22 April 2009

Water Tech Programs To Bring Jobs To The State

Story from the Oakland Business Review

Could lowering the amount of water lost through the state's aging networks of municipal water systems help replace lost jobs in Michigan?

That's the goal of a new initiative unveiled today at Detroit's Water Works Park involving the state, the city's Water and Sewerage Department, the city of Farmington Hills and an Israeli company that specializes in urban water-loss technology.

The so-called "Green Jobs for Blue Waters" initiative involves setting up pilot demonstration projects – one each in Detroit and Farmington Hills – where officials from Tel Aviv, Israel-based Miya will work to identify leakage areas and devise fixes.

The goal is to eventually broaden out the program and establish a Michigan training center to help create new jobs in fields like engineering, manufacturing, installation and maintenance.

"As these projects expand, we will train more Michigan workers and develop expertise that we can export nationally and globally as well," Lt. Gov. John Cherry said in unveiling the initiative.

Water technologies, the state estimates, represent a $500 billion global market, and it's expected to grow to $1 trillion by 2020. Proponents say the initiative holds the potential to save energy and money for ratepayers.

"No question, it's a business opportunity, but we see it as a business opportunity for Michigan as well," said Booky Oren, executive director for Miya. "I think that when you are dealing with efficiency, you create more from existing resources."

Miya, a privately held company that Oren would only say has a "few thousand" employees globally, provides its technology and engineering expertise in other countries, but not yet in the U.S. The company uses acoustic sensors and works to control pressure across a water system.

Most water system operators make "major mistakes" in seeking to immediately replace pipes when leaks occur, he said.

"By controlling pressure, you immediately reduce the water loss amount and only after that you have a lot of data (about) what's going on, and then you begin to prioritize where you replace pipes," Oren said.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department provides an average of 675 million gallons of drinking water per day to nearly 4 million customers across 1,079 square miles in Southeast Michigan.

While amounts of loss vary according to location and age of the system, the department's latest estimate is that it loses an average of 9 percent of its drinking water supplies to leaks, said Pam Turner, interim director.

"This is treated water that we're losing out of the system," she said.

Miya workers will initially staff the two pilot projects, Oren said.

"No question that as soon as possible we need to find the right partners. Most of the jobs need to be by the local (companies) or even employees of the local utility," he said.

The project resulted from Gov. Jennifer Granholm's economic investment trip to Israel in November and a corresponding partnership agreement she signed with Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai. It follows a similar partnership with a Swedish firm to convert wastewater to biogas in Flint and other recent successes in alternative energy.

"We have to understand that there is this nexus between water and energy," said Cherry, who leads a joint Michigan-Israel water technology working group. "This initiative is the next step in that progression to a new Michigan - alternative energy, blue water and on and on as we build the dream of a Michigan future.

"Ultimately what our goal here with this initiative is to put Michigan in the position of global leadership and expertise with water management systems."

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