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When in Drought, Turn to Water Reuse

Eric Frederick |

As managers, we’re responsible for setting the course for our organization and carefully guiding it into the future. We’re the experts who are responsible for watching the horizon for an approaching storm. What events or factors can cause these storm clouds to form?
Several areas of the country are suffering through a drought. Water restrictions are being placed on homeowners, and water fees are being raised in the hopes of discouraging usage. Droughts come and go in a cycle that no one understands. If you’re not having water problems, just wait. Your turn will come.
If your area needs to build new sewage treatment facilities, the sewer cost may increase dramatically as the treatment systems scramble to pay for the capital improvements.
Many sewage treatment plants are getting old. Others are simply not big enough to handle the population growth. This is again a cyclical problem based on factors beyond our control.
Sewer treatment plants are looking for ways to reduce the amount of lint they handle. As a major laundry on their system, you’ll get the majority of the blame; no one will ever look at the tens of thousands of home washers discharging into the system. The sewage treatment authorities will expect you to find a way to reduce your lint discharge.
How can we prepare to meet these challenges progressively? How do we reduce our water usage? Wash formulas can be adjusted to reduce rinses and leaky drain valves can be repaired, but the answer ultimately lies with the various water reuse systems on the market.
We began looking into these systems after Clean ’05 because our sewage treatment costs were scheduled to double over several years. Passing on these costs while trying to stay competitive in our region of the country wouldn’t be easy. Losing business was simply not part of the overall management plan.
In my early discussions, I ran into a number of skeptics who simply didn’t like the concept behind the new systems. The old water reuse systems capture rinse water only and reuse it as wash water. The new systems capture all the wash water and treat it so it can be reused. Skeptics said that you’ll be washing with dirty water, reducing your wash quality.
The simple truth is that all water has been processed through various living creatures through the years. Whether it be a fish, mammal, bird or insect, water is the basis of life. Nature filters the water, cleans it and purifies it through evaporation and condensation and then the entire process starts again.
I realized I didn’t need perfectly pure water but simply water that was clean enough to use for washing. The different systems I investigated had their pluses and minuses. The purity of the end product was directly related to the project cost.
All systems had the same key elements. Each system had to remove lint and other suspended solids from the wash water, a step that made my sewage treatment plant happy. This is normally done through a shaker screen or a gravity screen. Next, the water needs to be filtered to remove oils and greases. The systems vary in the type and size of the filters they use. The one we chose also makes use of ultraviolet light and ozone to help reduce bacteria to acceptable levels.
Our water treatment system has been in operation since December 2006. We’re still working with the company and our chemical supplier in a team effort to achieve maximum results. We’re meeting our established goal of treating and reusing 70% of our wash water. This also translates to a 70% reduction in our sewer costs.
We’re not sure when the next drought will hit Virginia but we’re confident that we’ve positioned ourselves to be ready for that challenge. I’m proud of our efforts in this area, because they’re environmentally friendly and represent one way to manage a laundry in an environmentally responsible manner.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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