Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.
We tend to take our supply of clean drinking water for granted in the United States and other developed countries. We just turn on the tap and there it is, almost as if by magic or some sort of divine providence. Americans are major water consumers. Every day, more than 300 million Americans drink more than one billion glasses of tap water.
It is easy to forget that the clean water coming out of our faucets depends entirely on infrastructure systems and the supply of fresh water. Climate change, population growth, and an aging infrastructure are three realities that are jeopardizing our continued access to reliable and safe drinking water supplies. These factors will become even more impactful in the future, necessitating the requirement that we take action now.
Water Crisis and Climate Change
Climate change has a direct effect on our supply of fresh water. One of the most well-known effects of climate change is that of drought. Drought, a lack of rain, has an obvious and alarming impact on our fresh water supplies.
Another effect of climate change on water supplies is that of the impact of heavy rains and snow storms on combined sewers. When such extreme weather occurs, combined sewers are forced to deal with higher than normal water flows. These flows are more than twice what the existing sewers are designed to deal with. As a result, storm water and untreated wastewater move directly into city waterways, adversely affecting water quality. This phenomenon is referred to as combined sewer overflow (CSO).
Green Infrastructure Solutions and CSO
Green infrastructure is a range of storm water control measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement, or storm water harvest and reuse, to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate storm water. Solutions can look like green roofs, green streets, bio retention swales, and other projects.
One of the most potentially helpful green infrastructure solutions is to recycle wastewater into clean drinking water. Orange County is already engaging in this practice. This location successfully treats and recycles wastewater that becomes part of the water supply for 600,000 residents. Orange County’s wastewater recycling program has a capacity of 70 million gallons per day, and is currently the largest in the world.
Additionally, Cleveland, Ohio uses large storage tunnels, improving their waste water treatment plants, and rehabilitating pumping stations. Other methods, used in Washington DC, separate the sewers in some areas, sending sewage and storm water down different pipes from each other.
Ways to Make Large-Scale Desalination Less Expensive
The vast majority of the water on earth, 96 percent, is saline, meaning only four percent is freshwater. While large-scale desalination processes are currently extremely expensive, progress is being made in finding cheaper and more sustainable methods.
University of Alexandria researchers have come up with a simpler and much less expensive desalination process. This process utilizes materials that can be produced at a lower cost, and it does not require the vast amounts of energy needed by traditional methods. The proposed method uses a two-step process called pervaporation.
The Cost of Maintenance of Current Water Infrastructure
One reason why adoption of new, green technologies is so crucial is the reality of how much it would cost to simply repair our aging water infrastructure. Some estimates signal that more than $1 trillion will be required to properly repair the country’s existing systems of underground pipes.
The threats to our drinking water supply posed by climate change, aging infrastructure, and a growing population are ignored at our great peril. We must begin immediately to ensure our clean freshwater supply in the future.