“Water Solutions 2 ─ Technology: Innovations And Trends” Showcased Promising Public/Private Sector Water Management Approaches

Past Tides
October 4, 2017 By Wendy Wolfson

SustainOC’s August 29 seminar at the Cove, “Water Solutions 2 ─ Technology: Innovations and Trends” commenced with “Water technology community updates and opportunities,” a panel with Sally Gutierrez, director of Environmental Technology Innovation Cluster Development and Support at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Saied Delagah, who works in Research and Development (R&D) at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). According to Gutierrez, the EPA is linking networks of regional water clusters to share best practices and look for problem-solving water technologies that add resilience during natural disasters. Collaborators include countries such as Israel, Singapore, the Netherlands, France, and South Korea. “How do you turn water problems into jobs, economic opportunity?,” Gutierrez asked. According to Delagah, the USBR wants to ramp up treatment of impaired water sources such as brackish and polluted water, to mitigate risk, provide local communities with more flexibility and control over their water, and to reduce groundwater overdraft and seawater intrusions. Currently, 75% to 80% of the water in California is used for agriculture. The USBR sponsors research in innovative technologies to lower the cost of water treatment. “We have some more work to do in desalination to make it cost-effective, but I think we are getting there,” Delagah said. He recommended that entrepreneurs look at water problems that occupy municipalities as opportunities and take advantage of funding from USBR to assist in building technology development partnerships and initiatives.

This was followed by the panel: “California Waterfix: a $15 billion initiative,” with John Bednarski, section manager for water supply initiatives at the Metropolitan Water District, and Charley Wilson, executive director & CEO of the Southern California Water Committee, which has the mission of providing water to 27 million people. “Southern California’s water delivery system is outdated and about to break down,” Wilson said. “It jeopardizes our ability to deliver California’s single largest storage system, the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” Wilson cautioned that solutions are not only technological — but political as well. Bednarski discussed plans for tunnels conveying water through the Delta instead of via aqueduct.

Next, Gerry Sweeney, water analyst at Roth Capital Partners; Peter Brooks, vice president at AquaTECTURE; and Natasha Keefer, vice president of development, Renewable Resources Group discussed, “Trends in water tech investments: public and private investor perspectives.” According to Sweeney, harnessing digital technologies can help utilities improve their infrastructure, enable remote maintenance and better management of multiple systems that serve smaller communities of people.

In the session, “The California water market— Perspectives of an investor and former utility CEO,” David Nahai of David Nahai Consulting Services, LLC., predicted that while Los Angeles currently imports 90% of its water, in the future it will have to generate water locally. “And therein lies the opportunity,” Nahai noted. When evaluating a new water technology startup, Nahai looks for things like the quality of the management team, if a technology is truly disruptive, how well it can scale, and market projections. “No one wants to invest in a consulting company,” Nahai said. “The technology is important. You want to see revenues, as you don’t want to pay for a burn rate every month.”

In the session “Desal as part of a balanced water portfolio,” Mark Lambert, managing partner at WaterMark Resource Development, Inc., estimated that half of California’s population now lives below Wilshire Blvd. The 2017 rains were not sufficient to completely lift the state out of drought. While surface water is mostly restored, California’s groundwater has subsided critically since the 1920s. “The groundwater system is not healthy,” Lambert said. “Southern California gets about 80% of its water from someplace else.” According to Lambert, most state water agencies plan to incorporate desalination into their balanced water portfolios by 2035. Lambert showed a prototype of a future balanced water portfolio in which imported water drops to 10% ─ with the remainder coming from a combination of seawater desalination, direct potable reuse, recycled water, and locally-treated groundwater. Lambert estimates that the Carlsbad desalination plant, on a per-household basis, uses the same amount of energy as a refrigerator running for a year.

In “Smart water tech, data acquisition, and usage,” Patrick Atwater, member of the California Data Collaborative, discussed how using public data can lead to more efficient water management and pricing. “We really need to look at not just what people want, but what they need,” Atwater said. “When I see a body of water, I see data there,” said Ned Bader, master inventor & smart water champion at IBM. Clay Kraus, director of market development at Rachio, discussed how smart controllers and sensors could obtain accurate data on home water use, and leverage it for better management and efficiency.

“When we talk about technology and adoption, we need to consider the commercial adoption of this technology,” said Cristina Ahmadpour, president of Isle Utilities, in the session, “Cutting down the adoption cycle.” Isle Utilities scans the global marketplace and qualifies water technologies for commercialization potential. “Our objective is to accelerate innovation by working with different stakeholders,”Ahmadpour said. “Consider us the Match.com of water technologies.”

The afternoon session, “Meet the innovators,” featured a series of startups, including:

  • BioLargo ─ wastewater cleanup, treatment odor elimination, and hydrogels for advanced wound care
  • OriginClear ─ a continuous real time process to clean water
  • Reverse Ionizer ─ water treatment for cooling towers
  • Sloan ─ commercial toilets and urinals that use non potable water
  • BDP Envirotech ─ reduces power consumption for aeration and hydraulic construction
  • EvaDrop ─ water saving device for showers
  • GreenTech Industries, California Holding Company ─ colloidal chemistry with nanobubbles to clean waste
  • InStill WaterTech ─ high purity water for use in power plants, food, and beverage processors at a lower cost than conventional methods
  • Shane Ardo, professor of chemistry at UCI, showed an integrated solar photo dialysis process that can achieve a maximum desalination rate of up to 20X that of solar distillation and is less expensive than a manual reverse osmosis pump
  • NxEco─ mysmartdrop.com, a web portal that can manage up to 5000 irrigation controllers
  • Rain Systems ─ a precision injection machine that inserts a cross linked polymer into existing turf, which turns into water retaining hydrogel particles
  • Saya ─ smart water management to protect buildings from catastrophic leaks
  • Skywell ─ unit distills water from humidity in the air and tracks user consumption
  • Water Canary ─ real-time water quality data provider