GLENN REINHARDT is executive director of the Water Environment Research Foundation, an independent scientific research organization dedicated to wastewater and stormwater issues.
Describe the work of the Water Environment Research Foundation and your role in the organization.
Name: Glenn Reinhardt
Title: Executive Director of the Water Environment Research Foundation
About WERF: The Water Environment Research Foundation, formed in 1989, is America’s leading independent scientific research organization dedicated to wastewater and stormwater issues. Over the past 20 years WERF has produced 300 research reports, valued at over $62 million.
Glenn Reinhardt: The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) manages a portfolio of research on behalf of the wastewater profession addressing wastewater treatment, stormwater and water quality. Major areas of emphasis include managing wastewater as a resource; enhancing sensor technology; energy generation from wastewater and solids; trace organics; nutrient management and nutrient recovery; and asset management. I am the executive director of WERF and was part of the founding of WERF in 1989 along with Denny Parker and other dedicated volunteers representing a broad cross-section of the water quality profession. My role focuses on policy, strategic direction and funding.
What are the most critical issues currently facing WERF?
Reinhardt: WERF regularly surveys its members and there is never a shortage of critical issues. Top priorities include energy conservation and generation, nutrient removal and recovery, trace organics in receiving waters, and asset management. Climate change is an important issue that is addressed in the context of energy conservation and generation, carbon footprint, and adaptation is addressed through asset management.
How do you see the regulatory landscape affecting the wastewater utilities?
Reinhardt: In the short-term, regulatory initiative in the areas of nutrients and stormwater are going to drive utility investments and therefore technology. Longer terms, as utilities become resource recovery centers, market incentives will replace regulations as a primary driver and wastewater treatment facilities will deliver effluent that far exceeds today’s regulatory requirements. Much of it will be reused.
What can utilities do to address the gap between funds and tightening regulations?
Reinhardt: While it may seem self-serving, investing in research is a significant part of this answer. History has proven that research is the most effective way to mitigate the cost of regulations. This is also true of asset rehabilitation and replacement. Moving toward a market approach and elevating the value of water will also help bridge the funding gap.
Do you see technologies that might help bridge this gap?
Reinhardt: Yes. Wastewater contains about 10 times the energy it takes to treat it. The challenge is extracting that energy. Microbial fuel cells hold great promise, as do new technologies that exploit the hydraulics of wastewater flow. Membranes are changing the way we treat wastewater and will facilitate resource recovery. We are also developing new asset management tools that improve decisions on maintenance, repair and replacement of assets by better evaluation of the remaining life of assets.
What role does WERF play in the technology adoption process?
Reinhardt: One of the best examples of this is UV disinfection. WERF didn’t develop UV disinfection for wastewater treatment, but it helped speed the refinement and adoption of this technology. By performing research on scale-up, effects of up-stream treatment, cost benefit analysis, engineering, and full scale demonstrations, the profession had a scientific, objective source for information outside of the manufacturing community.
What are the biggest challenges facing your organization?
Reinhardt: Funding is always a challenge. We estimate adequately addressing all the challenges identified by our members would require some $60 million annually. The WERF budget is about 20 percent of that number. Compared to other industrialized countries the United States under-invests in research, but given the tough economic times we are experiencing it’s worth noting that virtually all of WERF’s members remain steadfast.
What do you love about what you do?
Reinhardt: A measure of one’s life, in part, is the difference they can make to improve our environment. Providing science and technology of practical usefulness to our members, on the front line of wastewater treatment, improves our environment every day. What could be better?