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Investment in America's Water System Infrastructure “Imperative”

More and more urban areas throughout the United States – in both dry and rainy locales – are facing growing pressures on their water infrastructure systems, necessitating both greater investments for overhaul and a change in development patterns that are more conducive to conservation, according to “Infrastructure 2010: An Investment Imperative,” a new publication released by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Ernst & Young.

Citing “water profligacy as an American way of life,” the report cautions: “Most water districts do not charge ratepayers full outlays for constructing and maintaining system. As a result, businesses and households tend to use water inefficiently and don’t conserve, even though per-capita water demand could outstrip future availability in some parts of the country. We are starting to see the limits of where people can go to live.” The supply/demand conundrum, it notes, stretches from arid California, Colorado and Arizona to humid Georgia and Florida. The report shows that the United States has the largest water footprint in the world, using nearly 656,000 gallons per capita annually, greatly outstripping far more populous China, which uses less than 186,000 gallons per capita annually.

The integration of more concentrated land development into water management can reduce runoff and combat waste, states the report. One example: The runoff from eight homes on 8 acres totals 149,600 cubic feet per year, while the runoff from eight homes on 1 acre totals 39,600 cubic feet per year, with the denser development saving both water and land. “Changing growth patterns in response to dwindling resources will not come easy to a nation that is not accustomed to conserving water or land,” says ULI’s Maureen McAvey. “But it’s clear that regional and local problems with both water quantity and quality will continue without a broad-based cutback in public water consumption and a change in how and where we build. Water infrastructure must be viewed through the lens of sustainable growth.”

“Over the past several years that we have been co-producing this report, perhaps the most troubling conclusion overall is that the world is moving ahead in rebuilding and expanding its infrastructure without the United States. Bottom line, the U.S. is seriously threatening not only its quality of life now and for the future, but also its very basic ability to compete economically with the rest of the world,” contends Howard Roth of Ernst and Young. “Perhaps the priority in the U.S. should be a major jobs-producing investment, aimed at rebuilding national water, transportation and other life support systems. Whatever the solution, this latest real estate report clearly shows that the rest of the world is gaining ground, and that China and the EU, among others, already are well on the road to recreating themselves as leaders for the new world order. The U.S. has to stop treading water and start treating water.”

“It’s no secret that America’s infrastructure is in desperate need of repair, but the real problem is in what you can’t see,” says Ernst & Young’s Michael Lucki. He adds, “No other infrastructure category presents greater challenges than water. The decisions we make now will impact future generations for years to come.”

The report cites four main water challenges, each of which, along with stricter conservation efforts, could be alleviated by less sprawl and more compact development to help ease the strain on existing systems.
  • Old pipes – Rusting and dilapidated water infrastructure leaks away gallons and risks all-out collapse.

  • High growth constraining supplies – Fast-growing regions cannot sustain current land-use patterns or water-use practices given projected population increases.

  • Contamination threats – Industrial chemicals and agricultural runoff permeate ground water and settle into drinking sources.

  • Failure to conserve – The nation’s use of water has more than doubled since 1950, due to water waste, and to neglected leaks that drip 1.25 trillion gallons annually.
The report offers solutions to the nation’s water infrastructure problems that aim to foster collaboration among different governmental entities, incorporate land-use planning into infrastructure planning, and accept higher user costs as a necessity.
  • Use federal allocations to encourage the creation of long-range regional management programs to integrate water supply and conservation strategies with population projections, agricultural needs and utility demand.

  • Face reality, in that consumers and businesses will have to pay more to ensure reliability and safe supplies.

  • Give top priority to repairing and upgrading existing systems.

  • Incorporate land use into water management, including restricting development in areas without ample future water resources; using only native species in landscaping; and building more compactly to reduce runoff and enhance retention.

  • Protect ecosystems to enable more natural storage and restoration.

  • Use all available resources, including capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, recharging ground water, and making nonpotable water potable.

  • Incentivize conservation by more closely linking water costs to system usage, repair and maintenance.

  • Invest in desalinization technology.

Loop Tubes “Integral” to System

In a newly adopted position paper, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) states that the loop tube is an integral part of the loop well in a geothermal heat pump system.

A loop tube is the heat exchanger conduit of a geothermal heat pump system through which the heat exchange fluid is circulated and thermal energy transfer takes place. The loop tube is emplaced to the bottom of the vertical borehole and grouted from the bottom of the vertical borehole to the Earth’s surface at the drill site.

“The National Ground Water Association believes the grout and the loop tube are integral parts of the loop well, and that qualified individuals, such as a certified vertical closed loop driller, should be authorized to construct a loop well,” says NGWA in its position paper titled, “Construction of Vertical Loop Wells for Geothermal Heat Pump Systems.” 

NGWA’s position paper states that construction of a geothermal heat pump loop well includes, in continuous order, drilling of the vertical borehole into the Earth, placement of the loop tube to the bottom of the vertical borehole with the grout tremie, and grouting of the vertical borehole from the bottom of the vertical borehole to the Earth’s surface.

When these steps are completed, the vertical borehole may now be considered a loop well. Loop emplacement and grouting should be performed in a timely manner to guarantee successful loop tube placement, grout installation and environmental protection. 

Funding for New Water Technologies

Two small businesses have been awarded $70,000 grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop new technologies to solve priority environmental issues.

Omega Optics Inc. of Austin, Texas, is working on a commercially viable technology to identify contaminants in drinking water.

Defiant Technologies of Albuquerque, N.M., has its sights on a hand-held miniature chemical sensor system that will report on contaminants in ground water, and can be adapted for use in even the smallest wells.

EPA and SBIR awarded 34 small businesses a total of $2.38 million in funding to develop new technologies to protect human health and the environment. “Small businesses are critical elements for technical innovation in the United States,” says the EPA’s Al Armendariz. “EPA is helping small businesses make significant contributions to both the environment and the economy through the SBIR program.”

It's a Mixed Bag Out There

For a recent poll on our Web site (, we asked drilling contractors, “Which best describes your company’s situation for 2010?” The results:

  • Aggressive expansion – 14 percent

  • Increased business – 20 percent

  • We’re holding our own – 29 percent

  • Business slightly down – 9 percent

  • Letting people go – 29 percent 

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