At Emory, A Cure For California’s Water Crisis?

In case you didn’t know, climate change is already posing some serious challenges to American society, of which possibly the greatest challenge may be access to potable water. Just look at California; at the current rate of consumption, the Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead reservoir, which it shares with Nevada, may run out of water by 2021 unless the oncoming Mega-drought breaks.


“By 2030, our water demand globally will outstrip its supply by 40%.”


Luckily, a new study from the U.S. Green Building Council reveals that of California’s LEED certified buildings, of which there are 8,073 according to the USGBC directory, “Most LEED projects in the state have achieved more than half of the available water-related credits.”

While that is great news, it isn’t stopping the water crisis from spreading throughout the Southwest. However, on the other side of the country at Emory University there may be a better solution.

The WaterHub at Emory University looks like an ordinary greenhouse at first-until you realize what’s going on underneath the plants. Source: Emory Report, 9 February 2015.
The WaterHub at Emory University looks like an ordinary greenhouse at first-until you realize what’s going on underneath the plants. Source: Emory Report/Eric Vance, 9 February 2015.

Georgia has been dealing with a bit of a water crisis of its own for a while now, and has (figuratively) gone to war with Florida and Alabama for access to water from the Chattahoochee River in the past few decades. According to Ciannat Howett, Director of Emory University’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives, “by 2030, our water demand globally will outstrip its supply by 40%.” That’s why Emory University has constructed a new facility, the first of its kind in the United States, that reclaims some of the campus’s wastewater, which began operations this January and celebrated its grand opening two weeks ago today.

Aside from recycling the University’s wastewater, the facility, dubbed “The WaterHub,” is being used for hands-on research in multiple courses across Emory’s environmental and public health programs. At first, it looks like an ordinary greenhouse; inside the glass structure, plants flourish, a fountain babbles, and the air is thick. Underneath all of that, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria are busy at work devouring the waste in the water.

The process of reclaiming wastewater involves “adaptive ecological technologies,” a blend of natural and artificial elements like synthetic root systems and hydroponic gardens. Source: Emory Report, 26 January 2015.
The process of reclaiming wastewater involves “adaptive ecological technologies,” a blend of natural and artificial elements like synthetic root systems and hydroponic gardens. Source: Emory Report, 26 January 2015.

The entire process takes “[t]wenty-four hours, start to finish,” according to Jonathan Lanciani, CEO of Sustainable Water, the company behind The WaterHub. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy even made a special trip to The WaterHub when she came to Emory’s law school to speak to environmental law students in early February. “This may be an alternative that the agricultural community would readily embrace,” Administrator McCarthy said after the tour to the small group of students, professors, and faculty present. “It’s very exciting.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (left) with Director of the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives Ciannat Howett (right). Source: Emory Report, 9 February 2015.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (left) with Director of the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives Ciannat Howett (right). Source: Emory Report/Eric Vance, 9 February 2015.

If The WaterHub meets the expectations of reclaiming approximately 300,000 to 400,000 gallons per day, or nearly 110 million gallons every year, the repercussions could be enormous. In addition to making facilities and institutions such as Emory University more water-efficient, this technology could be applied for agriculture uses in areas, as Administrator McCarthy says. That in itself has enormous implications for areas suffering from serious drought conditions, á la California for example.


“This may be an alternative that the agricultural community would readily embrace… It’s very exciting.”


Until then, those drought stricken areas will have to save water other ways and maybe even change what food they grow to preserve what little water they do have. Check out the video below from Emory Communications for more info.

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