar meteorological, environmental, and economic issues. (Oh yes, I know, I lived in Oz for couple years and have recently returned.) So what is going on?

The answer is in three parts:

One, California has not faced as severe a water shortage as Australia. Southern Californians can get water imported (transported) from the mountains at relatively cheap and subsidized rates; whereas, in Australia, when the reservoir levels dropped down below 21% in March 2007, it was a major crisis and projects got done.

Two, though California and Australia face similar environmental issues, the permitting process in California seems to be haphazard and irregular. There are several agencies regulating various aspects of the environmental regime and often there is no dialogue or synergy between the agencies, leading to excessive delays in the permitting process. Each issue is reviewed and judged by different agencies at different times! There is a desperate need of one supervisory authority that coordinates all the reviews.

Credit: WDR, Vol 46, No. 8

Three, project economics vary between the two regions. Projects in Australia are led by the centrally planned regional water authorities who spread the cost of the project over the entire service area. Here in California, the model adopted was of a developer led project, whereby the developer was guaranteeing the cost of desalted water would never exceed the cost of imported water. This later model gave a different dimension to the project and led to mistrust, suspicion, and even animosity against the 'private' approach and raised cries of 'lack of transparency' and complaints of 'aggressive behavior'. The general trend is that the public believes in the 'non-profit' nature of public agencies (even if they are sometimes fraught with inefficiencies) and tend to disapprove of developers.

So, where are we now with Carlsbad Desal Project? The project just broke ground on some initial sitework. Unfortunately, the lawsuits are still coming, check here for latest development on this project.

Also check out some interesting presentations on desalination at the 2010 Water Reuse Conference. My friend Joe Monaco and I will be presenting on Tuesday, March 9 at 2PM (Session C5).

Acknowledgment: Thoughts presented in this blog also appears in the Water Desalination Repot Vol 46, No 8, edited by Tom Pankratz, and is repeated here with the editor's permission.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welcome To Proteus Consulting!

This is our first blog post. Many interesting blogs to follow.

About us:
PROTEUS Consulting is a boutique engineering firm that provides high quality versatile technical and management solutions adapted to clients' needs.

Founded by Soma Bhadra, P.E. in 2009, we offer professional engineering services for implementation of water, wastewater, and recycled water projects. We are known for our creativity and problem-solving skills, and clients say they especially appreciate the individual attention this small, flexible firm is able to provide. Providing high-quality comprehensive water resources engineering services is our mission.

Proteus Consulting is certified as a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) by the State of California, and as a Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

We have the following service offerings:
Design Build Plan, Design, Procurement, Document Control,Quality, Construction, Commissioning, Handover
Traditional Engineering Research, Reports, Engineering Design, Bid Documents, Construction Management, Closeout
Management Consulting Project Diagnostics, Project Planning, Value Engineering and Analysis, Organizational Transformation
Regulatory Compliance and Grants Permit Applications, Engineering Reports, Regulatory Approvals, Grant Writing
Sustainability Frontiers Rainwater Harvesting, Graywater Systems, LEED Certification and Design, Water-Energy Nexus