On March 17 & 18, Governor Bill Richardson sponsored a two-day state agency workshop. Here is background information on the issues that were considered at the workshop. State Agencies, including the Office of the State Engineer, Environment Department, and Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, had identified several urgent concerns regarding the water crisis facing New Mexico.
The Governor was looking for unique, sustainable and feasible pilot projects to offer creative solutions for eliminating various types of wastes and improving the management of our limited water supplies, while offering economic value-added opportunities and environmental protection.
Five Issues, Potential Solutions and Projects
1.) Wastes from dairy farms. Relying on past experience to address concerns relating to potential soil and groundwater contamination from dairy farm wastes, we turned to the international non-profit, ZERI Foundation. This organization has built and operated numerous waste treatment systems in both large and small, urban and rural communities treating all types of animal as well as human wastes.
ZERI's expert in this field, George Chan, is a retired engineer who ran the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, wastewater treatment program for the Pacific Islands. He created this system after realizing that (1) conventional treatment systems are expensive, difficult to operate, use energy, create waste that must be disposed of properly, and worse, (2) they don't generate any value-added benefits. His system is uniquely designed to fit local conditions and needs. It not only treats and eliminates all animal and human wastes, but provides pathogen-free fertilizer for crops, nutrition for the algae that feed pond-grown fish,, substrate for mushrooms, and methane for cooking, heating and lighting.
2.) Finding higher value-added products from low value tress (small diameter, salt cedars, etc.) and simultaneously strengthening our native forests.
Federal grant programs have been established to help thin the national forests of small diameter trees around the west to prevent forest fires and to create healthier forests. There are also programs to eradicate water loving non-native trees (salt cedars) by using pesticides and thinning. There is a perceived low value and apparent lack of demand for these trees in the form they are offered. However, there are some interesting low and high tech potential uses for these trees, as shown in previous projects by the ZERI Foundation. They stimulate economies while simultaneously enhancing the forest environment.
The value-added products include clean burning wood charcoal for heating and cooking fuel, non-toxic preserved wood, biochemicals with many uses that can be separated and extracted from the trees' components, and a potential to make activated charcoal filters. Making these products also creates jobs.
Once in the forest to do the thinning of these low value trees, workers can restore and enhance them by using a selected variety of local fungi to inoculate the slash and stumps. As the mushrooms grow they create new rich, soil humus for the forest floor, help to eliminate erosion, hold the soil, avoid sedimentation from affecting surface waters, and soften the impact of the cut aesthetically. These mushrooms can supply supplemental feed for wildlife or domestic animals, and reintroduce greater numbers of edible native mushrooms. This project has been designed by wood chemistry experts who consulted with LANL on the viability of implementation.
3.) Harvesting and irrigating with condensate.
Given the challenges New Mexico faces with water shortages and over allocation of our state's rivers, new and innovative approaches must be taken to address this critical issue. The ZERI Foundation has worked with local people in Namibia, South Africa, on an innovative project that utilizes pipes carrying cold ocean water to the land where the contrast with the warm air causes condensation. The resulting water is pure, clean and used to provide moisture and coolness around the roots for a variety of crops where there is no other suitable water.
This technology has been demonstrated on an industrial scale on the dry side of the main island of Hawaii. Its success was started by and is being carried out by John Cravens, of the Common Heritage Foundation. This condensation has been used successfully on a variety of crops and the water in the pipe is returned to the ocean. This technology can likely be applied to river water, aquifers, and produced water from oil and gas production. The technique will work as long as the temperature differential between water and air is sufficient to produce condensation without using the actual water source. This condensate can be calculated to produce a consistent amount of irrigation water for crops and the results in Hawaii and Namibia have been very positive.
4.) Remediation and value-added opportunities from oil and gas produced water contamination problems.
Soil contamination from the salt-rich waters produced in the fields where oil and gas production takes place is an important issue to address. Identifying and planting a variety of salt loving plants in these soils can, over time, slowly extract the salts from the soil and remediate the salt contamination. Such plants have accomplished this goal in a number of places from Eritrea to Arizona. They grow in salt contaminated soil, and when grown can be harvested and used in the production of bio-diesel fuel for a value-added product. Additionally, if irrigating proves important in the faster growth of the plants and uptake of the salty nutrient in the soil, the produced waters can be used to create the condensation irrigation described above.
5.) Cleaner production with zero wastes or emissions and value-added opportunities. Many manufacturing processes produce waste emissions and by-products which must be disposed of properly at a cost to the business or industry. There have been successful efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle such wastes with some savings, notably through pollution prevention programs such as the Green Zia here in New Mexico. The ZERI Foundationl uses a five-step methodology in which outputs from one enterprise become inputs for another until no waste remains. This method makes for more competitive and more productive results than conventional economic development and business models based on production of a single core product. It creates more products and jobs, while eliminating all waste and associated environmental concerns.