NSU: Inspiring the Next Generation of Professionals to Be Stewards of Sustainable Water Resources

For Zach Gallagher, President and COO of industry-leading company Natural Systems Utilities, supporting and ensuring the growth of a strong water sector and a healthy environment is about sharing knowledge and experience.

An accomplished environmental engineer, Gallagher is committed to educating the next generation of aspiring environmental engineers and landscape architects about sustainable water resources and the importance of keeping water local. He annually teaches a pair of courses at Rutgers University and Columbia University. He also delivers guest lectures at Cornell University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In teaching these courses, Gallagher uses real-world examples, drawing from NSU’s extensive experience delivering innovative projects and technologies.

Finding balance

As the largest provider of onsite water treatment and reuse and natural treatment systems in the United States, NSU operates more than 400 onsite treatment systems across North America. The company services businesses, campuses, resorts, industrial parks, shopping complexes, high-density residential buildings and developments – often in areas where demand for water exceeds the sustainable supply.

“The world’s limited supplies of freshwater are being depleted, and climate change is intensifying the problem,” says Gallagher. By returning treated water back to its original source, reducing overall reliance on regional watersheds, and “keeping water local” using innovative onsite treatment solutions, he says, NSU is helping communities achieve and maintain the water balance that ensures sustainable local water resources will be available for future generations.

The systems we use to manage water also require balance, Gallagher says. “Utility managers are grappling with shrinking capital budgets, aging infrastructure, and increasing risk around climate change impacts, especially when it comes to traditional, large-scale wastewater treatment networks. They need new solutions to manage these growing challenges.”

By offering decentralized or onsite solutions, NSU is helping utilities address their risks. “These systems can help them offset expensive capital improvements and provide more system resiliency and reliability to their backbone infrastructure.”

Achieving environmental targets

Innovative onsite systems are also helping NSU’s partners achieve significant environmental targets, and Gallagher shares these examples with his classes.

Recently, for example, NSU worked with Microsoft to install an integrated water management system at the award-winning Silicon Valley Campus, providing workspace for up to 3,000 employees.

The system, which recycles and reuses 100% of the non-potable water on campus, is part of what helped the site achieve the Living Building Challenge’s Net Zero Water certification, as well as qualify for LEED Platinum and other prestigious sustainability certifications.

The system combines an onsite wastewater treatment plant with rainwater harvesting, opening up 25% more campus square footage and three times more campus landscaped area while cutting current potable water usage in half.

Thinking innovatively about sustainable water use has put NSU at the leading edge of the treatment industry. “As a company, we’re focused on reducing overall water footprint and reducing wastewater discharge. As a result, our systems meet the requirements of several industry certifications,” Gallagher says. “These credits could mean the difference between LEED Gold or Platinum facility certification, which is a huge benefit for companies who are committed to setting and achieving environmental targets.”

Inspiring young leaders

Over the past 15 years, thousands of students have attended Gallagher’s classes and lectures, but the real-world experience extends beyond the classroom. Students are often welcomed on tours of NSU facilities, where they witness wastewater treatment in process and see the result: crystal-clear water that can be used for non-potable applications, or that can be used to recharge aquifers.

“For many students, that’s the moment of clarity. They begin to understand that wastewater is a resource,” Gallagher says. “I like to believe that this experience inspires these talented individuals as they design and bring new projects to life.”

Educating young leaders and “passing forward” critical industry knowledge is vital to preserving local water resources for future generations, Gallagher says. In fact, he urges his industry peers and colleagues to consider it their professional duty.

“Whatever we’ve learned in our lifetime – including mistakes that should not be repeated – needs to be passed along so future generations can enjoy safe and livable communities.”