Most people don’t think about where the water comes from when they turn on a faucet – just as long as it does come. Perhaps you’ve heard the predictions that fresh, potable water will one day be more valuable than oil. Although that prediction may raise an eyebrow today, it’s clear that a secure future depends on water.
Around the world businesses and communities are investing in new, sustainable forms of water supply. The goal is to ensure safe drinking water, as well as provide commercial businesses and industries with enough water to thrive. In addition, farmers and ranchers need water to grow food to feed the world, as well as nurture the vast carbon sink that exists in plant-based crops.
When we contemplate renewable resources for sustainability purposes, wastewater is one that is being seriously considered. Reusing it can be far more economical than finding, developing and transporting new water supplies. It also alleviates some of the pressure off water treatment facilities.
Although people who are not familiar with the concept may be unsure if they are comfortable with it, recycling/reusing water is completely safe under strict government water quality standards.
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When it comes to water, the terms “recycled” and “reclaimed” are sometimes used interchangeably. They involve used water that is collected to be treated and used again, whether it’s stormwater, municipal wastewater, industry process and cooling water, agricultural runoff and return flows, or water produced during lumbering or mining. As described by the Environmental Protection Agency, the purification process can involve sedimentation, filtration, electrostatic charge, chemical treatment, and disinfection with a chlorine product.
The purified water can then be reused, instead of being discharged into sewage treatment plants or natural drainage systems. That reuse can include a plethora of scenarios. For water that is considered non-potable, aka. not drinkable, the uses might include:
- Street cleaning
- Irrigation for landscapes and agriculture
- Fire protection
- Process plant operations
- Dust control on construction sites
People living in areas where annual precipitation is typically 30-60-inches annually tend to take for granted their safe, readily-available water supply. Conversely, in arid regions, where precipitation may only average 9-15-inches annually, communities are challenged to capture what runoff they can and sometimes must curtail use to maintain reservoir levels. Since lack of water stymies agriculture and commercial development, recycling water is increasingly important for supplying water needs.
Ongoing studies and projects have looked at recycling water as a way to drought-proof their water supplies. This has become particularly urgent in the arid western US, where a prolonged, over two-decade drought has strained riverine and reservoir systems to the point of crisis. Phoenix, AZ, with a metropolitan area population of over 4.7-million people, has already built five water desalination plants to supply water to its residents, and is planning another. An ABC News report explains the metro area also recycles 89% of its wastewater for cooling at Palo Verde Nuclear Plant, as well as supplying irrigation needs. As the volume of the Colorado River dwindles, Phoenix is moving forward with plans to expand its water recycling with new treatment technology.
If you’re curious about which communities are now using reclaimed water, check out this Department of Energy map to see where wastewater is being reclaimed today in the US.
On the Autodesk One Water Blog, water recycling is described as something that is likely to become a more common conservation method as the population increases.
Wastewater is a renewable resource. The economy of reusing it far outweighs the cost of developing new supplies. For those who remain uncomfortable with it, one day the comfort factor of water recycling may be the least of our concerns.