Delivering Clean Water through Circular Thinking
[Editor's Note: This case study will be featured in our upcoming circular economy case study report, released at our 2017 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit June 26-28 in Washington, DC. Click here to learn more about the summit, including featured speakers and discussion topics.]
Resource reuse makes such a big impression today because our natural resources are becoming noticeably scarce. But now, we have the technology to sustain them. Water is a great example, and a lush county in New York State is seeing its climate pose an issue that calls for circular thinking.
The Ramapo River Watershed is critical to the water needs of Rockland County NY, as well as several communities in northern New Jersey. Changes in flow in the Ramapo River after various weather events are monitored by Rockland County Sewer District #1 to ensure groundwater stays at healthy levels. Certain months of the year have become especially dry, however, and the river’s sole-source aquifer shares its water with a local well system.
The aquifer has struggled to provide water to the one-million regional residents who depend on it in the tri-state area. It needs support to continue being a reliable delivery system while meeting sustainable levels required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Rockland County engaged a thorough procurement process in seek of a solution, but not just to keep the Ramapo River clean. They had to configure their utility system in a way that addressed Ramapo and Hillburn, NY’s dependence on an often-unpredictable flow of groundwater.
Rockland County ultimately selected Veolia Water Technologies, a solutions provider of Veolia North America to design, build and operate the Western Ramapo Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility, a new 1.5M gallon-per-day wastewater plant.
Equipped with sequencing batch reactors, the plant extended the typical water aeration process and championed a unique type of microfiltration. This allows the county to treat effluent that normally wouldn't return to drinking water standards set by the EPA.
The best part: This effluent then replenishes the Ramapo Valley’s groundwater aquifer. By denitrifying this wastewater and feeding it back into the river, the aquifer can rehydrate itself and provide for residents despite seasons that make it difficult.
By incorporating new technologies in an otherwise conventional utility, Rockland County puts a natural resource into a closed loop — addressing a visible effect of climate change with a circular solution.
Where They’ve Come
Communities shouldn't have to compete for clean water, and with this new reclamation plant, they don't have to. Water is meant to be reused, but it requires the proper guidance to do it effectively.
The Ramapo River aquifer can now reliably deliver clean water to a million residents in Rockland County and 280,000 across the state line in New Jersey. It’s a real measure for how creative solutions at the local level can improve the distribution of public resources regionally and contribute to the circular economy at the same time.
The circular economy isn't exclusive to clean-energy entrepreneurs or an "alternative" movement to conventional public works. On the contrary, it invites utility systems to think differently about their role in addressing the challenges facing their community.