Water Reuse Community Explores Unconventional Sources

Sprinklers irrigate a grass farm in Indian Wells, California, February 19, 2018 (Photo by ChrisGoldNY) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact Water Sector News

LONDON, UK, February 10, 2022 (ENS) – There is a “serious risk” that some parts of England will run out of water by 2040, a committee of MPs has warned. More than three billion liters, about 20 percent of all freshwater used, is being lost to leaks every day, according to a report by the the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in July 2020.

In the arid U.S. Southwest, the summer of 2021 was when the Colorado River, source of water for one in every 10 Americans, dried up. By August, 99 percent of the United States west of the Rocky Mountains reported they were experiencing drought.

Drought began in April 2021 in Central Asia and spread to parts of Russia. Horses and other livestock died by the thousand, and irrigation water was scarce. Food prices skyrocketed.

Right now, drought exists across the southern Horn of Africa, with Somalia driest of all, and Tanzania to the south also drying up.

In fact, more than two billion people face severe water shortages and a similar number have been affected by flooding over the past 20 years, with these challenges expected to rise in coming years due to climate change, growing populations and increased economic activity, the World Meteorological Organization said.

This situation demands changes to water use, say the scientists at the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), https://www.nawihub.org/ a $110 million U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub headquartered in Berkeley, California at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A new master technology roadmap https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/80705.pdf from NAWI outlines what it will take to achieve water sustainability through innovative water treatment and resource recovery technologies.

NAWI focuses on technologies best suited to small-scale, autonomous, and distributed treatment systems that the industry has ignored in favor of large, legacy water treatment systems. But now, water that was once thrown away can become clean, safe, and affordable, NAWI says.

NAWI is attracting interest from Europe. Eden Tech, a Paris-based microfluidics technology company, has licensed an aqueous separation technology which pioneers the use of dimethyl ether as a solvent to concentrate brines from operations such as desalination for zero-liquid discharge.

NAWI says the process yields increased water recovery, reduced capital and energy costs, reduced land requirements, and reduced environmental impacts.

People worried about water scarcity see the possibility that agricultural, landscaping and industrial water needs could be filled with water from non-traditional sources to relieve the pressure on scarce fresh drinking water resources.

Rainwater, stormwater, brackish aquifer water, municipal reclaimed water, air-conditioning condensates, and residential graywater – all are under consideration for treatment and reuse.

The U.S. EPA points to The WaterHub at Georgia’s Emory University which is reducing its water footprint nearly 40 percent by reclaiming and reusing up to 146 million gallons of campus wastewater annually. The university uses an adaptive ecological technology that naturally breaks down organic matter in wastewater for use as process water in its steam and chiller plants.

One good source for information about treating, recycling and reusing water is the WateReuse Association https://watereuse.org/, the United States’ only trade association solely dedicated to advancing laws, policy, funding, and public acceptance of recycled water. Established in California in 1990, WateReuse now has members in 38 states, the District of Columbia, and 11 countries.

Florida: A Case in Point

Florida is growing at a record pace, with an estimated 1,000 people moving to the state daly. To meet the growing thirst for drinking water, Central Florida is projected to need 760 million gallons per day by the year 2025. The region has an excellent source of raw water from the upper Florida Aquifer, but this source alone cannot fill demand beyond the year 2025 without causing environmental harm to surface water bodies such as wetlands, springs, and lakes, WateReuse said today.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require or restrict any type of water reuse, leaving this authority to the states.

To meet the demand for a future sustainable water supply, many Florida utility providers are considering nontraditional water sources, including highly treated wastewater, the lower Floridan aquifer, and stormwater runoff that can be cleaned and used as a source for potable supply of drinking water.

Pilot projects to demonstrate innovative treatment methods on non-traditional water sources are popping up across Central Florida to identify water supplies that are both economical and sustainable, now and into the future.

In one of Florida’s largest counties, Polk County Utilities https://www.polk-county.net/utilities evaluated water resources in the north Lakeland area for a $2.5 million alternative water supply project.

The utility determined that Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) technology to create drinkable water that meets or exceeds federal and state standards from non-traditional sources was indeed a viable option to increase the water supply capacity in its service area.

Water flowing at a wastewater treatment facility. May 19, 2011, Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Danilo Pinzon courtesy World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Next, Polk County Utilities developed the first DPR pilot project in Florida to be located at a water production facility rather than at a wastewater treatment facility.

The reclaimed, recycled water will be “scrubbed to remove any trace chemicals, pharmaceutical residue, hormones, bacteria, protozoa, and viruses,” the utility explained. Construction of the pilot will begin this spring, with the 14-month demonstration scheduled to begin in July.

Public Acceptance, the Big Challenge

Public acceptance of reclaimed, recycled water isn’t really an issue when it is used for landscaping, crop irrigation or industrial processes, but the idea of drinking water from non-traditional sources is less acceptable.

Director of Polk County Utilities Tamara Richardson, PE, calls the attitude, “the wisdom of repugnance, or just the “yuck factor.” For example, people tend to reject the idea of recycled water based on the psychological connection they make to disgusting, contaminated sewage.

Richardson says consumers start with a distrust of tap water treated from traditional sources before they ever hear about the concept of potable reuse. “Consumers are worried about ingesting impurities in tap water, but they do not understand that bottled water is at risk of the same – if not more – impurities since the bottled water industry is not subject to the same regulations as community water systems.”

But “knowledge is power,” she reminds us. “Utilities have the power to educate their customers on the safety of tap water and appeal to what is important to customers, like preserving the environment and sustainable water supplies for a secure future.”

Water conservation is a success story in central Florida that Polk County Utilities is using for its potable water reuse information campaign.

Richardson said people began shifting their thoughts about water conservation when their campaign offered a higher purpose, involved school children, and made the connection between local and worldwide issues.

Connecting With the Smart Water World

With the approach of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the water recycling and reuse conference season is also approaching.

Coming up on March 6-9 in San Antonio, Texas, the Annual WateReuse Symposium is a premier conference on water recycling. It attracts more than 800 water professionals globally for knowledge sharing, networking, and more than 80 technical sessions. The event is planned in collaboration with the Water Research Foundation and includes engaging sessions on the latest reuse-related research projects.

Then, on April 4-5, the London-based event organizer SMi Group is holding the 11th Annual Smart Water Systems conference in London, UK, live and in person.

This conference assists water utility companies, service providers, government officials, and investment companies to collaborate, network and examine new technologies and latest developments to move the market forward.

On May 20-21, in Vancouver, Canada, the International Conference on Environmental Sciences and Water Treatment will be held by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, and it’s just one of dozens of such conferences the academy is holding all over the world this year. To find the complete schedule from Bangkok to Toronto, Lagos to Instanbul, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai and elsewhere, click here. https://waset.org/location

Other water reuse and recycling conferences continue through the year. For instance, the annual Smart Water Summit takes place at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio, Texas from August 29 to 31, 2022.  Attendees will be able to stay current with the latest advances in technology.

Show Them the Money

Recognizing the need for funding to run trials and projects, Britain’s Water Services Regulation Authority, OFWAT, has established a new £200 million innovation fund. Attendees at the Smart Water Systems conference in London April 4-5 will learn how the fund can encourage and support new ideas and a spirit of innovation while nurturing a collaboration culture.

Opened in 2020, the OFWAT Innovation Fund has run two competitions that aim to deliver scalable innovations in the water sector with lasting impact. OFWAT has announced two sets of winners, with more to follow up to 2025.

For example, one of the nine winners of OFWAT’s first Water Breakthrough Challenge is an innovative project to slash the greenhouse gas emissions and energy demand of used water processing and, at the same time, create a new source of hydrogen energy.

Anglian Water’s Triple Carbon Reduction solution has been awarded more than £3.5 million as a winner of this challenge. The company and partners will use novel technologies to target a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electricity use in used water treatment, and provide a new renewable energy source through green hydrogen production.

The Anglian Water project is being delivered in partnership with Oxymem, Element Energy Ltd, Jacobs, Cranfield University, University of East Anglia, Brunel University and Severn Trent, Scottish Water, Northern Ireland Water and United Utilities.

To help build new connections in the water sector, OFWAT is hosting pitch videos from innovative suppliers interested in working with water companies to address the sector’s biggest challenges – from reaching net-zero, to restoring our water environment, to tapping into the potential of open data.

Water innovators can find partners to work with the Water Innovation Directory on the OFWAT website at: https://waterinnovation.challenges.org/find-a-partner/water-innovation-directory/

UK Government Demands OFWAT Protect the Environment

OFWAT must ensure that England’s water industry is doing more to protect the environment, the Conservative Government of Boris Johnson announced February 2 setting its priorities for the regulator over the next five years.

The new Strategic Policy Statement stresses the importance of protecting the environment for the water sector, and sets out the government’s expectation that OFWAT and water companies will prioritize action to protect and enhance the environment, and deliver a resilient and sustainable water supply.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said, “Water quality is an absolute priority. We are the first Government to set a clear expectation that OFWAT should prioritise action by water companies to protect the environment and deliver the improvements that we all want to see. I have been very clear of my expectations of water companies and where they do not step up we will take robust action.”

European Union’s New Water Reuse Law

The water resources of the European Union are increasingly coming under pressure, leading to water scarcity and a deterioration in water quality. In particular, climate change, unpredictable weather patterns and drought, urban development and agriculture are contributing to the strain on the availability of freshwater.

The European Commission says the EU’s water sustainability could be improved by:

  • wider reuse of treated waste water
  • limits to extraction from surface water and groundwater bodies
  • reducing the impact of discharge of treated waste water into water bodies
  • promoting water savings through multiple uses for urban waste water

Water reuse is successfully practiced in several EU Member States, as well as in Israel, Australia, and Singapore. Yet, the Commission said in a July 2020 statement, “this practice is so far deployed below its potential in the EU.”

Limited awareness of potential benefits among stakeholders and the public, and the lack of a supportive, coherent framework for water reuse were identified as barriers to more reuse of non-traditional water sources in the European Union.

But the EU is making progress. A new EU regulation on minimum requirements for safe water reuse in agricultural irrigation will apply from June 26, 2023 and the new rules are expected to stimulate water reuse in the EU.

The water reuse requirements are harmonized across the 27 EU Member States, because, as the legislation states, “Health standards in relation to food hygiene for agricultural products irrigated with reclaimed water can be achieved only if quality requirements for reclaimed water intended for agricultural irrigation do not differ significantly between the Member States.”

There are other EU laws that require treatment of wastewater, and EU Members States are held accountable for violating them.

In fact, the European Commission decided February 9 to refer Poland to the EU Court of Justice for failure to comply with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. This law requires Member States to ensure that towns, cities, and settlements properly collect and treat their waste waters, eliminating or reducing all their undesirable effects when they are discharged into water bodies.

In Poland, at least 1,000 towns and cities do not have a collecting system for their municipal waste waters. That means the waste water is being directly discharged in rivers, seas or lakes without treatment. In addition, in 415 places where waste waters are discharged in sensitive areas, Poland has not ensured that those waters are subject to more stringent treatment as required by the law, the Commission alleges.

So, while water scarcity and water pollution are serious and growing problems worldwide, new technologies and a closer degree of communication among water users, water providers, scientists and regulators point to a less thirsty future.

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