Water security is a major concern for countries all around the world. In recent years, climate change has emerged as its single largest challenge. As the increasing presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere intensifies the effects of global warming, the occurrence of extreme weather disturbances have become more and more frequent. On one hand, droughts disrupt water security because they result in scarcity of supply. On the other hand, super typhoons and massive flooding upset water security as well by inundating water supplies with debris and pollutants.
Either way, climate change has a clear impact on water security and addressing this root cause requires a multitude of approaches. One response is to have globally concerted efforts toward creating more sustainable water usage practices. Among these, wastewater management has great potential to contribute to water security. There are technologies and techniques that can be incorporated into existing water infrastructure to make use of wastewater in a beneficial and economical manner.
What Is Wastewater?
Any water that has been used in some way or form is considered wastewater. This includes sewage called blackwater, such as those coming from toilets in households as well as commercial establishments. Any other type of used water from showers, sinks, laundry drains, and the like—including those collected from rain and other open sources—is also considered wastewater and generally called graywater. While seemingly clean, rainwater usually lands on surfaces such as roads and roofs, and passes through drains and pipes that may contaminate it with debris or other substances that add impurities to the water.
All wastewater has to be filtered for physical contaminants and chemically treated before being disposed of, so that it doesn’t pollute natural water systems. Depending on the source of wastewater, varying processes and procedures can be employed to make them reusable and thus contribute toward conserving clean water as a precious natural resource.
Wastewater for Human Consumption
Modern technology has actually made it possible for wastewater to be completely transformed into safe drinking water for humans. This is already happening in countries like Singapore, through procedures such as membrane filtration. These processes follow proper disinfection and treatments that are considered cost-efficient and sustainable solutions for reusing wastewater.
The main barrier to making this practice more prevalent is behavioral rather than physical. Instinctively, the thought of consuming wastewater is understandably unacceptable or even repulsive for most individuals. However, through proper education and information dissemination on the safety of using processed wastewater, this may prove to be one of the ways that a community can achieve water security.
Wastewater for Irrigation and Agriculture
In far-flung provinces and locations where access to formal water infrastructure may be difficult or non-existent, wastewater primarily from rain and storm runoff is a vital resource for agricultural irrigation. This water can be reused not only for sustaining land crops, but to supply fisheries and various aquacultures as well.
The key is in developing community-based solutions for proper wastewater collection, treatment, and delivery. Livelihood can flourish in remote communities if wastewater is effectively harnessed, and these efforts can also contribute to improving food security.
Wastewater for Vertical Communities
In cities and urban settings, wastewater treatment and reuse spells immense potential in reserving potable water for human consumption. Condominium buildings, for instance, can be designed and built with technologies wherein graywater is efficiently collected, treated, and then redistributed for use in daily chores such as flushing toilets and washing laundry. These are among the top household activities that consume great quantities of water but don’t require potability.
Depending on appropriate treatment processes, graywater can even be used to water non-edible plants or irrigate landscaping. The graywater reuse technologies can likewise be applied in office or commercial buildings, or even in single-detached homes and dwellings.
Wastewater for Industrial Processes
There are numerous commercial and industrial operations that involve water-intensive activities, such as those involved in manufacturing and construction. An ideal solution is to incorporate wastewater treatment and utilization as part of the sustainability initiatives of such companies and enterprises. Process water can be collected and reused in many industries such as power generation, cement manufacturing, mills and refineries, and many more. Water use in these settings can be contained in a sustainable loop that does not disrupt natural water systems and supplies for human consumption.
Wastewater for Recreation and Aesthetics
Water is also heavily used for aesthetic or recreational purposes, such as in public fountains, golf courses, and man-made lakes, for instance. While these water features serve intangible benefits of creating a more relaxing atmosphere or visually appealing environment, they are strong points of contention from the public because freshy sourced water used in such scenarios could otherwise be relegated for human consumption. A more prudent approach is to use treated wastewater for such landscaping needs to help in overall water conservation.
Achieving water security may be a challenge given the environmental forces that affect supply, but refocusing efforts toward the adaptation of sustainable practices and technologies can make for more responsible water consumption. Businesses and private citizens can benefit from better wastewater management by maximizing the availability of water sources and reducing dependence on external supply.