By US Water Alliance Board Members; Al Cho of Xylem and Cindy Wallis-Lage of Black and Veatch

August 4, 2021

Did you know that our water systems contribute significantly to climate change? Recent studies estimate that water-related activities may account for upwards of 10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And water utilities can be the biggest user of electricity in a community.
Turning on the tap takes energy to pump water from its source, clean it, and transport it at high pressure to your home. And once you flush the toilet, energy is used to clean sewage so that it is safe to return to the environment. Treating water and wastewater can also generate gases with high potential to warm the planet, including methane and nitrous oxide. Global warming potential is 25 times higher for methane and almost 300 times higher for nitrous oxide than for CO2.
But we know that water can also be part of the climate solution. We can drive innovations and water management strategies that help communities reach GHG reduction targets, deliver benefits back to the water sector, and promote an equitable, safe climate future. For example, the energy inherent in wastewater contains more than five times the energy needed to treat it! From renewable energy generation to investments in carbon sinks, water can help reduce our GHG footprint. In the 2020 Race to Zero Dialogues, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) identified nine actions water professionals can take.
We can learn from the Race to Zero, a global campaign targeting net zero emissions across all sectors by 2050. The global water sector is stepping up with commitments by leading utilities to achieve net zero emissions. Melbourne Water has committed to halving emissions by 2025 and reaching net zero by 2030. And in the first sector-wide commitment of its kind, WaterUK released a routemap for net zero water supply by 2030. The Danish water sector is also working toward climate-neutrality by 2030.
With advances in technology, and the ingenuity of the world’s water workforce, there is no reason why utilities in the U.S. can’t do the same! We’re even starting to head there.
The City of Raleigh, North Carolina, is finishing construction to upgrade their biosolids processing at its Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility. The new biosolids treatment process will maximize energy recovery from the sludge in the form of biogas that will be used for vehicle fuel in city buses.
And in California, Valley Water’s robust Climate Action Plan levels up on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. The plan lays out goals to reduce direct and indirect GHG emissions while improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy opportunities. It also provides a framework for adaptation in water supplies, flood protection, and ecosystems, bolstering emergency preparedness efforts.
In an exciting new national effort, the US Water Alliance—in partnership with Xylem, Black and Veatch, PolicyLink, Stantec, and Empowering a Green Economy and Environment, LLC—recently launched the Imagination Challenge: Water’s Role in the Race to Zero. A pilot of the US Water Alliance’s Recovering Stronger initiative, the Imagination Challenge will unite the US water sector in a vision and strategic pathway for climate mitigation through One Water. The goal is to shape meaningful climate action that helps achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets while delivering benefits to utilities and the communities they serve.
We are proud to join the Imagination Team in tackling this challenge. The team includes over 35 representatives from water associations, utilities, academia, consulting firms, environmental organizations, equity leaders, rising One Water professionals, and artists. Together, these experts will dive into the art of what is possible to set water on its way to a brighter future.
We all need clean water and sanitation. So, it is good news that the water sector has the potential, today, to become carbon neutral. By joining together, we now have an opportunity to bring sector-wide change.
Xylem, the US Water Alliance, and the Imagination Team are also proud to partner with Water UK, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and others to learn from one another as the water sector launches a global campaign for #NetZeroWater to support the Race to Zero. Join us by visiting here and follow the team as we race toward zero on the road to COP-26 in Glasgow!
Interested to learn more? Tune into World Water Week August 24-27 for special sessions on quantifying CO2 emissions in the water sector and building a net zero routemap. Together, the water sector can step up on climate action.