Achieving Environmental Excellence: Best Practices for Water Efficiency in Cooling Towers

Although decarbonization has been at the forefront of discussions about reducing the steel industry’s impact on the environment, decreasing water consumption and improving wastewater discharge practices are also aspects of sustainability and compliance that steel manufacturers need to address. This is especially true due to the recent increases in costs associated with a regulation violation. Here’s a quick look at the challenges and potential solutions.

Q: What are the challenges associated with process water and wastewater management in the steel industry?
A: While opinions vary on the amount of water needed for steelmaking, a report from the American Iron and Steel Institute said the entire process uses 75,000 gallons of water for each ton of steel produced. Cooling towers, in particular, require a lot of process water, and the water quality deteriorates as the water is circulated through the tower.

As water vapor dissipates from an evaporative cooling system, all the solids present in the recirculated water are left behind. Concentration of dissolved minerals eventually builds up, leading to corrosion and microbiological growth. To maintain the cooling system water, a regulated rate of tower water must bleed-off with makeup water replacing the losses.

Q: How has inflation affected fines assessed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?
A: Penalties for failing to meet compliance regulations increased substantially in 2023. Under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, federal agencies must annually adjust their penalties based on the previous year’s rate of inflation. As a result, fines for civil penalties rose sharply in January 2023, up 7.7% from the previous year.

Even prior to the penalty increase, manufacturing companies fined for EPA violations paid a steep price—both in financial and reputation losses. Recent examples include:

  • An oil processing facility was fined $310,000 for violating the Clean Air Act
  • A manufacturer of truck equipment was fined $50,208 for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations
  • A hydraulics manufacturer was fined $26,534 for RCRA violations
  • A power systems and controls manufacturer was fined more than $120,000 for RCRA violations

Additionally, pressure is mounting for the EPA to update industrial wastewater regulations. Ultimately, companies that fail to prepare for a stricter compliance environment increase their financial risk.

Q: How can steel manufacturers, as well as manufacturers of other products, lower their water-related compliance liabilities and operating costs?
A: There are numerous on-site water and wastewater treatment technologies available that enable manufacturers to:

  • Increase process performance and lower operating costs by reusing water
  • Remove contaminants such as dissolved or suspended solids, hard water, and pH imbalances in order to protect equipment
  • Meet sustainability goals, compliance regulations, and discharge requirements

As resources become scarcer and water costs rise, manufacturers are turning to the following processes to better leverage their cooling tower water:

Manufacturers that treat water on-site can often re-use it within their process. This significantly reduces process water costs, as well as the amount of wastewater generated. However, identifying which treatment system—or combination of treatment systems—is right for the application begins with some critical legwork.

A laboratory analysis of your industrial water will reveal what substances the water contains. That information will largely determine what capabilities are needed to optimize your process, lower costs, achieve sustainability goals, and simplify environmental compliance.

For more information about on-site process water and wastewater treatment options, as well as fluid testing capabilities, please visit or contact us.

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