How Recycled Water Could Save Our Water Supply

It’s all too easy to forget that freshwater is a finite resource. Most of us don’t have to travel much farther than the faucet, and the proliferation of water bottles and drinking fountains have made water scarcity a non-issue. At least, this is how it appears at first, but that’s only surface-level.

In truth, the strain of society’s dependence on surface water and groundwater has caused significant problems. Negligence in water conservation has led to droughts, dust storms and a whole host of environmental disasters. At the current rate of consumption, things are only going to get worse.

The Cambridge Waste Water Plant is seen on the Choptank River in Dorchester County, MD. Credit: Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program, FlickrCC

To contextualize the problem, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Even though water covers as much as 70% of the planet, only 3% of it is freshwater. If that weren’t troubling enough, the majority of that supply is inaccessible, trapped in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable.

So how can we address the issue of water scarcity around the world? What solutions exist to combat the problem? We’ll explore the subject in greater depth, examining the importance of recycled water and its potential to save the water supply.

The Value of Water Recycling

The collective demand for freshwater can deplete rivers, lakes and groundwater reservoirs faster than they can replenish themselves. When this happens, we disrupt the rate of recharge and cause our sources of water to dry up. They eventually recover, of course, but only if we reduce our dependence on them.

Fortunately, we have strategies for water reuse that help conserve our available resources. Through the practice of “water recycling,” we alleviate the pressure on our water sources and take a strategic approach to the problem of scarcity. A diverse variety of methods exist, ranging from simple to complex.

As an example, homeowners can harvest rainwater in barrels and use it for gardening. A more elaborate example of water recycling may involve the collection and reuse of greywater — or slightly dirty water — for toilets, irrigation and similar applications where complete purity isn’t a concern.

The Current State of Reuse

Strategies for water reuse will prove indispensable in the next several decades. Since the demand for freshwater has a direct connection with the global population and the standard of living we want to maintain, we’ll have to place greater importance on water conservation efforts.

Presently, countries around the world produce 180 to 250 billion gallons of domestic wastewater every day. We have the global capacity to treat to advanced levels as little as 8 billion gallons of water every day. That’s only 4% of the total quantity of wastewater, which isn’t much, given the output.

Despite these challenges, progress continues in countries like Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. They’ve taken steps toward regulating water reuse, with a number of initiatives for irrigation, industrial purposes and aquifer recharge.

The United States has also addressed the subject of water reclamation. Though the program itself is still in development, the EPA announced a Water Reuse Action Plan in coordination with the water sector, federal and state government agencies. A draft will see release for public review in September.

The Challenges of Expansion

The expansion of water reuse is possible, but it’s not without its own set of challenges. A country may struggle to meet its water reuse potential for an assortment of reasons. They might have local climate issues, low funds, a lack of social acceptance or different economic priorities.

Even though we have the power to expand reuse, it isn’t as simple as presenting statistics and suggesting a change. It’s essential to acknowledge all of the aspects of water recycling, both the benefits of the practice and the costs. Only then can you have an informed understanding of the issue.

Make a Change Today

In the United States, we reuse around 7% to 8% of the wastewater we produce. This percentage will have to increase if we’re to meet the demands of a growing population, and hopefully, the Water Reuse Action Plan will help. As of now, water scarcity doesn’t seem like a pressing problem, but predictions are clear.

With that in mind, reduce your consumption where possible and advocate for water reuse. Even a small adjustment can have a big impact, so make a change today.