Great Water Tech wants to solve our water problems. The St. Paul, Minnesota-based startup provides corrosion and contamination solutions for water infrastructure systems, potable water generation resources and nutrient management solutions for lakes and ponds. The company owns full rights to the use of Mösslein Wassertechnik’s products in the U.S. Mösslein Wassertechnik is the German company that developed Great Water Tech’s water infrastructure technologies.
Since the news of the Flint water crisis broke, Great Water Tech began to investigate water system corrosion problems in America and search for best practices. The company’s larger vision is to “do good” and combat America’s failing water infrastructure, by offering reputable and effective pipe protection that is a safe, system-wide solution to lead and copper contamination.
Wolf Merker, CEO of Great Water Tech says, “American drinking water infrastructure is crumbling and major investments, upgrades and repairs are needed. Great Water Tech offers a safe, proven, effective and efficient solution to lead and copper contamination from the water treatment plant to the individual tap.”
Prior to joining Great Water Tech, Merker was director of product development at KLM engineering, a firm that focused on water infrastructure. He has a technical background in chemistry and has written for the Journal of the American Chemical Society and Biochemistry. He uses this background and experience at Great Water Tech to address water infrastructure across the country.
Merker shares a vision with Patrick Rosenstiel, CEO of Ainsley Shea and acting EVP of sales and marketing for Great Water Tech. A veteran of regulated industry, Rosenstiel has been instrumental in bringing green, bio-tech, nano-material, energy and animal genetics companies to market.
Merker says, “Patrick and I had been talking about our shared concerns related to water infrastructure, corrosion and lead contamination. He too was looking for solutions,” Wolf says. “We discovered Folmar Pipe Protection is clearly the best anti-corrosive solution to those interested in dealing with lead, iron, copper and other corrosion-related issues. So, we went out and got them. We closed our initial angel investor round of fundraising in mid-October 2016 and secured our exclusive distribution deal with Mösslein one week later.”
Founded in 1990, Mösslein Wassertechnik’s Folmar Pipe Protection technology is now used in 20 percent of Germany’s water infrastructure. Folmar Pipe Protection is a NSF 60 certified, silicate-based corrosion and scale inhibitor for drinking water systems. It has been widely used throughout Europe and other places dating back to 1984. It’s non-toxic, biologically inert, mineral-based and replaces phosphates. It can be added to the water anywhere in the system with full downstream effect and is effective on all metal surfaces.
Water quality is not to be generalized
At the helm of Great Water Tech are people with backgrounds necessary to recognize safe and effective water infrastructure solutions, but what is just as is important is the information they’ve incorporated from others who focus their energies and knowledge on water.
Merker says, “Over the past year, we have met with water facility managers, utility superintendents, regulators, water associations and elected officials, among others. We have absorbed what we have learned from the folks ‘on the ground’ at the local, county and state level, and we are incorporating that knowledge into our outreach and sales approaches. We have also learned about the actual size of our nation’s lead contamination issues; how broad and far-reaching the contamination is; and the challenges associated with finding cost-effective solutions to these problems.”
The reason that so many factors are considered when it comes to water quality is because they vary from every block, city and state. And the older the block, city or state, the more likely it will be facing contamination.
“In one community,” Merker says, “the problem could be radon, and five miles down the road a different community might be dealing with lead issues. Water quality is an intensely local issue, based on geology, agricultural or industrial contaminants, infrastructure decay, budgetary constraints, and public support and awareness. What I can say is what we are seeing, what the media is reporting, and what the data supports, is that older communities, with older, aging infrastructure are dealing with increased occurrences of lead contamination from both public and private stock sources.”
‘Test and Treat’: School campaign boasts safety, direct savings for the public
Exposure to lead is considered one of the biggest public health hazards. This is particularly important for children’s health, because children are especially susceptible to poisoning, which can lead to a whole slew of problems including behavior and learning problems, hyperactivity, slowed growth and decreased brain function, to name a few.
With children’s health in mind, Great Water Tech launched the ‘Test and Treat’ campaign, which is a response to “the need for localized solutions to protect children and sustain aging infrastructure in our nation’s schools and increasing legislative action to mandate lead testing in schools.”
“It’s fortuitous that schools and elected officials are beginning to address their infrastructure problems, but they need a solution when lead is found. We want to provide an option that is not bottled water, filters or invasive replacement projects,” Merker explains.
The Test and Treat campaign has been leveraging the safety component and also the cost-effectiveness behind Folmar Pipe Protection. Merker says, “Schools can implement the protection in their facilities for as little as $232 per month, providing non-invasive, building-wide protection that surpasses EPA lead and copper standards. This is a quick and efficient solution that mitigates costly removal of pipes. Providing economical options to school districts is why we have launched this campaign.”
This could be a huge burden taken off some school budgets. Merker says, “Our hope is that because of the limited economic impact of the Test and Treat campaign, school districts will NOT be forced to choose between clean, safe drinking water for students and funding for after-school programming, school lunches, iPads, or other educational necessities.”
America’s infrastructure has a $1 trillion price tag attached it, and there is a growing and real fear about the cost of water infrastructure. As Great Water Tech has experienced with its Test and Treat Campaign, school districts have seen estimates for complete infrastructure replacement ranging from $28 to $100 million.
Merker reports, “In 2015, one school district spent $19.8 million solely to replace or retrofit 48,000 drinking fountains. That was ONLY for drinking fountains! There is also the added cost of providing bottled water to students until the problems are remedied. Another school district spent $1 million during the 2016-17 academic year on bottled water. In 2007, a school district switched entirely to bottled water because replacing lead plumbing was cost prohibitive.”
He continues, “We project that a school district operating 80 schools with an enrollment of 50,000 students can install Folmar Pipe Protection for a fraction of what it costs to provide bottled water, and an infinitely smaller fraction of what a replacement would cost.”
So, what makes this technology more of a public investment, and how soon will the public see an impact in direct savings?
“We simply can’t replace our pipes fast enough today,” Merker says. “Last I heard we were replacing pipes at about 1/3 the speed required to keep up. Making our infrastructure last longer and deliver better service is a no-brainer for a cost of ½ a cent per day to the person that uses 100 gallons of water per day. Our experiences show that Folmar Pipe Protection reduces chlorine use, and allows systems that currently use chloramines to switch back to regular chlorine. These are direct savings, and avoiding chloramines further mitigates corrosion throughout the entire system. Because corrosion leads to leaks and water quality problems, savings are tangible fairly quickly. Because the technology also addresses scaling, it is possible to avoid certain up-front treatment steps all together.”
Implications of the Marktheidenfeld study
Great Water Tech recognizes that most chronic water quality issues arise from water flowing through the distribution system, which is what its technology aims to address. One of the earliest adopters of Folmar Pipe Protection was the German city Marktheidenfield, which participated in a three-year case study that showed that systemic improvements come from deploying advanced corrosion inhibitors. The study provided a lot of insight on corrosion.
“While this study didn’t look at lead levels, that data also exists and tells a similar story,” Merker says. “Citizens of Marktheidenfeld used to complain about rusty water coming from their taps. This rust was coming from the pipes themselves, not the source water. Can you imagine the drinking water lines slowly corroding and literally (albeit slowly) being flushed down the drain?”
Currently, Great Water Tech is seeing a similar problem in a Midwestern town, which is experiencing discolored water and faces high hydrant flushing requirements. Some of the implications of the Marktheidenfield case study are being used to address this town’s current predicament.
“The first U.S. case study of Folmar Pipe Protection will be helping this town stop the corrosion of their pipes, causing this problem,” Merker says. “We’ll be looking at metrics similar to the Marktheidenfeld study, paying close attention to the color, odor, and appearance of the water, the ability to maintain disinfectant throughout the system, overall bacterial levels, and how much we can reduce their hydrant-flushing program by using Folmar Pipe Protection.”
After 30 years of success stories throughout Europe, Folmar Pipe Protection is making new ground in the U.S. Great Water Tech, which is after all a small start-up, sees this as a huge win.
“For Great Water Tech, confirming our first pilot project with Folmar Pipe Protection in the United States is our greatest victory to date,” Merker says.
This technology could be a beneficial choice for designers and facility owners because of its smooth and painless integration.
“We have plug-and-play dosing systems for individual buildings. This is a slick solution when water quality issues arise from inside the end-users’ facility. It’s a pump and flow-meter combination, pre-mounted to a small section of pipe, which can be inserted into the building inlet with minimal effort. The system can then immediately begin dosing Folmar Pipe Protection,” Merker says.
We are continuing to reach out to water facility managers, utility superintendents, regulators, water associations, elected officials, and stakeholders — among others — to highlight the efficacy of our products, to educate those responsible for water decisions, and to begin a dialogue about Folmar Pipe Protection. We are, and will continue to, identify and work with stakeholders who are looking to implement best-of-breed technology to ensure the safety and purity of their drinking water supply while also being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Great Water Tech has been making some waves throughout the industry. It recently presented to the Ohio section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). Merker presented, “Water Chemistry and Technology: How Germany Limits Corrosion and Lead Contamination in Water Distribution Systems.” The company also recently presented at the Georgia Association of School Facility Administrators, and will present at the Virginia School Board Association Conference in November. It also aims to attend the Minnesota and Wisconsin AWWA conferences and the Minnesota Rural Water Association Annual Conference.
Merker says, “We see nothing but increasing opportunities to help schools, communities, counties and states address the problems associated with lead contamination. As this issue continues to grow in scope and breadth, we are ready, willing, and able to provide a safe, efficient, and cost-effective solution to contamination.”
Water is life, now and always
Though Great Water Tech has already made a small, but significant dent by providing an alternative to the way America addresses water infrastructure, the company will have to face what a lot of water-conscious companies face: political obstacles and the human tendency to avoid change and the unfamiliar.
“When you begin discussing a change in a treatment process with water facility managers, utility superintendents, regulators, water associations, elected officials, and stakeholders there is an initial hesitancy about changing the chemicals added to water. Look at some of the political battles surrounding adding fluoride to water!” Merker explains. “We are seeing a similar reluctance with changing from a phosphate-based corrosion inhibitor to Folmar Pipe Protection. People are leery when you first broach the subject of changing the water process.”
Admitting that we have a problem is a significant first step, but it is the action that especially counts. So often, water is taken for granted, and it won’t be until decision-makers bite onto the solutions laid out right in front of them, that any real change will take place.
“We are looking for, and want to work with, water leaders who are not afraid to be at the forefront of new, innovative solutions to water contamination issues,” Merker says. “We want to help people who have the political courage to say, ‘we have a water problem, and we want to solve it.’”
For more information about Great Water Tech visit www.greatwatertech.com.