Wastewater As “Want”-water

… Move to eliminate compartmentalization of thinking about water …

Wastewater As “Want”-water


By: Cutright, Elizabeth Comments …Tuesday, August 14, 2012 10:13 AM … Wastewater As "Want”-water


What if we could change the paradigm? What if instead of compartmentalizing our water resources—wastewater here, portable water there . . . some allocated for irrigation, other for drinking, manufacturing, or medical/technological pursuits—we created a more holistic approach? The water cycle is not so much split into sections, as it is a mere evolution of water from one state to another. What would it look like if we took nature as an inspiration and treated all of our water resources as part of one larger cycle?


Of course, that type of water resource management is already happening in many places throughout the globe, either by design or necessity. But a concerted effort to change the way we view wastewater in particular could upend our ideas of demand, supply, and what constitutes efficient water use.


In a special issue of Science released this month, in a report titled “Taking the ‘waste’ out of wastewater for human security and ecosystem stability,” a team of 16 authors from a variety of universities and research facilities combined their efforts to take a closer look at the potential of wastewater treatment, development, and reuse. At the heart of their inquiry was the question of how human behavior and outside-of-the-box resource management can not only reverse the damage done to the ecosystem and our water resources, but can actual restore, rehabilitate, and re-imagine our water resource landscape.


The report focuses on successful projects and programs already in progress. All across the world, communities large and small are already employing stormwater, rainwater catchment, and water recycling and reuse to supplement current supplies. By looking at everything that’s gone right (and wrong) in those examples, the authors were able to delineate three ways in which wastewater management can supplement current water shortages: substitution, regeneration, and reduction.


By using lower-quality treated water instead of high-quality water when appropriate, substitution can allow communities to reduce drinking water demand by using graywater and seawater when applicable. By transforming wastewater into potable drinking water, water-scarce locales like Orange County and Namibia are finding ways to reduce energy costs, control pollution, and reduce the risk of natural disasters in an economical and environmentally responsible fashion. And while not directly related to wastewater, demand reduction—particularly by control water leaks and insufficient measurement—can have a direct impact on the lives of citizens in the developing world. As the report points out, the World Bank has estimated that a reduction of water loss by only 25% could help many poor nations could supply an additional 90 million people with drinking water.


Significantly, the authors call for a shift in policies and attitudes. Instead of investing in large-scale infrastructure projects likes dams and billion dollar treatment plants, the report highlights the success of cities like New York, which recently spent $1 billion on habitat restoration and successfully avoiding the construction of an $8 billion treatment plant outside a farming and housing development. The authors believe that individual habits need to be targeted—like convincing homeowners to install drought friendly landscaping—while local governments need to explore low-impact solutions like biofilters and engineered wetlands.


“These complementary options make the most of scarce freshwater resources, serve the varying water needs of both developed and developing countries and confer a variety of environmental benefits,” conclude the report’s authors. “Their widespread adoption will require changing how freshwater is sourced, used, managed and priced.”



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