Recycling waste water for drinking: Are you ready for it?
With the projected growth in world population, and the ever-rising demand for clean water, the demand for recycling waste water is gradually on the rise. While water on earth is already recycled in the sense that it goes through the planetary water cycle, the phrase ‘water recycling’ is usually used to characterize the process through which, waste water from homes and businesses is sent over a pipeline system to treatment facilities, where the water is then treated to remove solids and certain impurities. The level of this treatment is commensurate to the intended use of the water. The water is then routed to a recycled water system for appropriate use.
For several years, recycled waste water has primarily been used in irrigation, with the goal of sustainability and water conservation. In most locations, recycled water was not directly used for drinking purposes. However, it should be emphasized here that using recycled water for other uses still did help conserve fresh water for drinking, thus allowing for a more sustainable approach to water consumption.
At present, projects for recycling waste water are being undertaken all over the world, with Israel being the world leader, recycling 80% of their waste water for reuse in irrigation projects. In recent years, a lot of other locations such as the Orange County Water District in California, and some locations in Singapore, are subjecting waste water to more advanced treatments with the intent of the final product being used for drinking. Orange County in particular is a major success story, with a production of 100 million gallons per day serving 850,000 people. The recycled waste water is being mixed with the groundwater supply and reaches over 70% of the residents. Water thus produced has also managed to meet and exceed all state and federal drinking water standards. It is worth mentioning here that these standards have actually been revised to be stricter, due to the novelty of the underlying technology and process. The World Water Council has long ago declared that the quality of this recycled water is just as good, if not better, than the tap water in any city in the developed world.
The United Nation warns that by 2030, half of the world population will face water scarcity, accelerated by climate change and population growth. This could spark off a shortage in food production, along with a health crisis due to increased exposure to polluted water. Unfortunately, introducing recycled waste water for drinking purposes has not been tried as a serious possibility until very recently. Even Orange County began their contribution to the drinking supply as late as 2008, whereas their recycling system has been operational since the 1970s. Nevertheless, operators associated with such projects feel confident that the system is now well-established and ready for deployment on a much larger scale. There is also consensus that as the shortages become more extreme, there will be an increased awareness of the need for finding alternative resources.