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Perhaps most importantly, distributed systems are easier to design, permit, construct, are readily adaptable to various waters and locations, are incredibly resilient and can be built for the specific need – fit for purpose.

Obviously there’s value in developing a business strategy, but there’s even more value in developing a strategy that allows your company to work directly with your clients throughout all steps of engagement. This type of strategy helps show how responsible and reliable your company can be, which is absolutely crucial when you work with water risk management.

We spoke with Zach Gallagher, a licensed Professional Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional holding BS and MS degrees from Rutgers University in Bio-Resource and Civil/Environmental Engineering. He is currently Executive Vice President for Natural Systems Utilities (NSU) and serves on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Green Building Council, NJ Chapter.

Gallagher’s current focus is on water reuse and complete integrated infrastructure approaches that combine water and energy with a concentration on handling the systems integration aspects and overall functionality.


Christopher P. Skroupa: Can you describe NSU’s business strategy? What benefit does this strategy provide the company?

Zach Gallagher: NSU’s business strategy is to form long-term partnerships with our clients, building on our 30+ years of experience in the field. We provide safe, reliable and cost effective water treatment and reuse solutions for the entire life of a project through a turnkey design, build and operations service platform. NSU assumes the risk and responsibility for the treatment systems it designs and guarantees performance through continued operations.

This allows our clients to focus on their business and core competencies while providing NSU with a long-term business partner and recurring revenue stream. The turnkey service platform also creates a feedback loop from operations back to design and construction which improves our service delivery and increases value for both our company and our customers.   

Skroupa: Why is it important for a company, like NSU, to keep water local when trying to increase its value?

Gallagher: Keeping water local helps to maintain the local water balance. Over the last century water use has increased at rates twice as fast as population growth and water demands exceed sustainable supply in many areas. In addition, a large percentage of urban centers in the world have not modernized their water infrastructure and continue to dump raw sewage into waterways through direct discharge or Combined Sewer Overflows – known as CSOs.

These discharges are typically far downstream of the water supply sources, which disrupts the hydrologic cycle. NSU’s systems recharge groundwater aquifers to restore the local supply or directly reuse the treated water for non-potable reuse which reduces the amount of water removed from the local aquifers or reservoirs. The benefits of these systems include:

  • 50% to 95% reduction in water consumption;
  • 60% to 95% reduction in wastewater discharge and waste loads;
  • Reduced environmental impact from CSOs;
  • Reduced nutrient and chemical loads to water bodies;
  • Consistent performance year round that is not dependent on geographical location or season;
  • Economical operations that uses the waste as a resource, provides treatment at the source and yields a favorable Life Cycle Cost and Life Cycle Assessment.

Skroupa: On the CSR side, how does an internal business strategy, i.e. design, build, operate, affect value generated through customer satisfaction?

Gallagher: A turnkey design-build-operate service platform provides a single source of accountability and responsibility. This platform fosters teamwork and enhances communication with the focus staying on the owner to create value. Defining costs early to manage expectations, reducing the opportunity for change orders with a single point of responsibility and completing projects more quickly results in increased value to the owner. NSU has designed and built approximately 125 onsite water treatment and reuse facilities. We currently operate more than 200 distributed facilities with a 97% customer annual retention rate.

Skroupa: What does it mean to combine water and energy in a business strategy? How does that affect a company’s long-term value?

Gallagher: The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is used to generate and transmit energy, and how much energy it takes to collect, clean, transport and store water. Generally speaking distributed systems use more energy per gallon of water than larger centralized systems at the point of treatment due to the economy of scale factor within the treatment system itself. This, however, is an incomplete picture.  

Embedded in the smaller size of these systems is an inherently greater long-term value. Distributed systems are located closer to the water source and point of use which creates less environmental impact, keeps water local, uses less energy to transport water and facilitates local recovery of both water and thermal energy embedded in the water.

Perhaps most importantly, distributed systems are easier to design, permit, construct, are readily adaptable to various waters and locations, are incredibly resilient and can be built for the specific need – fit for purpose. Natural Systems Utilities is currently recovering thermal energy from treated wastewater prior to reuse. These projects illustrate how distributed systems can facilitate local integration of our water and energy infrastructure and how, for the first time, decentralized systems can become net energy producers.


In 2007, Gallagher partnered in Alliance Environmental, an environmental engineering and sustainability consulting firm where he served as COO before its merger with NSU. Prior to this time he worked for Applied Water Management Group where he specialized in wastewater management planning and water reuse systems.

NSU designs, builds and operates onsite water treatment and reuse systems. With more than 30 years of innovation and leadership in the industry NSU operates over 200 onsite systems across North America.

Gallagher will be a discussant for the The Integration of Centralized and Decentralized Water System Approaches, a facilitator for The Cost of Decentralization: Putting a Price Tag on On Site Water Reuse and a panelist for the Concurrent Breakout Session Findings Panel at the Water & Long-Term value program in San Francisco, California on October 24-25.

Originally published on Forbes.com. More articles by Christopher Skroupa on his Forbes column.