Grab a globe or check out Google Earth and you can see that 75 percent of the earth’s surface is made up of water. You’d think that would be enough to meet the needs of a few billion people.
The problem we face is that 97.5 percent of it is saltwater and the remaining 2.5 percent is mostly groundwater and glaciers. The few freshwater sources that we have are shrinking under rising demands and a threatened ecological system.
In recent years, droughts have wreaked hovac on lands across the world. Population growth and the ensuing expansion of cities create an ongoing water shortage and the impetus to look at water use in a whole new light. This new trend in agriculture, industry and urban living is to reuse water, also referred to as water recycling.
Uses and Benefits of Recycled Water
As early as the late 1800s, farmers were using wastewater for crops and landscape irrigation. In the 21st century, agriculture, landscaping and irrigation remain the most common uses of recycled water.
In industrial settings, recycled water is becoming increasingly popular as a way to reduce operating costs and decrease the demand for new water supplies. Reclaimed water is used for cooling in power plants and oil refineries, dust control, toilet flushing, cement mixing, construction and in many other factory processes.
According to Steve Cone, founder of Geo Pure Water Technologies, “After processing, the amount of hazardous material for disposal by traditional methods is reduced by over 65 percent. The purified, recovered water can be reused in field operations, reducing the impact on local water supplies. All of this can be performed at or below current wastewater disposal costs.”
Understanding Water Reclamation
Tap water that flows from faucets is considered white water, while sewage is considered black. The water that flows down the drain after washing your hands, taking a shower or running a load of laundry is referred to as gray water. This gray water can be reused in large industrial settings, but also on a smaller scale at home. There are three basic ways to reuse gray water – manual (filling buckets), pipes, and water treatment.
While these systems may sound simple, there are many important details to keep in mind to avoid harm to plants or people. When a household member is sick, gray water use needs to be put on hold. Reusing water also requires vigilance about what goes into gray water buckets or pipes, although with a water treatment system this problem is addressed.At EPA.gov, users can find detailed information by topic on recycling water at all levels.
In order to reuse water on a larger scale, a cleaning process is required. The first step is filtering out large waste and debris, followed by clarification processes that get rid of sediment, fats and oils, and floating particles.
The final step in recycling water is done in one of two ways. The preferred eco-friendly method is to use ultra-violet radiation to sterilize the water and kill any lingering microorganisms. Alternatively, chlorine can be used to treat the water, followed by sulfur dioxide to remove the chlorine. The drawback of the chlorine method is a potential risk to plants and animals.
Key players in water recycling
In 1996, the World Water Council was founded to respond to increasing global concern about water issues. In their fifth and most recent World Water Forum in Istanbul in 2009, over 25,000 participants from 182 countries participated in discussions and forums with a shared vision of creating water solutions for the future.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations hosted their annual World Water Week in 2010, where they published The Wealth of Waste, studies and tests done on agricultural water reuse. They reported that although recycling urban wastewater to grow food crops can reduce water pollution and help mitigate water scarcity, the practice is not being widely implemented. Use of reclaimed water has been reported in 50 countries, amounting to only 10 percent of the world’s irrigated land.
WateReuse is another foundation started in California in 1990 to promote and develop water recycling practices. After a successful decade locally, the organization went national and their offices moved to Virginia. Their second annual conference on potable and non-potable water will be held in Florida in November 2011.
Leading the way for the future
Israel was named as the number one world leader in water recycling, reusing 70 percent of their waste water for agriculture. From 2005 to 2008, water technology exports from Israel doubled, with 200 companies exporting close to $1.5 billion worth of water management, recycling and purification, irrigation, desalination and safety technologies to more than 100 countries. By 2011, Israel predicts $2.5 billion annually in water technology exports.
Several US-based companies are taking the lead in water technology efforts, including NALCO, AquasGroup and GE Power and Water. Texas-based GeoPure Hydro Technologies recently acquired funding for further development of their water treatment technology. Their investor-turned-CFO Ryan Perras believes that “The hydrocarbon exploration and production industry is on the brink of a water crisis, and wastewater recycling is the only logical solution.”
Signs of future growth in this industry are indicated by the actions of local and national governments and large corporations. GE Water made a decision in 2009 to boost efforts 50 percent over the next few years in what they considered to be a $5 billion dollar industry.
Democrats put a $126 million bill on the table for water reuse. California voters put their money on the water twice, in 2002 approving $3.4 billion for water projects, and another $5.4 billion in 2006. Capital expenditure on water reuse is expected to top $10 billion over the next few years, with countries in desert regions particularly interested in water recycling efforts.
As interest quickly grows in water reuse, politicians, businessmen and investors are throwing huge financial investments behind research efforts that they hope will go far in solving water shortages, boosting local economies and promoting a healthy environment.
Know more about water reclamation? Leave us a note in the comments below.