Like millions of teens around the world, my daughter enjoys long showers. Unlike many fathers of teens, however, I see a bright side to the family water bill.
We’re not just taking showers. We’re growing grapes.
Our family lives in Israel, the international capital of water recycling, where nearly 90% of our supply is used more than once. In our area of southern Israel, that means the water flowing down our home drain is used on nearby farms to grow some of the tastiest table grapes on Earth. Turns out my daughter is a friend of agriculture.
All over the globe, climate change is turning fresh water into an increasingly precious commodity. Many countries and regions suffer from extended drought. Rising temperatures increase evaporation from reservoirs. Snow falls less and melts sooner on mountains. And rising sea levels increase saltwater intrusion contamination in fresh water wells along coastal communities.
The worldwide fresh water supply crunch comes as the Earth’s population grows by more than 80 million people per year.
With increasing demand for water and a jeopardized supply, communities increasingly are turning to recycling technologies to stretch and make the most efficient use of existing water supplies. Critical to this is having a clear understanding of the quality of the water coming into any treatment plant before it is recycled.
The greatest reuse per capita is happening in arid Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Qatar, and Kuwait, though the No. 1 recycler of water by volume is the United States. The leading states for water recycling are Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.
In Orange County, California, engineers found it’s 15% cheaper to recycle water than to buy new supplies from rivers and reservoirs.
But what about the yuck factor?
The most important thing to remember is: No matter the water source — untrammeled mountain spring, or the river mouth of a major industrial city — it all must pass stringent health and safety tests before reaching your tap. In fact, recycled water often faces tougher quality control tests than river or lake water. Water reuse is safe.
Another key point is that we’ve been relying on recycled water for years without realizing it. In the Southwestern United States, stream water in places like the Rio Grande and Colorado River is typically used several times before it ever reaches the ocean. (The demands on the Colorado River are so great from Colorado to Mexico that it sometimes does not contain enough water to reach the sea.) The same water used by cities near the headwaters is used again and again downstream by farmers for irrigation.
Few people have second thoughts about using the same air as someone else. Why think about water differently?
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of water, whether recycled or first-use, does not go to the tap for drinking. It’s for growing crops, irrigating parks and golf courses, and watering lawns. In many places where water is scarce, it’s possible, and often economical, to set up two separate water systems, one for outdoor and one for indoor potable use.
Almost every city using recycled water in the U.S. sends the treated supply outside. Some cities pump recycled water underground to replenish aquifers. Most, however, reuse the water as an irrigation supply for farming or landscaping. One advantage of using recycled water outdoors: natural cleansing processes via vegetation, bacteria, and UV radiation do for free what would be more costly industrial processes in water treatment plants.
The reality is that water on this planet exists in a closed loop on a closed cycle. There is a limited amount of this precious resource, and the double-whammy of climate change and population growth are putting extra pressure on the supplies we have.
Water is too valuable to waste. In fact, it’s so valuable that we should use it again and again.
Ari Goldfarb is CEO of Kando, an Israel-based company, providing data-driven wastewater management solutions to help cities worldwide keep rivers and oceans cleaner while stimulating the reuse of water. Kando is affiliated with the Israel-Colorado Innovation Fund which invests in and connects Israeli entrepreneurs with U.S. markets through Innosphere Ventures, a Colorado technology incubator.