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Improving water efficiency to boost city economics

4 min read


This post is sponsored by Johnson Controls.

The quality and safety of city water continues to be a top news story as cities work to deal with aging infrastructure and other related issues. Improving water for residents and businesses can be a boon to cities as industries expand and more people purchase homes.

In this post, we talk with Dennis Siegert, director of Johnson Controls Water Solutions. He and his National Water Team are focused on “migrating the US water community to smart water use through innovation, planning, education and application.”

Question: What does water efficiency mean to a city?

Dennis Siegert: When a city examines water efficiency, it looks at how both residents and facilities use water. It also considers how proficiently the city is able to treat, distribute, measure, collect and re-treat the water residents and businesses use on a daily basis. Just as the city expects residents to attempt to conserve water, it must practice efficiency in the way it handles water throughout the treatment cycle, relying on metering accuracy, data collection, proper maintenance and leak detection as key tools in water management.

Q: How does water efficiency affect a local government?

DS: Two of the leading energy consumers in a city are the wastewater and water treatment plants and their associated pumping, which the city typically manages. Therefore, it’s imperative that the plants be run as efficiently as possible to keep costs down while ensuring the water meets federal and state quality standards. This helps the city avoid unpopular rate increases while instilling confidence in the quality of the water and the infrastructure that supports it. In turn, this attracts new homeowners and businesses to the community.

Q: What options are available to local governments in terms of funding water efficiency projects?

DS: Local governments have a number of options available to them. They can pass bonds, raise water rates and use capital funds to update their water treatment facilities and procedures. Another option that is gaining traction among many local governments is the use of performance contracts to let savings pay for more-efficient equipment.

Q: What advantages does a performance contract offer local governments?

DS: A performance contract puts upgrades and efficiency savings solutions within financial reach by offsetting these improvements with utility and operational savings that are guaranteed over a fixed period of time. Improvements are typically made in a short time frame, freeing up funds from the city’s operational budget. It’s also low risk because the contract provider pays the difference if the savings do not occur.

The performance contract specifies the scope of improvements, associated costs, estimated energy and other savings, grants available for project funding and the resulting cost savings.

Q: Can you cite an example where the goals to improve a city’s water program and a savings performance contract have come together to improve efficiencies and provide cost savings?

DS: The city of Mount Vernon, Ind., struggled for years to consistently provide its residents with a reliable and sustainable water supply. The problem was threefold: the community’s century-old main water intake pipe was crumbling, its water filtration process was unreliable and its metering system proved to be inaccurate. By entering into a performance contract with Johnson Controls, the city embarked on a series of water plant and distribution system improvements that included replacing meters to ensure all customers paid their fair share of production and distribution costs, replacing filters to enhance water clarity, designing and installing an intake pumping systems building, and adding new transfer pumps with variable-frequency drives. All of these improvements contributed to modernizing the Mount Vernon water treatment plant and improving the city’s water distribution system. Together, these upgrades will save the city more than $24 million over 15 years. Today, Mount Vernon is nationally recognized for its water conservation program and poised for economic growth.