Nevada Water Innovation Institute gains national recognition

Sustainable water management for economic growth and enriching the natural water environment

From left to right: Ahmad Itani, associate vice president for research; Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering; Janusz Karwot, president of Rybnik Water Company; Jan Bondaruk, deputy director of Central Mining Institute; and Krishna Pagilla, director of the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, chair and professor of environmental engineering.

From left to right: Ahmad Itani, associate vice president for research; Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering; Janusz Karwot, president of Rybnik Water Company; Jan Bondaruk, deputy director of Central Mining Institute; and Krishna Pagilla, director of the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, chair and professor of environmental engineering.

Nevada Water Innovation Institute gains national recognition

Sustainable water management for economic growth and enriching the natural water environment

From left to right: Ahmad Itani, associate vice president for research; Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering; Janusz Karwot, president of Rybnik Water Company; Jan Bondaruk, deputy director of Central Mining Institute; and Krishna Pagilla, director of the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, chair and professor of environmental engineering.

From left to right: Ahmad Itani, associate vice president for research; Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering; Janusz Karwot, president of Rybnik Water Company; Jan Bondaruk, deputy director of Central Mining Institute; and Krishna Pagilla, director of the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, chair and professor of environmental engineering.

From left to right: Ahmad Itani, associate vice president for research; Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering; Janusz Karwot, president of Rybnik Water Company; Jan Bondaruk, deputy director of Central Mining Institute; and Krishna Pagilla, director of the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, chair and professor of environmental engineering.

Since its inception in 2016 as the Nevada Water Innovation Campus, the consortium of public and private entities has been busy with research, education, global partnerships and outreach programs.

Now known as the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, the group has completed significant amounts of research to address water quality and quantity issues in the Truckee Meadows, which allows the region and its utilities to pursue implementation strategies for water reuse, effluent management and nitrogen pollution control.

The Institute, based in the University’s College of Engineering, is a collaboration with six major Northern Nevada regional agencies and cities focused on addressing engineered water infrastructure needs, challenges and opportunities in the region. The shared vision and effort encourages the practice of sustainable water management for economic growth and enriching the natural water environment.

"The Water Innovation Institute has become the go-to institute for all water sector research and technology needs and is being nationally recognized as a premier water engineering institute,” Krishna Pagilla, director of the collaborative group, said. “The faculty have been able to leverage local resources provided by the partners to attract competitive national grant funding from National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Water Research Foundation, and others.”

The research includes:

  • A feasibility study to demonstrate low energy treatment technology for reclaimed treated effluent for indirect potable water reuse;
  • A demonstration study to research and evaluate advanced water purification technologies for use of reclaimed water for potential groundwater recharge;
  • Development and evaluation of advanced field-scale technologies for comprehensive water management related to the collection, handling, treatment, recycling, and reuse of water and wastewater within Nevada Department of Transportation jurisdictions; and
  • University researchers are working with process engineers at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility to evaluate advanced treatment options for dissolved organic nitrogen, which is the most abundant nitrogen species in the plant effluent.

The projects spawned several research articles in scientific journals, including Water Environment Research, Resources Conservation and Recycling and Water Environment Resources. One of the papers has received a prestigious national award.

Pagilla and two of his graduate students and co-authors on the paper, Laura Haak and Vijay Sundaram, received the Water Environment Federation’s McKee Groundwater Protection, Restoration or Sustainable Use Award for the research titled, “ Sustainability Assessment for Indirect Potable Reuse: A Case Study from Reno, Nevada.

"I was the principal investigator for the research paper,” Haak said. “This research methodology adapted a triple bottom line approach to evaluate how potable reuse may impact the social, environmental, and institutional criteria that were identified as drivers for local water resource management. This research is part of a broader regional project to evaluate the feasibility of potable reuse in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area."

Nevada Water Innovation Institute research projects have provided support to about 10 doctoral and masters students to pursue their graduate research work at the University.

“The water institute has been identified by the stakeholders as a unique institute where stakeholder-driven research and development in the water sector is conducted in a collaborative fashion,” Pagilla said. “The institute has exceeded the goals and most importantly the commitment of the stakeholders and partners is strengthening beyond our expectations. We plan to build on these existing successes and carefully expand to other partners across the nation and globe.”

The first international collaboration was formalized in May 2019. Officials with the Nevada Water Innovation Institute and water agencies in Poland signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a virtual entity, the International Center of Water Excellence. The agreement is designed to explore collaborative activities between the partners for water innovation, excellence and economic development.

The partners – the Nevada Water Innovation Institute, Rybnik Water and Sewage Company, and Central Mining Institute – will promote technological collaborations and innovations, extend global reach of the partners to other countries and drive innovation and commercialization in the water sector and other related sectors.

“The collaboration between City of Rybnik, Central Mining Institute, and the water institute has been strengthened by this MOU between the entities,” Pagilla said. “The first outcome of this MOU is a project being planned and designed by the Polish partners to develop water reclamation technology to treat wastewater to drinking water quality for reuse. The Nevada Water Innovation Institute is providing the technical assistance to build a pilot-scale facility in Rybnik, Poland.”

Headshot of Krishna Pagilla
Dr. Krishna Pagilla

The partners will exchange research personnel, share technical information and materials and conduct trainings or workshops. A training center will be organized where the Institutes experiences and expertise are introduced into other countries such as Africa, Asia and South America, and addressed to engineers, technologists and practitioners from different countries.

In continuing its international focus, the institute will host the International Water Association’s Leadig Edge Technology for Water and Wastewater Treatment Conference in Reno-Sparks region in June 2020 and will involve all Nevada Water Innovation Institute partners, students and faculty.

“This is a prestigious international conference where more than 500 international delegates from more than 25 countries attend to share and learn leading edge water science and technology,” Pagilla, who is the organizing committee chair for the conference, said.

The institute has participated in international level conferences, with several student researchers from the institute made presentations at the International Water Association’s Water Reuse Conference in Berlin, Germany in June 2019, the International Ozone Association’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas in May 2019 and at the WateReuse Association’s Annual Conference in San Diego, California.

New program enhances drinking water, environment

OneWater Nevada is a new program that evaluates treatment technologies and determines if advanced purified water can offer long-term benefits to the region. The project has many positives, such as a safe, reliable water supply for customers, less reliance on fresh water from the Truckee River, and finding a way to sustain water without being energy intensive.

OneWater Nevada also has multiple demonstration trailers to inform the public about the treatment technology. The process involves filtration, removal of organic matter and chemicals, exposure to ultraviolet light, and polishing by granular activated carbon. After a field demonstration, the purified water will be put into local groundwater for an extended period of time, allowing the environment to naturally filter the water.

In Washoe County, project sites are actively working in places like Stead, Cold Springs and South Truckee Meadows. With these project sites, the NWIC website envisions "national and international recognition for solving real-world problems in the water sector, all while providing economic growth and water resiliency."

The partnership includes Washoe County, City of Reno, City of Sparks, Western Regional Water Commission, Truckee Meadows Water Authority and Nevada Department of Transportation. These entities also make up the Institute’s advisory board, offering support to the University.

“The institute is fulfilling the mission and vision of the University and the College of Engineering in an impactful way in education, discovery, and engagement, and enabling Truckee Meadows region and Nevada to be water resilient and economically strong,” said Pagilla.

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