1 TWV Podcast #020 How Do We Clean Up Water From Industrial Processes? With Forbes Guthrie Show Notes at Intro (by Joey): Welcome to The Water Values Podcast. This is the podcast dedicated to water utilities, resources, treatment, reuse, and all things water. Now here s your host, Dave McGimpsey. Dave: Hello and welcome to another session of The Water Values Podcast! Thanks for joining me. And a big thank you to my son, Joey, who provided the intro voiceover today he was really excited to help out with The Water Values Podcast, and he did a great job. And he does the outro voiceover, too, so stay tuned for that, as well as the all-important disclaimer at the end of the podcast. This past weekend, I climbed a 14er with a good friend of mine in the water industry. When you re climbing, as you may guess, there s plenty of time to talk about a wide variety of things. He told me a number of the things he s been working on, and I took away a number of great ideas for future podcasts. So I m really excited to develop those ideas into podcast episodes. Well, today s show features a friend of mine, Forbes Guthrie. Forbes is a terrific guy who knows a lot about cleaning up industrial and brackish water. He s a vice-president at Stewart Environmental, and he can really break down the water treatment process in easily understandable ways. I wish we could have talked longer, but I think you ll really enjoy hearing what Forbes has to say. In addition, Forbes was one of the first folks I talked to that I bounced this idea of The Water Values Podcast off of, and he encouraged me to give it a go, and so I m very indebted to Forbes for his support. But in any event, I think you will learn a lot from Forbes. With that said, let s get on with it. Open the valves, fasten your seatbelts and here we go. *** Dave: Forbes, thanks very much for coming on to The Water Values Podcast, greatly appreciate your time. If you could, please just start off by telling us a little about how you got into water and a little about your background. Forbes: Sure, well thanks for having me. I got into water in a roundabout way. We were some of the pioneers in the technical world of internet auctions. And so we sold out of those when the
2 big boys moved into town. And I was looking for something else to do. I was invited by a company called In-Situ that makes water quality level and instrumentation. And they invited me to become their technical product marketer. And so I was in charge of their direction for a good number of years. And I got to know water, albeit from the water level and the water quality space. And the company moved to Fort Collins about 8 to 10 years ago. And I was looking around at the engineering talent in this area. I recognized from working at In-Situ that water was going to be a big deal. It was starting to be a little bit back then, but not so much as it is today. And I got the idea that engineers are really good at solving problems, but perhaps they re not, respectfully, good marketers. And so my objective was to find one of the most promising upcoming engineers in the water field and work with him or her to move their processes forward. So I met up with a gentleman by the name of Dave Stewart, and the company is Stewart Environmental. And he and I teamed up, and we ve been moving his intellectual property forward, primarily in the space of ceramics to optimize water filtration. So that s really how I got into it in a nutshell. Dave: Alright, good deal. And you said you teamed up with Dave Stewart. Could you talk a little bit about that partnership and what your company s all about? Forbes: Sure, so Stewart Environmental is arguably the oldest environmental engineering company in Colorado. It s 65 years old. And it s a family-run business. We ve got three business units. The first business unit is a lab, which is an anomaly for any company for that matter of any size. And it helps us to really dial in our processes, but we also keep most of the large industrial dischargers out of the newspaper in the region. So that really helps. And the second business unit is our namesake. So we run compliance and permitting out of that business unit, which goes hand-in-hand with the third business unit, which is our process design engineering for industrial water. We specialize in tough-to-treat waters. As an example, we moved into produced water long before directional drilling even took off. And, respectfully, we actually did write the book. We ve got a House bill and a Senate bill we passed on the appropriation of water. Produced water is potentially a new water right. So it s a strange place to be ahead of the curve. Sometimes you really don t want to be ahead of the curve until you get a lot of the industrial and institutional marketing tailwind behind you. But it s also a fun place. It s a nice place to be if you can get out there far enough where you don t have competition for a while. Dave: For those listeners that don t know or may not know what produced water is, can you just give a little thumbnail as to what that is? Forbes: Sure. So produced water is the water that comes out of oil or CBM wells, as the wells are dewatered. So as product is brought out, water is also entrained underground. And so that s
3 really what we re dealing with all over the United States and soon to be the world as directional drilling really takes off. We have greater and greater quantities of this water. The issues certainly are there, but they are very manageable from an engineering standpoint. The big deal is though, how do we take this resource and put it to its highest and best use? Obviously, the highest and best use is generally not drinking water. It s perhaps industrial reuse or even reuse for fracking. That way, it takes pressure off of using fresh water. Dave: What all goes into cleaning that water up for non-drinking water use? Forbes: At the end of the day, water is water. There s only so many molecules that make up water. But what s entrained in it is of consequence. And so in this case, if you think of it as an upside down funnel, or a funnel for that matter, and you start removing the larger particulates first, the organics and then all of the paraffins and some of the hydrocarbons and so on and keep filtering it to better and better standards, you ll get to a point where industry can use it. And so at that point, either the remaining total dissolved solids or salts may need to be removed. Sometimes they don t. In many cases in frack water, they don t need to be. But all of the scale-formers, the things that will gum up your inner works of your piping and your headworks, need to be removed. So that s what we do. We sequentially filter we don t have a black box. We look warily upon companies that may have a black box. But we use traditional, standard engineering, sequential processes to remove the particulates, as well as the dissolved and other materials in the water step by step. Dave: Typically, how many processes are in each sequence when you re cleaning this water up? Forbes: It depends. It just depends on the inflow and quality of the water and the effluent requirements. So there can be anywhere from two to up to five or more - again, the balance comes on a cost-benefit as you start adding additional processes. Of course, you ve got the energy equation, as well as chemical, manpower, and of course, the capital expense. Dave: And so you re using ceramic filters to do all this. Why is ceramic an important composite or compound for this filtration? Forbes: So it s interesting in that we started with ceramics back in the mine clean-up era we were subsurfaced to most of everything that went on in Central City and Blackhawk, Colorado, casino construction. It s a big mining area. And anytime you go subsurface, you get into the tailings. We started in that era back when high- density clarifiers were really the rage where you add lime to precipitate metals and so on. Polymeric filters were also sometimes used. When we started looking at needing to go subsurface underneath a lot of the casinos that are up there and really scale-down the size of our process to still do the same thing, we started some work with CoorsTek ceramics. We found that essentially the same ceramics you found in your
4 drinking water filters can be used to filter metal particulate out of water. So in this case and in most cases, we ll work on the submicron, 0.1 micron range, which will remove most suspended solids out of the water including viruses and so on. But with that, the big advantage over high-density clarification or polymerics is actually threefold. I can control a number of things on the site, and the primary control is energy. The second is chemicals, how many chemicals I have to use really equates to how much sludge I have to dispose of, as well. And then manpower. And so ceramics, just because of how they stand up and how durable they are as a substrate structure, allow us to remove a lot of the things that are capital intensive and do it on a very understandable fashion that s very repeatable and very durable. Ceramics last up to 20 years, 30 years if you take care of them. They re very hard to hurt. On the flipside, though, a high-density clarifier needs a ton of chemicals, a ton of real estate, and a bunch of manpower to operate. Certainly they were elegant 40 years ago. But running the same water through a ceramic takes about 80% less real estate and about two-thirds less power and very little chemicals. So that s really why ceramics shine in any type of industrial water. So getting back to produced water where you ve got in some cases break-through. Anytime you ve got industrial process, something is going to happen. You may not expect it, but you always try to plan for. In many cases, something has come down through a well battery that has burped up from one of the well processes, and it comes into your system. And if it does come through, the membrane can become clogged, and it will need to be cleaned. If I was using a polymeric membrane, I ve only got two or three cleanings before the membrane becomes brittle and less effective. Whereas, with ceramic, I can clean it with just about anything, and that membrane is good to go. You can continue to do that all day long. It s a great reference to its durability again. Dave: What s the cleaning frequency for the ceramic filters? Forbes: Again, it depends on the influent. In our case, in the way we operate everything s automated. So we dial the skids in to identify what s called trans-membrane pressures, which basically is difference or delta in pressure from one side of the membrane to the other. That s really dictated by the influent that s coming at the membrane. It s really the characteristics of what s hitting the membrane, as well as the quantity. So we clean the membrane continually. We back-pulse it with an air hammer, which is pretty unique. And it sloughs off the material that s been filtered, and the filtrate then weeps out through the other side, which is a neat way to do it. Dave: Let s get back into some of the applications. Earlier, you mentioned doing some things in the Blackhawk area with respect to mines. Can you talk about mine water and just give us some basics on it and why that water needs to be treated when you re pulling it out, some of that basic information about mine water?
5 Forbes: So mine water actually inherently is okay water when it s underground. But once you start getting into exposing that water to air and rock and new material, it becomes heavily acidified. That s what s known as AMD or acid mine drainage. As it becomes acidified, it starts moving metals into dissolution. Those metals are generally regulated metals, the arsenics and so on. You can only have so much of that in watersheds, and so watersheds around the United States and in many places of the world are regulated on what s called total maximum daily load. Basically, it s how much regulated material can be deposited in a certain area of the watershed in a certain time period without harming your downstream neighbor. And those regulations are tightening. They are incredibly tightening, which is good. We re recognizing the value of water. And so if you can head off the problem at its source and remove the acid mine drainage, then you solve a significant problem downstream, particularly cumulative. And so back to mine water, as active mines go active mines have regulated discharge permits. So for the most part, active mines in the U.S. and mostly around the world are highly regulated and they re great stewards. The second part though is old, abandoned mines. Those are actually very problematic. There s a number of them in Colorado. I think the last count was about 16,000 back to the mining era. And so some are on the Super Fund sites, some are just on the clean-up track with the Health Department. And continually those mines and the adits are either getting closed off or if they re not able to be closed off, the process for cleaning them up is continually being upgraded to meet industry standards for maximum daily loads. So that s kind of mining in a nutshell. Dave: And these mines, are they typically coal mines or what all types of mines will this mine water percolate in? Forbes: Just about any time you bring subsurface water up, bring it through fractured rock, something happens. It may be okay, but usually it s not. So anytime you ve got any type of commodity mining going on whether it s minerals or energy or any type of mining, you will have problems. How you design the adits and the outflows really is key to mitigating those problems, as well as installing the proper filtration processes if they can t be closed off. Dave: Concerning active mines, does the type of extraction or the type of mineral that you re pulling out, how does that impact the treatment process for that mine water? Forbes: Active mines really have three points that water is critical to touch. The first issue is their influent water, how they get their water. All mines that are not net dischargers need their process water. So to take water, whether it s from natural or industrial water, and process it to the quality water that is on ionic balance to what is appropriate to move the material around,
6 filter it, and so on. It s key. That s more of an energy play and a little bit of a chemical play. There s not so much burden in the water at that point. Second is their process water. So as they start moving water around their operations and washing and cleaning the material, you start to kind of get more suspended solids in the water. That s another treatment point. And then the third is their actual mine discharge water. That can contain a number of things just depending on what s being mined that, of course, needs to be cleaned before the discharge. And it s all very solid science. And really the key these days is, again, to affect the energy balance, as well as the chemical and manpower balance. Dave: Got it. And let s switch off to say brackish water. Can you describe, number one, what brackish water is and give some examples and then talk about some of the treatment processes for brackish water? Forbes: So brackish water s actually, arguably one of the next big frontiers. The available water that we have globally, we re using maybe less than a half percent. The balance of that is tied up in either glaciers or subsurface, and the balance of all water, which is a hugely significant percentage is all ocean water. So as you move through the fresh water spectrum and consider that only about 1% of the water globally is available, you start recognizing that there s a lot of other water. And so you start moving downstream, no pun intended, to the other available waters. Again, it becomes a cost issue of treating. There s a cost-benefit curve of how much do we want to pay to treat water and what s it worth on the other side. And so municipalities have, of course, traditionally gone after as much fresh a water as they can. And the TDS, or total dissolved solids, in those types of water are in the maybe 300 s or less. Brackish water, though, is the next really available water past fresh water. And brackish water is generally good water and the definition varies depending if you talk to the USGS or some professor at CSU it varies anywhere generally from about 500 TDS all the way up to 30,000, but somewhere in the range generally of about 10,000 TDS or below. And brackish water happens all around the globe. It s generally entrained underground, so there s a lot of entrained underground lakes, if you would, that are slightly saline. The water is generally good, but it does have some dissolved material in it, which in many cases, is sulfates. And sulfates are again scale-formers. They need to be removed. So there s cost in removing the material, as well as taking out the dissolved solids and salts to a point where the water can be used.
7 So traditionally, it s been ignored because of the cost. Again, we ll go for the lowest costs to use water. And now though, industry, as well as energy, is really looking to alternative sources of water because in most cases the cities have bought up a lot of the fresh water rights. We are also as a society starting to recognize there s a much greater need to look at other available waters and use the impaired waters for industrial uses, which is a really great use. And so that s where we ve been moving, whether it s the Central Valley of California where we re processing underground, entrained water that s been actually made brackish somewhat because of all of the agriculture. We re processing water, which I never thought I d see the day, for agricultural use. We take what s called the silt density index down to a certain point, we take the salts down to a certain point, and it s then blended and sold through the water system. We re doing the same thing for energy, as well for frack water. So we take brackish water, and we process it again removing the scale-formers. We ll work with the midstream services companies, the haulers and disposers, to sell that water for directional drilling. So there s a couple of examples of brackish water, but certainly that s absolutely the next frontier, that and slightly impaired waters. Dave: Can you talk a little about the technology commercialization in terms of process and things like that, how you go about getting water users to buy into using the brackish water that you re producing? Forbes: So technology commercialization is actually in the engineering realm. It s really somewhat of an ignored art. Those who ignore it, do it at their peril. But as technology commercialization generally goes in our shop anyway, we use what s called a Toyota Motor Development tollgate process. Same process as Toyota and Danaher and the big boys use to commercialize something. And it s essentially a multi-step process that starts with very wide assumptions. As you move through the product development stage, all of the various disciplines need to agree that we re making a product or process that meets the needs of the consumer, that we can manufacture for a price the market will bear, and we ll make a profit. And that this will be sustainable. So we have a triple bottom line going on, as well. And if it doesn t pass at any one step, we revisit our assumptions and our engineering. And if we can t make it happen, then we don t go on to the next step. If we recognize that early on in the process, we generally save our investors potentially millions of dollars. In the case of water, water s really a multi-equation so it s both engineering as well as macroand micro-economics equation. You re dealing with a commodity. It s a very undervalued commodity. And most people don t recognize that. They know that water comes out of their tap when they turn it on. Everything s good. And they don t recognize that there s a considerable
8 amount of value and a considerable amount of touch that goes into their water. So how do we affect that? What we do is we look for regions. We use a multi-criteria decision-analysis database. And we look at regions that are scarce of water, and we identify industries that value water highest and that are looking to move in or either grow in those areas. We then start looking at the supply chain. Where can we insert ourselves in the supply chain for that particular vertical? In many cases, we ll team up with midstream companies that deal in water, and we will become the water manufacturer. Whether it s on the design basis or design-build-own-operate-transfer. We also partner with some of the very, very big funders to affect the design-build-own-operate-transfer components. So it s again in a nutshell in two minutes how we commercialize the process in water. Dave: Forbes, you ve been fantastic today. I d love to speak with you for a good long time, but I think we re coming up against it here. If you could, please, could you just tell us a little about where folks can go to find out more about you and Stewart Environmental? Forbes: Sure. Quite simply, we ve got a website. It s and it lists us on there, lists what we do and happy to talk with anyone in your audience about it. Dave: Great. Thanks again, Forbes. *** Dave: I hope you got a lot out of that interview with Forbes Guthrie of Stewart Environmental. Forbes is just a terrific guy, and he knows how to clean up water, in case you didn t gather that from the interview. So here are my key takeaways. First, regardless of the type of water you re cleaning up, ceramic filters seem to be the best application. As Forbes indicated they take a beating and keep filtering the water. They re relatively easy to clean and are very durable, lasting as long as 30 years if well taken care of. Second, the role ceramic filters will play will be increasing over time. As we ve discussed many times on this podcast, people are looking for more water and are turning to previously unused sources, like brackish water. The ceramic filters and those processes are the next frontier, as Forbes indicated, to clean up brackish and other impaired water and make it usable. Finally, another takeaway I had was the concept of understanding the technology you re using. Forbes talked about how he sequentially filters water through a series of ceramic filters. That lends itself to understanding and comprehending each step of the process and understanding why you re going through the process or why you re filtering water in a certain way. He indicated
9 that he s wary of processes that involve a black box that s something we all need to understand and something that transcends the water industry. Whatever process we re undertaking, we need to comprehend the technology we re using and how it works, rather than rely on that black box mentality where we don t understand how the process works. Simply put, using that black box is a recipe for disaster. Well, you can check the Show Notes out for this session at And please don t be bashful in letting me know what interested you about the interview by leaving a comment on the Show Notes or by ing me at You can also tweet at And don t forget to rate and review the podcast on itunes, Stitcher and other podcast directories and don t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the podcast and to sign up for The Water Values Newsletter, which can be done at In closing, please remember to keep the core message of The Water Values Podcast in mind as you go about your daily business. Water is our most valuable resource. So please join me by going out into the world and acting like it. Outro (by Joey): You ve been listening to The Water Values Podcast. Thank you for spending some of your day with my dad and me. Dave: Thank you for tuning in to the disclaimer. I m a lawyer licensed in Colorado and Indiana. And nothing in this podcast should be taken as providing legal advice or as establishing an attorney-client relationship with you or with anyone else. Additionally, nothing in this podcast should be considered a solicitation for professional employment. I m just a lawyer that finds water issues interesting and that believes greater public education is needed about water issues. And that includes enhancing my own education about water issues because no one knows everything about water.