Why bother with Residential Water Struggles? It’s an Industry Risk!

When we discuss the water crisis in America, we often focus on a certain section of the Water Cycle: residential water. Yet, that’s only a fraction of the challenge and probably not the one where water is valued the most. Indeed, could you imagine industrial production without water? That’s why it’s a risk, and the reaction to have once you acknowledge it is something we covered:

with 🎙️ Damian Georgino, Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson

💧 Womble Bond Dickinson is a leading law firm that provides support to organizations operating within the fast-moving, challenging, and dynamic energy, water, and food nexus.

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What we covered:

🚜 How Water’s Rethink needs to happen at the Energy-Water-Food nexus level – and why

🤝 How this caters perfectly to the private sector’s abilities

🌎 How many countries in the World trust the private sector to manage water – and how the US may get inspired to follow the track

🏭 How when you do a water mass balance, you rapidly understand why the right focus is on industrial water

📣 How looking at sustainable water and best value for money inevitably leads to distributed and water fit-for-purpose approaches

💰 How industrial water is the perfect example of a potential private-private partnership leading to win-wins

🧑‍💼 Getting capital to work, Finding the best know-how, understanding the value of water in each context, striving for impact, facilitating change… and more!

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥


➡️ Send your warm regards to Damian on LinkedIn.

➡️ Check out Womble Bond Dickinson’s website

➡️ A big THANK YOU to Sciens Water for enabling this episode!

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is on Linkedin ➡️

Teaser – How the Private Sector may be the best vector for change in the US Water Sector

Teaser 2 – How there is a $1 Trillion funding need to solve the US Water Crisis

Teaser 3 – How we Focus on the Wrong Water by many Factors of 10

Full Video: My conversation with Damian Georgino

Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi Damian. Welcome to the show. Thank you. What’s to rethink in water?

Damian Georgino: The rethinking of water is probably not an answerable question because we have to look at it from a number of different angles. Capital. We need to look at it from talent management. We need to look at it from technology, and you need to look at it, not just municipal water.

The Rethink has to Happen on the Water-Energy-Food Nexus level

We all focus on municipal water, but also industrial. We need to look at the water-energy nexus. The water, energy, agriculture nexus, and so it’s, it’s a very complex problem, maybe even a multi-variable equation or a simultaneous equation. But rethinking it means taking that holistic approach and looking at it with those different counterparts in mind.

We heard the government, EPA and others just talking today about their capital needs. They were silent about where does a private sector fit into this. I think the private sector, when you rethink it, is really where you’re going to get the most change. Cuz the private sector is driven by economics, is driven by market dynamics and.

Driven by a political agenda, that’s where things get done.

This has to involve the Private Sector…

Antoine Walter: And how do you get that private sector involvement?

Damian Georgino: Well, you, you’ve gotta allow them to be participants. You’ve got to allow them to have projects that do create revenue, that do create returns so that they can get involved and make them more efficient.

I think Rethinking Water includes AI. I think it includes new business methods. You know, the outsourcing, the, , solutions and you know, water as a solution, water as a service. I think it’s all of those. But the private sector has to be involved. The US probably needs a trillion dollars of infrastructure and water.

Southeast Asia, I just heard saw reports. Southeast Asia needs 36 trillion by 2035, I think it is. So that can’t be done by governments alone. And with the advent of infrastructure funds, with the focus now in the investment community on water, I think it’s a nice convergence of capital technology and need. We’ll really accelerate, the growth of the industry, the focus on the sector.

I think it’s wonderful that people are now focusing on it, but now we have to do something about it. Previously we had an opportunity to do something about it, but the focus wasn’t there. With unfortunate events, in the world, we’re getting the focus on it. Now we have to translate that into actionable investments.

… and it will involve the right level of facilitation!

Antoine Walter: What’s your role in that nexus ?

Damian Georgino: That’s a great question. I’ve been involved in the water space for more than 25 years as a lawyer with Womble Bond, Dickinson, head of the Water, global water practice for us. I’ve been founding management, three public companies that are all faced, focused on water.

I’ve been, an investor with private equity. I’ve seen, the whole gamut of what’s going on in the water space. So my role is to help those companies that want to be involved and deploy capital deployed efficiently deployed effectively and provide the legal framework and grounding to help them through it.

There’s nothing wrong in letting the Private Sector manage Water – it’s the opposite

Antoine Walter: You mentioned all these experiences and you told me that you were involved in 500 water projects worldwide. What is the recurring issue which you, you keep seeing and which annoys you when you are thinking, oh, there’s so much better ways to do exactly that.

Damian Georgino: Well, I think you need to start with, we need to figure out what the value of water is. I think that’s one issue that we avoid. How do you value water? Is it a PUC driven return on capital or is it something else? Is it, should it be more market driven? Around the world, we find that it is more market driven and we are okay with private ownership, of water utilities, UK, Manila, you know, just go around the world.

Us, I think we’re somewhat afraid to attack that issue, but what is the value of water? I mean, I’ve heard people say, The value of water should be free. I’ve heard people say the value of water is the same as the value of life. You know, somewhere in between is the right answer. The market will find that, but we’ll have price discovery through markets.

Looking at the Nexus you’ll understand that you have to start with Industrial Water

I think that’s the first thing we need to understand and appreciate. What are we trying to solve right now? I think we just don’t address that question adequately. We need to also look at , as I mentioned, the various nexus. When you look at water usage, the largest single water user is agriculture by a factor of 10 to the next largest user, which is energy and by a factor of 10.

Next is industrial, and then by a factor, 10 less is residential users. So we focus on residential to fix the problem. Maybe there are some other ways to look at it that can fix the bigger use problem.

Antoine Walter: So what you’re saying is that I can pee in the shower as much as I want, it’s not gonna solve the problem.

Damian Georgino: No, and we, we penalize California. 8% of all the water used in California goes to residential, and they’re the ones that are being pinched right now.

Distributed Water and Water Fit-for-purpose will enable an optimum value for money

Antoine Walter: We are looking here at Rethinking Water from a utility standpoint and from a collective way to treat it in the us. Right now, the shift is ongoing and I think next year or in two years, depending on the projections, there will be more water spent on bottled water than on utility water.

Is that a threat for the sector?

Damian Georgino: At some point, the real question is how should you deliver? How should water be delivered? There are a number of opportunities out there that are called distributed water where water is made locally. One of the issues utilities have, and by the way, the largest single cost of a utility is energy.

A water utility is energy. Yet we have this one pass system. You bring water in, you treat it, you’re in New York City. It comes from how many hundred miles away. You pump it up, a 50 story building, it comes down and goes out into the river. You treat it and goes out into the river. That’s really inefficient.

You know these tall 50 story buildings are. Our small municipalities in a lot of areas, we need to think about treating locally and recycling locally. That gets you away from a lot of these other negative attributes of big systems. Interestingly, and this is a very abstract concept, but when you look at the, energy grid from about 15 or so years ago, if you need more power, you built, , bigger power stations or more power stations and bigger distribution lines.

Water shall follow the Energy Sector’s proven track

Then all of a sudden with the advent of technology and deregulation, you ended up with micro grids that then turned into distributed energy. If you look at what’s going on right now, and you used AI to get there, but right now the water systems are unknowing.

Not that they’re not intelligently designed. It’s just you don’t know what’s going on and there’s nobody converting that information into actionable information that you can use to change your system. You’re now getting to the point where you can take that and push it to a distributed water model with AI and with other, technologies that are coming out out so that you can actually create a model that doesn’t rely on mega systems.

Antoine Walter: Don’t take me wrong. I’m a big proponent of distributed systems. But when I listen to the keynotes by Seth Siegel this morning, who explains how there’s 52,000 water utilities and the solution might be to go distributed, that might be resulting in even more facilities, even more infrastructures, not the big pipes in between but more smaller scale solutions on the local scene. Aren’t we running into more problems if we go distributed? The system is already pretty fractioned and we would be fractioning the fractioned system.

The industrial sector is the highest bang for the buck in distributed water approaches

Damian Georgino: Well, again, go back to when I look at distributed water, you’re focusing entire , on residential and he’s talking about residential.

The 53,000 are in municipal systems. Again, most of the water may be in industrial, you know, look how much water is used in food and beverage in farming. So when you look at it from that standpoint, it’s a little bit different lens. Absolutely. That you’re looking. So what if your only focus is municipal?

You’re missing the largest piece from a volume standpoint, right? So, uh, you know, again, it depends on which way you wanna go. You look where the, a lot of the pollution is coming from. I think from a municipal waste system, we actually do a pretty good job. There’s some, the systems need upgraded and there are new technologies to help maintain those systems.

But that’s not the volume. And you look at where the wastes are coming from. Some of the wastes are not coming from a municipal system, the agriculture system.

Industrial Water is changing and is looked at differently

Antoine Walter: The difficult beast to catch because it’s 70% of the, of the water usage worldwide, but it’s also the water, which is quite hard to recycle and to reuse.

So let’s look at the 20% in between. So the industrial water, for a long time, treating waste water for industrials would be a cost to be in business. You had to do it because of regulations. And now with the water scar in your real. An economy of scale. I mean, this improved resiliency in the system when you’re starting to deal with your water in a positive manner and that creates the business model You were alluding to the water as a service, wastewater as a service.

How far are we in that transformation of the industrial sector when it comes to water?

Damian Georgino: I think it is be, it is accelerating. Pick an industrial system. I don’t care if it’s. A chip manufacturer, which by the way, we, we worry about chips. 60% of the chips come from Taiwan. They’re having their worst drought in 60 years. Wonder why there’s a chip issue.

Industrials have capital – water companies the knowledge. That could be a win-win!

When you look at the industrial side of it, it is accelerating, and you need to think of it this way. A, an industrial user can deploy capital for its wastewater system, but it’s wastewater system is oftentimes a cost. And they have to comply with their permit, their affluent, , discharge permit.

And so you’re negotiating with what that discharge permit limits are, but your solution is probably a low cost solution. I just want to be able to meet my permit levels. When you now look at industrial outsourcing, for example, when you can take a whole system, how much ever capital is I I recall that 15% of a chip plant , is in water.

You take that capital off of their table, put it on somebody else’s. And they run their system for you. You don’t have to worry about deploying that capital. It’s now an operating expense on a long-term contracted basis. You take it away from, I have to worry about this system from an operating standpoint to a CFO type decision as far as whether to outsource or not.

And I use outsourcing generically. I mean, you can call it integration, you can call it EPC, you can call it anything you want, but it’s taking assets, which would normally be inside the fence and turning it into a, a third party contracted.

What’s on the horizon for the American Water Sector?

Antoine Walter: To round up that discussion, I have a bit of a crystal ball question, which is, if you’re looking now into the future in five years, in 10 years, what will tell you that we have been rethinking water the right way so that we created an impact?

Damian Georgino: If we have looked at it in that broader sense? I started with originally. The impact I think you will see in a more efficient use of water. The impact will be in technology being deployed in, in a smart manner. It will come from people realizing the value of water no longer taking a bottle of Evian with, uh, and I’ve been to the Evian Plant on Lake Geneva, delivering that here in the US with a horrible carbon footprint.

It’s not just a French, it’s you. Uh, Voss in Scandinavia, you know, or, or Fiji. That just drives me crazy, the carbon footprints associated with that. But looking at water differently and realizing that water is not energy, water is not. Ag Water is all of that. Every company can impact your water footprint.

We need to better grasp the impact of Water

Every human has an opportunity, and when we realize that and get away from government who says, here’s what we want to do, and put in the hands of people who can actually do something about it, that transforms it, I think that that will be where we see the result. The result will be more thinking about water.

Not just here’s a glass of water, but understanding how it got here, understanding the usage of water, and making clothes, understanding the usage of water when you’re making chips, understanding where water comes into play with agriculture.

I, I don’t think we, we think that way. I think we think in episodic terms right now, Jackson, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, uh, you know, a storm in Puerto.

We don’t need to think of it as an episode that, oh my God, this is the big issue. It is a continuum, and that continuum in the next five years hopefully, will make people recognize and understand what it takes to get water or what it takes to manufacture anything from clothes to chips, brilliance, .

Antoine Walter: Well, to conclude, I have a couple of rapid-fire questions for you.

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Rapid Fire Questions

So the first one is, what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?

Damian Georgino: Boy, I’ve got a, as a lawyer, I see a lot of projects are all very interesting, the most exciting one. Now here’s, here’s something for you going back to the textile industry. Uh, I’ve got a client right now who rejuvenates.

Textiles fibers, turns them back in, uh, in divergent most, uh, textile manufacturing and clothing manufacturers, very water intensive, her recycling, and it’s a 360 closed loop system. Uses 96% less water. Wow. And 90, 90% less energy. So if you wanna look at the future of water, it’s not just water as delivery, it’s what about everybody else’s use of water.

She’s using 96% less water. So that’s, I really am excited about that project.

Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?

Damian Georgino: Integrators, you may have your own proprietary. But you bring in everybody else’s and you sit on top of it and finance it and have a monthly fee that’s a long, on a long-term contracted basis.

I think that’s a very exciting part. It’s, uh, as one manager told me it was, instead of having to deal with all these different pieces of equipment that have to be coordinated and one person blaming the other, this is the old, uh, one throat to choke.

Antoine Walter: Damian, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot and enjoy the rest of the conference,

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