Decentralized solutions can provide high-quality treatment for water systems in small and remote communities
The California Drinking Water Needs Assessment released this spring warned that the state is dotted with smaller water systems that are in trouble and that it will take billions of dollars to remedy the situation. Gregory Pierce, the assessment’s principal investigator, described the project as “the most comprehensive assessment that’s been done on the state level anywhere in the U.S.” The analysts looked at 2,779 community water systems that serve fewer than 10,000 people, finding:
- 326 systems with fewer than 3,300 connections are “out of compliance or consistently fail to meet primary drinking water standards.”
- 617 are “at risk” of failure.
- 562 are “potentially at risk” of failure.
- 611 state small systems, serving 25 people or fewer, are at high risk of breaching health standards due to location in mostly agricultural areas in the Central and Salinas Valleys and in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sonoma counties.
- 78,000 domestic wells exist in areas of heightened risk of groundwater contamination.
It has been estimated that rescuing these systems will cost an estimated $10.25 billion, but only $3.25 billion of the work is eligible for grants.
The assessment, however, comes as the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan is making its way through Congress. Through the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) — which already has passed in the Senate with a bipartisan vote — the plan hopes to fund small water systems in underserved communities.
Solutions for California’s Small Water Systems
The assessment suggests consolidation with other systems for a little more than half of the failing small water systems, but that has proved to be an expensive and drawn-out strategy to put into practice.
For the rest of the systems, the assessment found that water treatment process upgrades that can remove common contaminants like nitrate, arsenic, and 1,2,3-TCP are a possible solution. But, as noted in a Circle of Blue article:
Better treatment systems could work for larger water providers, but their complexity would overwhelm a system with only several dozen customers.
Smaller water providers can’t take advantage of the economy of scale that larger systems rely on, making treatment prohibitively expensive.
Overcoming Challenges with Decentralized Treatment
Approximately 90% of California’s noncompliant drinking water systems are small ones, serving fewer than 500 people. At Fluence, we know the obstacles such small water systems face:
- Agricultural communities are often remote, making connection to large-scale infrastructure impossible.
- Their groundwater is increasingly contaminated with nitrate from agricultural fertilizer.
- Water negotiations involving multiple entities can drag on and become complex, contentious, and costly.
Fluence’s solution for these challenges is decentralization, or putting treatment at the point of need.
Where lengthy pipelines to central systems can kill a project with cost overruns, decentralization simply eliminates the need for them and delivers local control. Local treatment also makes it easier to reuse treated wastewater locally for irrigation or other purposes.
Complex treatment systems require a specialized workforce, but Fluence’s decentralized water treatment solutions can be monitored and controlled by mobile app without specialized training. And they’re built inside weatherized shipping containers for quick delivery and durability.
Wide Range of Solutions
If you’re looking to upgrade a small community’s water system, Fluence has solutions that can help. For example, NIROBOX™ reverse-osmosis units can desalinate abundant brackish groundwater and purify surface water to provide a steady source of drinking water for a community. When it comes to treating wastewater, Aspiral™ units feature high nutrient removal and low energy consumption, providing an effluent ready for agricultural irrigation and other nonpotable applications.
In a state known for tough environmental standards, Aspiral™ units meet California’s Title 22 standard for reuse in agriculture with membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology. In fact, MABR was proved to exceed California’s Title 22 standard over the course of a yearlong demonstration at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Contact Fluence for more information on our containerized, California-ready solutions. In an agricultural area facing many water challenges, Fluence has experience in public-private partnerships that can make projects happen.