Water, water is not everywhere and the quality of it is debatable!

The following blog was submitted by Anurag Mantha, a graduate student in CEE, as part of the requirements for GRAD 5414 Water for Health Seminar Interdisciplinary Seminar. This course examines emerging interdisciplinary issues related to the chemistry, microbiology, engineering and health aspects of drinking water.

Rising water scarcity and lack of proper sanitation were the two key issues addressed recently in a presentation by Karen Drake, Shuai Luo and Melissa Wright, in the Water for Health seminar. Their recommendation for solving these problems: extending the life cycle of water and increasing the efficiency of wastewater treatment.

Making simple lifestyle changes like taking shorter showers and turning the tap off while brushing teeth and soaping hands can decrease water use by a drastic amount. In addition to this, reusing greywater (wastewater from everywhere except toilets) can further reduce the water demand and relieve the water stress in water-scarce locations. Greywater can be used to water gardens, wash cars and flush toilets. This requires a separate set of pipes to differentiate greywater from wastewater. Although this involves an increase in the cost of constructing a house, the return on investment is achieved via savings in water costs.

An Example of a Greywater System in Australia (Courtesy: Government of New Zealand)
An Example of a Greywater System in Australia (Courtesy: Government of New Zealand)

Many areas around the world are devoid of adequate sanitation due to the lack of a centralized system for wastewater treatment. A decentralized system of septic tanks or upflow anaerobic sludge bioreactors (UASBs) can be built for individual homes or communities, which do not have access to a centralized system for wastewater treatment. These systems are efficient in treating relatively small volumes of wastewater and can last a lifetime, with proper maintenance. Decentralized systems are also recommended in areas with low population density, as it is cheaper than connecting those homes to a wastewater treatment plant.

Industrial wastewater mostly finds its way to a local wastewater treatment plant or is discharged to local surface water, with or without treatment. Industries spread over a large area can choose to collect and use rainwater. Reusing greywater or treated wastewater for non-essential purposes is another approach for reducing water use. Wastewater can be pre-treated either mechanically or biologically. The actual method employed depends on the source and the intended use.

New technologies in wastewater treatment, at least in Virginia, have to conform to various state norms, which are based on national standards and reviewed and amended by a panel of specialists. There is an urgent need to amend this process to reduce the time it takes for a technology to be conceived, reviewed and approved, and finally implemented. The primary stakeholders in this area are homeowners, manufacturers, engineers, contractors, suppliers, researchers, state and federal agencies and elected officials. Educating the stakeholders at various levels and promulgating awareness about the rising water crisis, galvanizing everyone towards recycling and reuse of water, and promoting best practices in treating wastewater will help in alleviating the problems caused due to water scarcity.

 “The crisis of our diminishing water resources is just as severe (if less obviously immediate) as any wartime crisis we have ever faced. Our survival is just as much at stake as it was at the time of Pearl Harbor, or the Argonne, or Gettysburg, or Saratoga.”

-Jim Wright, U.S. Representative

Image Courtesy: Govt. of New Zealand : http://www.codc.govt.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/Brochures/Greywater%20Poster.pdf

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2 thoughts on “Water, water is not everywhere and the quality of it is debatable!

  1. Reusing water is an effective method to reduce water consumption and water usage cost. Also, water reusing can reduce the pressure on wastewater treatment pressure. Finding a good way to internally treat the wasted water in the place where wastewater comes from would be a effectively promising way to deal with the problems.

  2. Water consumption reduction has been embraced with fervor in EU-Europe almost everywhere. While overuse/over-extraction as well as drainage of water (due to more and more sealed surfaces in cities etc.) has led to “funnel-shaped” voids under most conurbations and it seemed a good idea to a) “unseal” many of these areas so that the water leaks into ground again as it used to centuries before and b) saving water with e.g. water saving toilet flush systems etc. Modern washing machines and dishwashers also use but a fraction of the water they used to decades ago. However, this has had a side-effect that in many cities has cost more than the value of the water saved so far: the concentration of feces and harmful other substances in the irrigation systems has increased dramatically while these stay there for longer too. The net effect has been that now the old clay and concrete sewage piping has rotted and gotten holes through which sometimes a third or more of the sewage waters, untreated, seep into the city underground. Refurbishing these sewage pipes costs in the billions and … flushing them at regular intervals now is, once again, done with similar amounts of DRINKING water as before when people did not save individually. Before that these amounts figured in their personal water bill, now the price for the water has gone up so that the fewer water used costs the same if not more due to the repair costs added on the sewage bill. So, in the end, water supply and its withdrawal makes for rather complex interdependent systems and focusing on one variable may play havoc with the rest …

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