My dad is fond of the saying that, if possible, you should buy land because they’re not going to make any more of it. I laugh, but it’s true. In the last several years, he has become interested in buying water rights too. And while he knows that our atmosphere will continue to produce water, as our population has grown, so too has our need for clean water. Many of our biggest cities such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles depend on fresh water being pumped in from afar; and these places, among others, also use that water for less-than-necessary amenities such as plush lawns and shooting fountains. In short, we’re using our water for non-essential purposes. Nothing new, but something that many have taken to heart over the last decade or two. For those who wish to see water used more sensibly, there has also been a big move in the reclaimed water market.
Reclaimed, or recycled, water is treated to remove solids and impurities, and then returned to systems for another life in aquifers or irrigation systems. Most of the time this water isn’t potable, but its value is still apparent. Israel is the world leader in reclaimed water use, treating 80% of its sewage, or 400 billion liters a year. This technology has been beneficial to agriculture, as it allows them to offset natural rainfall shortages during the growing season. In the United States, Florida and California are among the leaders in water reclamation, with the Irvine Ranch Water District in the heart of Orange County being an important innovator in the field. Dating back to the early 1960’s, IRWD has operated on a dual pipe system that delivers one tube for potable water, and another for irrigation water. The latter is hooked up to the reclamation pipe that is on a closed loop system and works with its own self-contained treatment system to filter any harmful pathogens or solids. IRWD has been a model for the rest of Southern California as other cities take steps to alleviate their water issues.
Reclaimed water has been indirectly in the news of late as well. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station deal with not having access to fresh water everyday they are in orbit. When astronauts shower, clean water falls from the tap into the basin, and is then collected, filtered and returned to the system for further washing. OrbSys Showers expands further on the aforementioned closed loop system for its showers. Benefits include a significant reduction in energy costs since the water has already been heated to temperature; as well as the process being extremely efficient in terms of waste water produced. OrbSys estimates that their shower systems save up to 80% in energy costs and 90% in water usage as compared to the average non-recycled water shower system.
The jury is still out on reclaimed water for drinking. A recent report by the National Research Council, as reported by National Geographic, indicates that there may be systems in place soon to recycle wastewater into drinking water for the most needful of areas that don’t have daily access to clean sources. And while some countries like Singapore have used technologies for repurposing wastewater into drinking water, the biggest hiccup seems to be the psychological component of the water’s past life. There are several communities in the United States that do filter treated wastewater into their potable water systems, but for the most part the percentages are low. However, as the technology becomes more certain, and the effects of water shortages more apparent, it is only a matter of time until the process become more acceptable.