MILWAUKEE — Veolia Water North America unveiled the Water Impact Index, the first indicator enabling a comprehensive assessment of the impact of human activity on water resources. The company also announced what is believed to be the first-ever simultaneous analysis of water and carbon on a major metropolitan area’s water cycle.
The Water Impact Index expands on existing volume-based water measurement tools by incorporating multiple factors including consumption, resource stress, and water quality.
Fresh water availability has been predicted to become a major limitation factor for growth for cities and industries in many locations around the world, and the need to understand and quantify the impact on water resources is becoming essential to maintaining their sustainability and future prosperity. This reality requires an understanding of the factors needed to make the most appropriate, sustainable decisions. The new tool will provide additional parameters that decision-makers need to make these decisions.
“The framework that we used has broad application for public- and private-sector decision makers, and enables them to take into account a broader set of environmental and cost factors,” said Laurent Auguste, president and CEO of Veolia Water Americas. “The simultaneous assessment of water and carbon, along with economic analysis, provides organizations with a more comprehensive framework for making truly sustainable decisions. With this achievement, Milwaukee is further demonstrating its unique leadership in advancing the case of sustainable fresh water resource management, and with this new initiative, our partnership is further developing the path to sustainability.”
The Water Impact Index establishes the impact of human activity on water resources and provides a methodology for establishing the positive and negative implications of how water resources are managed. The study is the first to take the balance of both carbon and water into consideration, and assigns a value to water based on quality, quantity, and resource stress.
This water/energy/economic nexus study was possible through support from the city of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Water Council, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), and various water and energy utilities serving the area’s 1.1 million people. Milwaukee’s progressive actions and position toward water issues of the future made it a natural fit for the pioneering study. It is the only United Nations Global Compact City focused on freshwater management, which requires the city to carry out a variety of water-quality projects that can be emulated by other cities.
Selected key findings include:
•Even in a water-rich environment like Milwaukee, public water conservation has a needed positive impact on water resources and carbon emissions.
•A new project to replace natural gas and electricity demand via landfill gas will significantly reduce both the carbon footprint and the Water Impact Index, reinforcing the project’s relevance.
•The Water Impact Index shows that in Milwaukee, the impact of one gallon of a combined sewer overflow (CSO) is 465 percent higher than one gallon of treated wastewater. It also shows that the Water Impact Index of green solutions envisioned by Milwaukee, such as wetlands development, is approximately 12 times lower than the one from CSOs. MMSD has already been exploring these options and the study results confirm their choice and future plans.
•Additional projects are already scheduled or being investigated between MMSD and Veolia Water to further improve the performance of the system and reduce both the Water Impact Index and carbon footprint.
“The world’s great cities and economies have always been built around access to water,” Auguste said. “The study confirms the need to manage and locate future economic growth in areas that can sustain natural resources for future generations. It also reinforces the need to manage water and wastewater treatment systems through best practices that fully protect waterways but do so with cost efficiency and life-cycle costing that maximize value for citizens.”
MMSD and Veolia Water are partners in the largest wastewater partnership in North America. The company has provided operations and maintenance services of Milwaukee’s Jones Island and South Shore treatment water reclamation facilities since March 2008, as part of this partnership. Together, they manage a 411-square-mile service area with a 3,000-mile system of interceptor and main sewers, and typically treat more than 200 million gallons of wastewater each day.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of our natural resources,” Auguste said. “Citizens, businesses and public authorities must all be at the table to ensure the sustainable future of our local water resources.”