Processing Magazine

Fire, water, fuel and the mile-high city

June 18, 2013

In early June, editors from Processing magazine were at the AWWA ACE13 annual conference & exposition in Denver, Colo. Temperatures there under the brightest of blue skies were more than 90 F much of the time, considered very warm for the time of year. AWWA is the American Water Works Association.

Casual convention hall conversations indicated concerns at the stress early meltdown of the surrounding mountains’ snow caps will put on the regional water system.

In fact, Colorado is a place where energy- and water-related issues have real immediacy, what with several-year’s drought going, forest fires burning in the Black Forest and elsewhere and natural-gas fracking being an issue.  

Customers of the utility Denver Water have cut water use by 20% in the last 10 years, says the Denver Business Journal. Yet December last, the U.S. Dept. of Interior released results of a three-year Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand study that predicts the river will have shortages of about 3.2 million acre feet of water, compared to demand, by the year 2060.

Perhaps arguments about climate change impacts still linger at the level of politics. What they’re really arguing about is who is going to pay for it. Closer to the ground it seems a consensus is formed.

A recent review of Henry Petroski’s just-published book on the infrastructure engineering project, “To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure,” says “for instance, public works departments across the Northeast have begun replacing the pipe-like drains called culverts as fast as they can, swapping the size that the textbooks recommend for the much larger diameters the new rainfalls demand. ‘The books we’ve always used to design culverts, you can throw them all out,’ Dave Wick, district manager of the Warren Count Soil and Water District, recently said. ‘What was once called a 100-year event is now a 50-year event, and a 50-year event has become a 25-year event’.”

A new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), “Leveraging Natural Gas to Reduce Greenhouse Emissions,” notes that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are back down to where they were in the 1990s, in part because electricity generators are using more natural gas, which emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal.

Further opportunities include:

·         Manufacturing growth with reduced emissions by using natural gas in efficient combined heat and power systems.

·         Natural gas-powered fuel cell and micro-turbine use, producing on-site energy use waste heat.

·         Substituting natural gas for diesel and gasoline in fleets and heavy-duty trucks.

·         Direct use of natural gas in homes and businesses, replacing electric space and water heaters with natural-gas models.

Getting the money to do things and agree on rational regulation are the big sticking points in getting there. The eminently practical includes identifying and addressing methane leaks from natural gas production, transmission and distribution, and learning more about combined heat and power systems.