Global Water Resources is a water resource management company that employs a concept called “Total Water Management” to offer water, wastewater, and recycled water utility services to customers in several areas within the state of Arizona.
The company was founded in 2003 by Canadian entrepreneurs from British Columbia. They had the foresight to recognize that the scarcity of water in the arid American southwest, specifically in Arizona, would require innovative solutions and they moved to Arizona to acquire private utilities and implement their unique vision of total water management.
Initially, the company acquired private, developer owned, water and wastewater utilities servicing an area of Pinal County that would soon be incorporated as the City of Maricopa. They then began to consolidate other utilities throughout the state under the umbrella of Global Water. The company has continued to grow ever since. In 2003, when the company launched, the City of Maricopa was one of the fastest growing cities in Arizona, and so Global Water grew organically along with it. During the economic crisis growth slowed significantly, but as the American economy began to recover the company returned to its upward trajectory with new connection growth around four percent annually.
Today, the company serves nearly 50,000 residents in approximately 20,000 homes, and it has the service territories to ultimately serve hundreds of thousands of service connections. Importantly, Global Water will implement its integrated water, wastewater, and recycled water service model in these service areas.
This unique vision of the company is a model it calls “Total Water Management.” In the dry desert Arizona climate, water is a precious commodity. At Global Water there is a focus on conservation and on preserving this precious resource to provide sustainable access to water and to enable growth despite constraints on water resources in the region. Current projections indicate that by 2050, the population of Arizona may grow by as much as 60 percent. To be able to accommodate that much growth over the next few decades the state will need to continue to be innovative in its approach to water management. Total Water Management represents a model designed to address this challenge.
Total Water Management means managing the water molecule throughout the entire water cycle. By owning water, wastewater, and recycled water utilities within the same geographic regions, Global Water can drive conservation and the use of recycled water, while maximizing the total economic and social value of the available water. The water cycle starts with fresh water that is pumped from underground aquifers or collected from a surface water source, and treated to potable water standards. The water is distributed to customers for potable water uses. Global Water then collects the water as wastewater as it leaves the homes and businesses, and transports the wastewater to a Water Reclamation Facility where it is treated to Class A+ recycled water using industry leading treatment processes. Finally, the recycled water is sent back out to the community in a vast network of recycled water pipes, known as purple pipe, to be used for various applications across the entire community to include flushing toilets and irrigation. Water used for flushing toilets re-enters the water cycle and can be reused in perpetuity. Reuse on this scale can reduce the overall water demand of a community significantly. This is the total water management concept, and it is the foundation of Global Water.
Through these processes, the company helps reduce the amount of water collected from natural water sources. Global Water has recycled nearly six billion gallons of water over thirteen years, equivalent to nearly three years of potable water demand for the 47,000 residents and businesses in the city of Maricopa.
Using the right water molecule for the right application is critical to the sustainability of the resource. For example, it’s not necessary to use water that has been treated to potable standards for landscaping, flushing toilets, or watering parks, and so under Global Water’s model, recycled water is provisioned for these purposes. By using recycled water for various outdoor applications and toilets, Global Water can reduce fresh water expenditure within the communities it serves by over 30 percent.
Global Water has strategically positioned its service territories within some of the fastest growing regions around the Phoenix metro area. This means that a notable amount of the projected growth in the Phoenix metro area will happen in locations where Global Water will be the service provider. “We estimate that we can serve up to two million people in those areas,” says Jon Corwin, Vice President and Regional Manager at Global Water, “so we have to be very cognizant of how we manage that water to allow that growth to occur.”
The scarcity of water resources is becoming a significant challenge everywhere, but particularly in the arid, drought-prone American southwest. Over the last 40 years, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has been proactive in protecting water resources through careful planning regarding how water is used, and in storing water when there are surpluses. The Colorado River carries melt from the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains into Arizona where much of it is held behind the Hoover Dam in the largest capacity reservoir in the nation, Lake Mead. Much of the Phoenix Metro area’s water supply comes from this river, and from this reservoir. Lake Mead has been in a prolonged drought and thus water levels have been decreasing on average 12 feet per year during that period (visit protectlakemead.com/the-risk to learn more). Lake levels are currently approaching an elevation that would result in a shortage declaration. This is why the Total Water Management concept is so important.
To be sure, Global Water is committed to green initiatives. Creating sustainable solutions to the challenges that come with managing a natural resource is a big part of environmental stewardship, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle. The company works diligently in every aspect of its business to operate responsibly and with constant, conscious effort toward the protection of the environment. One example of this is a project that Global Water took on over the last few years in collaboration with a local farmer. When wastewater is treated, the final byproduct left over is referred to as biosolids. There are strict regulations related to how biosolids can be used and as a result, historically, biosolids would be dumped in landfills. But biosolids can be treated and used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer. The company is working with a local farmer to land-apply all of the biosolid they generate as fertilizer within those regulations. Everything that comes into the wastewater treatment facility gets recycled and goes back out for beneficial use, whether it’s recycled water for nonpotable purposes or biosolids as fertilizer. “There’s very little waste through our facility,” says Corwin, “we want to be a green company in everything we do.”
Another key aspect to Global Water’s approach to water conservation is the use of leading edge technology. Beyond the many varied technologies the company has in place to manage water, the company also believes in putting technology in the hands of its customers so that they can be active participants in water conservation as well. In early 2017, the company began upgrading water meters in its service territories to employ leading metering technology. In many water utilities, traditional water meters would be read monthly by utility employees. Other water utilities employ a drive-by system where a small radio transmitter is connected to the meter and the utility worker would simply drive by once a month in a truck, with the meter transmitting the information to the receiver without the worker ever having to leave the vehicle. Unfortunately, both of these technologies provide a single data point for the customer on a monthly basis, making it difficult to proactively manage water consumption.
Global Water uses a state-of-the-art technology known as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). In this system, the meter has a radio module connected to it and there is infrastructure in place to collect information from those meters continuously. Having access to this information in real time, rather than month to month, is useful to the utility – but Global Water has taken this technology a step further by implementing a web-based customer portal so that customers can view their consumption on an hourly basis. Further still, the company has implemented an alert notification system through which customers elect to receive automated email or text message alerts to be sent when they use more than a customer self-elected quantity of water.
Beyond simply measuring quantities and providing usage alerts, the system can also analyze flow patterns. Often, when a customer has a leak they don’t realize it until they receive an abnormally high bill from their provider. This creates frustration for the customer, and also wastes water. The metering system that Global Water uses can detect flow patterns that are indicative of a leak and provide alerts accordingly. With AMI and the alert notification system, Global Water has created a customer-friendly, environmentally conscious system that puts the customer in control of how they use the resource.
Global Water is highly focused on increasing its efficiency through economies of scale. The company considers itself a utility aggregator; by consolidating many utilities under one umbrella the company is able to take advantage of the idea that an increased level of production will result in a proportional savings in cost, and so Global Water operates more efficiently than a single small utility operating in isolation. Operating more efficiently means less overhead and those savings are passed down to customers.
There is no doubt, water conservation is critical to the health of the planet, and particularly to communities in the American southwest. Global Water has made great strides in furthering the conservation effort through technological innovation and through its progressive and conscientious approach to business. As Arizona’s population grows, Global Water will grow with it, furthering the reach of its stewardship to the environment and to the communities it serves.