How Public-Private Partnerships Can Tackle Water Scarcity

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North Central Texas is one of many drought-prone regions in the U.S. Fortunately, a partnership between two Texas cities and a packaging and hygiene solutions company helps conserve water in this region — and it shows how public-private partnerships can help towns fight water scarcity.

Sealed Air’s plant in Iowa Park, Texas, linked up with local municipalities — including Iowa Park and Wichita Falls — on a water reuse project that will conserve 18 million to 20 million gallons of drinking water annually. Instead of using potable water in its chiller process, the plant is now equipped to use recycled effluent water from Iowa Park’s wastewater treatment plant. 

The project was jointly funded by Sealed Air, Iowa Park’s Economic Development Corp. and Community Development Corp., and the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corp. The partners completed a water pipeline in 2015 to allow free flow of water between the manufacturing site and the water treatment plant. The city of Iowa Park installed equipment to treat and filter the effluent water, in addition to constructing the pipeline.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term and may be prone to an ick factor, effluent water has multiple safe and hygienic uses that can save money and reduce water stress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation calls effluent water “a drought-proof water source that can be achieved at a lower lifecycle cost than that of developing a new water supply option while delivering environmental co-benefits.”

North Central Texas entered its fifth year of drought in fall 2014, and reservoirs were only 20 percent of capacity. “The outlook was very concerning,” Barry Hardin, North American operations director for food care at Sealed Air, told TriplePundit.

Hardin worked as the plant manager at Sealed Air’s Iowa Park facility while the project was underway. Sealed Air did a research study on its plant’s water use and found that cooling-tower water represented the largest water consumption process, taking up a third of the plant’s potable water consumption (up to 20 million gallons annually). “Comparison studies indicated that this type of water use could be a good candidate for effluent water as opposed to using a potable water source,” Hardin explained.

The solution was designing a system to use effluent water from the Iowa Park wastewater treatment facility. Through a “cooperative effort” between the cities of Iowa Park and Wichita Falls, the Iowa Park Economic Development Corp., and Sealed Air, “a $1.5 million project was initiated to provide Type I effluent water to area industry,” Hardin told 3p. 

The partnership benefited both the local community and Sealed Air: It helps to conserve clean drinking water for communities in drought-prone North Texas. And since the installation of the effluent water treatment facility in Iowa Park, potable water use at the Sealed Air plant dropped by 40 percent.

Some of America’s water infrastructure dates back to the Civil War. As Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), wrote in a 2014 op/ed: “The reality is we need an acute sense of urgency to fix a long-neglected, complex system of pipes, pumps, valves, tanks and treatment facilities across this nation.”

And one of the solutions, Deane explained, is public-private partnerships(P3s). Water and waste-water P3s “have proven they can deliver solutions to this nation’s municipalities and close the infrastructure gap in less time,” Deane concluded.

How other companies can get involved

Sealed Air’s partnership with the cities of Iowa Park and Wichita Falls serves as an example of how other companies can successfully initiate and complete a water or wastewater infrastructure P3s.

But, of course, water-reduction efforts must first start within a company’s own four walls. If companies are serious about water conservation, collaboration with the communities in which they do business is a natural progression. Or, as Hardin advised, “Always work on internal efforts to reduce total water consumption, and actively partner with local leaders to initiate creative ways to conserve potable water for the community through innovative collaboration.”

How can companies approach governments about a partnership such as this one in North Central Texas? “It is very important to ensure that all parties clearly understand the goal and the long-term economic and social benefits of these types of projects,” Hardin told us. Sealed Air understood the cost benefit, the cities understood the positive economic impact, and citizens in the area understand the overall benefits for water conservation, he explained.

And full agreement between all parties is key. “City leaders from Iowa Park, Wichita Falls, and leaders from SAC were in full agreement that a cooperative effort was in the best interest of the residents of the community and local industry,” Hardin told 3p.

These stakeholders each focused on the benefits their partnership would bring to both residents and industry in the North Central Texas, and they “weren’t inhibited by the boundaries of ‘city limit’ signs.”

Hardin added that the “early adoption of this mindset allowed the team to concentrate on the broad benefits of the project rather than the traditional approach of a narrower scope within each group.”

Indeed success stories like these prove what’s possible when public and private stakeholders come together around common goals. As global challenges like climate change and resource scarcity make business in the 21st century seem more uncertain than ever, we can expect to see more collaborations like these come across our news feeds.

Image credit: Pixabay

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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