How Technology Is Reducing Our Water Footprint
With a number of factors driving demand for clean water, safe and reliable water reuse can benefit companies and communities alike.
Dwindling water supply is a global issue. According to the World Wildlife Fund, water covers 70% of our planet, but only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for use. In recent years, water use has been growing significantly, with water withdrawal predicted to rise by 50% in developing nations and 18% in developed nations by 2025, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
The practice of water reuse is becoming more popular and occurs in various forms throughout the world. Driving the need for reuse are water scarcity, industrial and population growth, social responsibility and cost. Lack of available water coupled with a growing population is placing greater demand on water use, driving up costs. Protecting this resource is a global concern, and people are paying attention; awareness of a company’s water use can have an impact on its sale and/or growth.
Nonpotable vs. Potable
The latest advances in water technology allow communities to reuse water for drinking, irrigation and industrial processes. Of the two main types of water reuse, nonpotable reuse projects treat wastewater for specific purposes other than drinking, such as industrial uses, agriculture, or landscape irrigation. Nonpotable reuse could also include the use of reclaimed water to create recreational lakes or to build or replenish wetlands that support wildlife. Potable reuse projects use highly treated reclaimed wastewater to augment a supply used for drinking and all other purposes.
The two main potable water reuse options are direct potable reuse (DPR) and indirect potable reuse (IPR). DPR is the practice of releasing purified, treated wastewater directly into the municipal water supply system. IPR is the practice of releasing treated wastewater into groundwater or surface water sources, and then reclaiming it and treating it to meet drinking water standards.
Each method has its advantages. With its short pumping distance, a DPR system has a smaller carbon footprint, is less likely to be vulnerable to natural disasters or other outside factors, and costs less to set up and operate than an IPR system, according to the EPA Guidelines for Water Reuse and “Drinking Through Recycling”, a report by the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering.
An IPR system discharges wastewater into an environmental system such as a river, lake or aquifer in order to allow remaining contaminants to be degraded by physical or biological processes, according to the ATSE report. Water dilution in this environment also may decrease the concentration of contaminants that may be present, according to the article “Indirect Potable Reuse: A Sustainable Water Supply Alternative”, which appeared in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH). Last, and perhaps most importantly, the idea of an environmental buffer curries a more favorable public opinion, which helps achieve confidence and support. IPR is a well-established method used in the United States, Europe, Singapore and beyond.
Who Can Benefit – and Who Already Does
According to Bluefield Research Director Erin Bonney Casey, water reuse solutions have become the prime focus for U.S. municipal utilities, which are constantly looking for alternative options and strategies that would supplement existing supplies of water. In 2015, Bluefield Research monitored approximately 247 water reuse projects across 11 states. By 2017, the number of such projects increased dramatically to 775 across 19 states. According to this research, wastewater recycling is expected to increase by 37% by 2027.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, which began building a large-scale nonpotable reuse system in the 1970s, reclaimed water now satisfies about 40% of the city’s total water demand. The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County have been using highly treated reclaimed water to augment Southern California’s potable water supply since 1962, and similar systems are in place throughout California and in other states, including Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Colorado. In February 2018, Orange County converted over 100 million gallons of wastewater into potable water in 24 hours. This record-setting endeavor is not new to the county, as it has been producing comparable totals daily for years, pumping the potable water into the county’s groundwater basin.
About half the nation’s potable reuse systems have come online during the past decade.
The Time is Now
In drought-prone areas, strict water regulations are a result of trying to mend the problem rather than preventing it on the front end. The water industry can no longer afford to “kick the can down the road” – the time to start acting is now. As technology improves, the best industrial water treatment methods are going to shift the paradigm from “treat to discharge” to “treat to reuse,” and we expect the adoption of nonpotable water reuse to move quickly. The more efficiency that can be developed, the cheaper the commodity can be.
On the Forefront
While water reuse may be expensive to implement, technology companies are prepared to assist. Voltea has been delivering electrochemical water-conditioning equipment to institutional, commercial and industrial customers for more than 10 years, and has systems that remove dissolved salts from water using electricity at a lower economic and environmental cost than any other available technology. Greyter Water Systems offers out-of-the-box water reuse management solutions that reduce the water and wastewater demands of commercial and residential buildings. And with more than 100 years of industry firsts, Evoqua Water Technologies is the global leader in helping municipalities and industrial customers protect and improve the world’s water. Their cost-effective and reliable treatment systems and services ensure uninterrupted quantity and quality of water, enable regulatory and environmental compliance, increase efficiency through water reuse, and prepare customers for next-generation demands.
Despite various barriers and challenges such as public perception of potable water and the cost of implementing a water reuse program, global adoption (and acceptance) of water reuse is growing – and it’s growing fast. In fact, growth in water reuse revenues is expected to be 29% on average in the 12 months ending June 30, 2018. Whatever driver is behind the need to recycle and reuse wastewater, decreasing one’s water footprint is beneficial to companies and communities alike.