By Andrew S. Corr, CWS-V

When the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe back in 1989, it was realized relatively quickly that 40 years of economic stagnation and neglect had resulted in major infrastructure problems throughout the region. Roads, telephone lines, environmental controls and especially water distribution facilities were far behind those of the West. In addition, environmental controls were almost non-existent and wastewater facilities were primitive. Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), the sixth largest economy in Europe between the two world wars, wasn’t immune to these problems.

Adapting to new times
When I arrived in 1992—little more than two years after Communist leaders were swept from power in a six-week period termed “the Velvet Revolution” because of the bloodless nature of the coup—the water system in Czechoslovakia was far from perfect. I was informed that, while 80 percent of the water distributed throughout the country was from municipal sources and met drinking water standards at the treatment plant, almost 40 percent was lost in the distribution system as a result of old piping, and the standard at the tap was hard to control. In the last 10 years, much has changed in these countries. International companies like Vivendi and Suez-Lyonnaise recently have taken over the operation of municipal drinking and wastewater facilities for cities and villages throughout both countries. During this period, awareness of the need for water treatment needs in the commercial and industrial sectors has also emerged.

In the past, many companies in the industrial sector understood the need to treat water for their production and industrial applications. During communism, there were large state owned companies that provided industrial water treatment systems. Many of these systems were basic, using manual controls and old technologies, and were confined generally to industrial plants and other large applications. When we approached the commercial market in the early 1990s, many companies saw the opportunity presented by water treatment for the first time but couldn’t visualize the savings it could bring. At the same time, these companies couldn’t afford to make the initial investment.

As time passed, new technologies and equipment have begun to appear throughout the Czech and Slovak Republics. Companies have also begun to become aware of the high maintenance cost for new equipment in which they’ve invested, as well as the value of protecting it with water treatment. Today, we’ve begun to see a leapfrog effect. Although cost has remained a major issue throughout the countries—with both individuals and companies having relatively low buying power—we’ve been successful in penetrating the markets with both standard and innovative products for most commercial and industrial applications. Simultaneously, many of our clients have begun to ask us to help them to more fully integrate our systems into the operational control of their production facilities. We now see that companies don’t want just the simple advantages of softening, filtration or membrane treatment for their technical applications; they want to save money in any way they can, including costs associated with water consumption, waste and treatment.

A case in point—the laundry
A year ago, one of our clients from a commercial laundry approached us to help him save money on the laundry’s operation. The laundry was using a municipal water source and the water cost for its 2,500-tons-per-year laundry was astronomical. In front of his factory was a small stream that was a tributary from the main river running through the region. While he had the potential to drill a well, he asked us if it would be possible to take the water from the river and treat it with our systems.

We were quite hesitant at first to attempt this application, since we knew the river quality changed dramatically, especially during the spring when rain and melting snow from the mountains turned the river into a brown and green mixture of mud, water and organic matter. We were confident, however, that we had the perfect type of media and monitoring equipment for the application. The question remained—could it be done economically? A month later, we found ourselves on the riverbank with our mobile-testing unit trying to filter and treat the water down to the stringent laundry requirements. After a week of testing, we found that by using a chemical feed for coagulation and a patented ceramic media, we were able to turn this “muck” into drinking quality water. After this, we were able to use some of our more standard filtration and softening products to improve this water to reach the required technical water standards.

This wasn’t the end of the story, however, since we also knew that the water quality would change dramatically during the course of the year and we needed to implement monitoring equipment to control the entire system. The owner of the laundry also wanted to integrate all this equipment into a computer system that would be able to monitor and control the process remotely. We worked with our analytical systems division to add pH, chlorine and turbidity analyzers for the overall system. We also collaborated with a local partner to design software that could monitor system information, including incoming water quality, water usage and wastewater, while having the capability to remotely shut down and control the operation of our systems. Within a few months, we had designed, customized and installed a complete water treatment and control system that would be the envy of any Western laundry and saving our client more than US$40,000 per year.

A case for the brewery
We began discussions with a brewery in the south of the Czech Republic in the beginning of 1999. At that time, we provided them with a design and an offer for equipment that would treat the technical water at their brewery. They were interested in the benefits of our equipment but had no money for the investment. In the autumn of 2000, they came back to us ready to make the investment for the initial equipment but had learned in the interim about what we had been doing with river water. As a result, they requested that we design a system that would switch all their water from a municipal source to the river that was running 50 meters from the brewery. Using our knowledge from previous river applications, we again arrived on the shore of the river with our mobile-testing unit. Although we started testing in the autumn when the amount of organic in the water was extremely high, within a few days we had come up with a solution to turn the water to drinking quality. Unlike other applications we had designed previously, this was a green field application with nothing but an old 300-cubic meter (m3) storage tank available. Over the next several months, we turned an old deserted building into a water treatment station. The system pumped the water from the river and provided prefiltration, a 30 m3 contact tank for organic coagulation, ceramic media filtration, carbon treatment, complete monitoring and central steering of a 40-m3/hour water treatment station that’s expandable to 60-m3/hour. By the middle of May at the city’s spring festival, over 10,000 people were drinking beer that had been produced from local river water—and the brewery was saving over US$100,000 per year on water costs.

Conclusion
The United States and Western Europe have looked at the Czech and Slovak Republics as a part of Europe that has advanced little since World War II. There’s no doubt that they started from a point 10 years ago that was far behind the West. But, as in the technology markets for mobile telephones and computers, when they have an opportunity—with solid partners and financial capabilities—they find ways to become more efficient and advanced then their counterparts in the West.

About the author
Andy Corr is international business coordinator for Earth Resources, a water treatment and analytical system services company with operations in Central and Eastern Europe. Established in 1993, it’s owned by Ameteic Inc., of Sheboygan, Wis. Corr can be reached in Prague, Czech Republic, at +420 2 6631 3434, +420 2 6631 3429 (fax), email: acorr@erwater.com or website: http://www.erwater.com.

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