Editor’s pickWater scarcity: Powerful motivator

11-06-2018

Reservoir and dam. Image credit: Anthony da Cruz/Unsplash

When the Orange County Water District in California, United States (U.S.) first began distributing potable water extracted from sewage water in the 1970s, it was out of need. The aquifer they were dependent on for its drinking on was so depleted that saltwater from the Pacific Ocean seeped into it, and limits placed on the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada Mountains, the other water sources, barred water increments.

Drinking reused and treated water is a thought that may leave many feeling nauseated or squeamish, but it more than that. Water scarcity represents a paradigm shift in the world, especially where a dearth of the resource is a major threat. It also serves as a powerful motivator, instigating not only wastewater treatment and reuse, but also stormwater catchment, leak detection, desalination, and even aquifer recharge. The shift can be the most obviously seen in the locations of water sources. Dams and reservoirs, large and far away, are worlds away from the smaller, decentralised, and customised newer urban solutions.

These newer solutions are even seen as more reliable than reservoirs, where the water supply is dependent on factors such as precipitation levels. And in this time of climate change, dams are becoming more and more susceptible to the weather, evaporation rates, and drought. The newer urban solutions, on the hand, stay relatively constant as it depends on roughly consistent wastewater. Moreover, as they cause minimal environmental disruption, there are also benefits.

On top of all that, urban solutions deliver water are substantially lower prices as compared to water delivered from dams and reservoirs as innovations in the water industry such as membrane technology continue to improve the effectiveness of water treatment. Distance plays a part as well, with the newer solutions not requiring the water to be pumped long distances, also making them more energy efficient.

A research study by Bluefield Research found that water from dams and reservoirs were the second most expensive, with smart-meter leak detection coming in as the least costly. While ocean desalination is presently the most expensive, as filtration technologies continue to improve, the price is likely to drop.

The new urban solutions, however, performing largely out of the public eye and lacking the grandeur of dams, have caught little attention.

Another new approach is catching stormwater. Cities which had traditionally prevented flooding by building concrete waterways to drain rainwater to the sea while also importing water from elsewhere have redesigned the layouts of the metropolises, absorbing the water for storage and reuse.

Leak detection also plays a significant part in water supply, especially in places where aging pipes may lose as much as 30 per cent of the water in them.

But at the end of the day, the emergence of this trend simply highlights one key principle – water from any watershed must be managed as one whole if it is to be maximised.

 

Source: Yale Environment 360