Value of Research
Rachel Brand, Water Research Foundation writer
Tampa Bay Water’s engineers were worried.
The water wholesaler had signed a pact with
state regulators to use less groundwater, in
order to repair local wetlands. The utility
had 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, to find new
water sources for half of the 170 million
gallons per day it supplies to 2. 5 million
people. That meant building reservoirs,
desalinating water, and blending sources.
For its entire existence, Tampa Bay Water
had relied exclusively on groundwater.
Shifting sources might destabilize pipes,
producing iron-filled, reddish-brown water.
“Our customers expect pure, tasty water
when they turn on their tap,” said Chris
Owen, Tampa Bay Water’s quality assurance
officer. “Red water brings hundreds of
customer complaints a day, impacting staff
and productivity. Plus, the only way to clear
it is to flush your pipes. When you flush
water, you lose money.”
So in 2000, the utility pulled existing pipes
from the ground and built a miniature
model distribution system. With $200,000
in funding and expert oversight from the
Water Research Foundation, the utility
tested treatment processes and water
blends. It found that alkalinity was the key to
preventing iron release and halting red water.
“That one piece of information was worth a
whole lot of money,” Owen said. As a result,
the utility’s board invested $4 million in
an additional treatment process. Tampa
Bay Water’s tailored collaboration with the
Foundation exemplifies how research helps
the bottom line.
Return on Investment
Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colorado
independently evaluated the subscription
benefits received by 10 utilities back in
1996. The consultants found that each
utility received quantifiable benefits that
outweighed their subscription costs by a ratio
of at least 20 to one and as much as 45 to one.
The Foundation also leverages your dollars
with other subscribers’ contributions,
federal monies, and partners’ funds. In
2008, $12.7 million in subscriber funds
were leveraged into research valued at
$20.7 million. This equates to more than
1. 5 times leverage for you, our subscribers.
Utilities get the most out of Foundation
research when they mine existing research
to improve decisions and reduce their costs.
Foundation research also improves
operations, influences regulations, and
helps you communicate about highly
visible issues. We have funded more than
50 projects on ozone disinfection.
Foundation research on ultraviolet light
disinfection comprises at least 30 projects.
Denver Water turned to Foundation
research when evaluating how to upgrade
its disinfection practices. The utility, which
serves 1. 1 million people, needed to reduce
the volume of disinfection by-products
(DBPs) in treated water coming from its
Foothills treatment plant.
It was practice back in 2005 to add chlorine
to the water before it entered, and as it
moved through, the treatment plant. But
that process did not remove organic
precursors before chlorination. This
set the stage for DBP production. The
Foundation’s research on the pros and cons
of disinfection approaches provided Denver
Water with an enhanced perspective as they
considered their upcoming project.