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Social media emerges as potential next step in water re-use efforts

As far Jan Dell is concerned, the next big technology to hit the water market isn’t some giant machine -- at least not in the usual sense of the word.

Dell, vice president of the energy and water division at contractor CH2M Hill, is convinced it won’t be just some new filter, reverse osmosis membrane or rainwater harvesting contraption. It won’t be any of those or any other new tangible invention yet to be popularized, she said Tuesday at the Scripps Seaside Forum, site of the two-day Water, Climate and Finance symposium hosted by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Rather, Dell contended, the future of the industry lies in one of the most pervasive mechanisms of the last decade -- social networking.

“The most powerful technology in the world is based on the concept of people working together,” Dell said. “It’s what’s driven the global expansion in things like Facebook, LinkedIn -- all of that.”

According to a recent study from Global Water Intelligence, very few countries around the globe re-use at least 50 percent of their wastewater. Kuwait re-uses around 91 percent. Singapore is at 35 percent. The United States re-uses just 14 percent, the study found.

Through its soon-to-be-live WaterMatch social networking website, CH2M Hill hopes to increase those figures by bringing together producers and potential industrial users of wastewater. Dell believes there is a sizeable public and municipal interest in wastewater, but that many of the barriers revolve around not knowing who else is locally interested or how to harness it in an efficient and healthy way.

After years of contemplation, the city of San Diego moved forward earlier this year on the Water Purification Demonstration Project, which in its one-year test phase will determine if wastewater can be safely treated and routed back into the drinking supply overseen by the city and San Diego County Water Authority. The project is being carried out at the North City Water Reclamation Plant using the technologies of multibarrier treatment, including membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation.

By encouraging communication, WaterMatch should make projects like that more easy to roll out, Dell said.

“This is down to working the grassroots and making projects happen,” Dell said. “When projects happen, we have progress.”

The site will offer, and allow users to input, information on the location of wastewater and industrial facilities across the globe, the types of equipment being used there and whether those facilities are equipped to transfer effluent in or out. Facilities will be able to create their personalized profiles to start conversation.

“We hope the magic happens,” Dell said, comparing WaterMatch to a few popular dating websites.

Planned for an official launch Oct. 18 at the 2011 Water Environment Federation conference in Los Angeles, the site is currently operational in a test version through the CH2M Hill website.

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