Over the past few years, California has been experiencing the worst drought in history. The truth is, California is not unique in this regard. Fresh water security is a growing concern internationally and has received a lot of media attention. It is clear that how we use our water resources is more important now than in other period in time.
Only about 2.5% of the water on earth is fresh, drinkable water. This makes it an incredibly precious resource that needs to be valued. Let’s face it, we can survive without gas or electricity if we really have to. We simply cannot survive without clean drinking water. Our food supply is also dependent on a good supply of water for irrigation and drinking water for livestock. There can be no denying the obvious, our water supply is under threat, and we depend on it more than any other resource on earth.
Finding Solutions for Our Water Crisis
If we are not proactive about protecting and conserving our natural water supplies, the future consequences could be dire. We have to do something about securing clean drinking water, and irrigation for agriculture, if we’re going to prevent a catastrophic crisis in the years to come. It is a matter of urgency that affects all of us. The big question is how do we achieve this? With increasing population numbers and contamination from agriculture and industry threatening our existing water supplies, it may seem like an unresolvable problem.
It is in our nature as humans to find solutions. It’s what makes us who we are. This should give us hope as we face the effects of climate change and the ravaging consequences resulting from centuries of uncontrolled pollution. It starts with awareness and, by now, we all know that it’s time to take responsibility for our collective impact on the world we live in. The solutions exist, it’s up to us to find them and implement them while we are still able to.
Governments, scientists, and water supply authorities are all investigating methods of utilizing water more efficiently. Preventing waste and recycling wastewater are effective water conservation techniques that should help ensure that this valuable resource will still be available for our children and grandchildren. These are practical solutions and can be implemented relatively easily if we are conscientious about our duty to conserve fresh water.
San Diago and Orange County are among several US counties that have started reclaiming wastewater to be used in municipal distribution systems. It is considered a relatively cost-effective way to provide enough water to the area without increasing additional strain on the river systems. If water reuse is working for cities in these areas, surely they can work elsewhere.
The only real barrier to increasing the reuse of sewage water seems to be a psychological one. No one relishes the idea of drinking sewage. Basically, we need to reassess our attitude toward drinking reclaimed water in a rational way. This can only be achieved by education, providing people with the information they need to understand where our water comes from and how it is treated.
Wastewater recycling conjures up all sorts of nasty thoughts. Our imaginations might run wild with ideas and images of water from our toilet ending up in our glass. Are we going to be drinking our own sewage in coming years? Before you begin to gag at the thought of drinking recycled water, get the facts and from an intelligent opinion.
This is not a new process. In arid parts of the world, recycling wastewater has been a necessity for many years. In some areas, there simply isn’t enough clean water to supply the needs of the population. Purifying the wastewater from city sewers is the only way to provide enough water for the population. This is becoming a more common reality in regions where fresh water used to be taken for granted. It’s time for all of us to step up to the challenge and manage our water more responsibly.
How is Wastewater Recycled?
There are several treatments for recycling water. The level of treatment will depend on the initial quality of the water before recycling. The cost of recycling water will increase when more intense purification is required. Highly contaminated industrial water with a lot of toxic chemicals is more expensive to treat than domestic wastewater.
There are several stages of water purification used to reclaim wastewater.
Typically, municipal wastewater recycling, also referred to as toilet to tap reclamation, utilizes the following four stages:
Making Wastewater Safe for Drinking
The tertiary treatment of wastewater will differ, depending on the intended application. Water used for agriculture and industry does need to meet the same standards of purity as water used for drinking. Filtering and purifying recycled drinking water involves a process that is very similar to that of an advanced, multi-stage home revere osmosis water filtration system, just on a much larger scale.
The first stage of the tertiary treatment for reclaimed drinking water is to remove solids that may affect subsequent stages. This is a fairly basic sediment filter.
In the second stage, a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane is used to remove dissolved salts and solids. Reverse osmosis is highly effective at removing most contaminants, including chemicals and many pathogens. The membrane blocks particles smaller than 0.5 micron and the water that emergences on the other side of the membrane is almost pure. Over 90% of contaminants are removed using RO filtration.
The final stage involves disinfecting the water. A UV filter is the most effective method of killing bacteria and viruses. Chlorine is often used to ensure that the water remains disinfected when it is pumped to the point of distribution.
Is Recycled Wastewater Safe to Drink?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages the practice of water reuse and recycling. By providing grants and technological guidance, the EPA plans to assist communities in recycling and reusing wastewater. While the EPA places no restrictions on recycling water, it is the agency that ensures water utilities supply safe drinking water to all American homes. While each state manages and regulates water recycling at a local level, it still has to meet EPA standards for water safety.
Since the EPA is responsible for ensuring that we all have safe drinking water, we would assume that, by encouraging water recycling, it has to be clean enough for us to drink. Water utility companies are required to test the water that they supply to our homes and ensure that it meets the EPA standards for clean drinking water. This is our safeguard against drinking contaminated water. For the most part, this system of water management works pretty well.
Whether the water supplied to your home is recycled or comes completely from natural sources, it has to be treated. When water is supplied from rivers, lakes, and wells, the possibility exists for contamination from pesticides, herbicides, industrial effluent, pathogens, and any number of other toxins. This makes recycled water one of the safer options as it is filtered using the most advanced water purification methods. In fact, it is generally cleaner than the water we get from traditional natural sources.
Once the recycled wastewater is supplied to the dams that provide the water we use in our homes, it mixes with the natural water from the rivers that feed the dam. It is then treated again by the local water utility before it is supplied for general consumption. Through all these filtration stages, we should have perfectly safe drinking water on tap.
While the water supplied to our homes is generally safe to drink, this is not always a guaranteed. Strict standards for water purification are designed to protect us from drinking contaminated water. This often involves the use of chlorine which, in small enough doses, is potable and not dangerous. However, chlorine is not exactly healthy, and it also affects the taste and odor of the water we drink.
Even if the water has been treated to ensure that it is 100% safe to drink, it can become contaminated before it reaches the faucet in your home. Aging infrastructure and poor maintenance in some areas means that the water that is supplied to our homes may not be as safe as when it left the purification plant. You can never be too sure if the water is as clean as it should be.
Despite all the effort made to provide clean drinking water, it is probably a good idea to use a home water filtration system for complete peace of mind. A simple water filtration pitcher will provide that extra reassurance that you are drinking pure healthy water. Though more expensive whole house RO water filtration systems are more convenient and will supply pure filtered water on tap 24/7 without any inconvenience.
Rising to the Challenge of Ensuring Safe Drinking Water
Recycling wastewater is a sustainable way of securing safe drinking water for many years to come. However, it is not without its challenges. When the original water supply is severely contaminated, it becomes more complicated (and expensive) to purify the water.
This means that we all have a responsibility to help keep our wastewater free from unnecessary contaminants. As we become more dependent on recycled water, we also need be aware of what we pour into our drains and flush down our toilets. If we’re dumping dangerous chemicals and other toxins into the sewage system, it will take a lot more effort to remove these toxins when reclaiming that water for domestic use.
We need understand that the same water that we consider waste will eventually find its way back into our homes. We are ultimately responsible for how we use the water that is provided to us. If we mindlessly squander this resource, it will only escalate the problem as time passes.
Yes, our future is filled with challenges, but we are able to overcome all of these if we’re smart about how live our lives. Accepting recycled water for drinking is a small step in the direction we need to take. We also need to be more responsible about how we use the water we have. If we all play our part, anything is possible.
These are all things that we need to think about. When you raise a glass of clear pure water, think about all that it takes to ensure that you have this privilege. It is equally important to consider that future generations should have the same basic right to clean drinking water as we have. All it takes is the right attitude, a respect for the gift that nature has given us. A realization that something as basic and simple as water is the essence of life on earth.