Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum

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Creating a New Sustainable Water Infrastructure

Excerpted from the report, Charting New Waters: Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure:

Our water infrastructure, designed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, no longer meets today’s needs and challenges. Water management agencies have focused for over 100 years on the hardware of water and wastewater management: the pipes, pumps and reservoirs needed to move the drinking water, waste and stormwater through the system or store it until needed. These rigid systems were designed and operated based on the assumption of stationarity in our natural systems. Those assumptions are now seen as short-sighted and no longer match our understanding of nature.

We need to transition from systems built around managing water under historical conditions of “certainty” to those built around flexibility to respond to unpredictable or rapidly changing conditions. First, we need to conceptualize our water infrastructure as an integrated system of natural water resource systems (green), and built/engineered pipes and treatment plants. We also need to move from an emphasis on centralized infrastructure to decentralized systems that are more resource and energy efficient, and scalable from the site to city level. We have to integrate all water systems to use the “right water for the right need” (e.g. watering landscapes with rainwater or non-potable water), reducing treatment costs and the length of pipe needed to fulfill specific water needs. We must start extracting the significant resources (nutrients and energy) found in wastewater rather than discarding them as waste. And finally, every dollar spent on water infrastructure must provide multiple benefits, such as lowering urban temperatures, increasing green space and parks, or creating local jobs. These are the realities of our fiscally-constrained and climate-altered world. We are at a turning point with our water infrastructure investment. We can either continue to build the equivalent of 1960s-era mainframe computers or move to laptops, tablets and cloud storage.

Principles of SWI

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Visualizing Virtual Water

Italian graphic design specialist Angela Morelli has put together an interactive visualization explaining how much water we consume indirectly through eating and drinking different foods and drinks. Coffee and beef have two of the most water-intensive production processes, with thousands of litres used to provide the amounts of food and drink you might consume in a typical day. Click the image below to watch the story unfold.

Virtual Water

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“Toilet-to-Tap” Becomes a Reality

Desperate times call for desperate measures and in Texas that translates into a program in several cities to reuse treated wastewater in a state-approved recycling process to bolster drinking supplies. As the drought in the southwest of the United States drags on, arcane and somewhat unpalatable solutions are being employed to provide water for areas that are experiencing the most severe conditions.

From the Associated Press via Huffington Post:

 Wichita Falls, near the Oklahoma border, on Wednesday began reusing millions of gallons of water at the River Road Waste Treatment plant that’s been purified to meet government drinking standards. The water is then sent by a 12-mile pipeline to the Cypress Water Treatment Plant for additional purification.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved Wichita Falls’ proposal for a toilet-to-tap reuse program for up to six months.

The West Texas town of Big Spring, whose spring dried up decades ago, implemented an indirect potable reuse program — where effluent flows into another body of water before being treated — earlier this year. The water is then filtered through reverse osmosis. The city of Brownwood, about 80 miles south of Abilene, has approval for a project similar to Wichita Falls’ to treat 1.5 million gallons of water daily, but it has not started doing so.

Wichita Falls is operating under a Stage 5 drought catastrophe, in which outdoor watering is banned and conservation is urged. Demand for city water has dropped 45 percent, according to City Manager Darron Leiker.

Still, the city’s reservoirs are on a trajectory to run dry by August 2016, according to the Texas Water Development Board. The Wichita Falls area needs drinking water for about 150,000 people, and supplies from local reservoirs have plummeted from nearly 90 percent capacity before the drought began in late 2010 to about 20 percent capacity in late June.

The city’s cloud-seeding experiments to stimulate rain have been unsuccessful. It’s considering using a polymer product to coat the surface of its reservoirs to repress evaporation, though a recent field test proved disappointing.

The situation is fallout from Texas’ driest year ever in 2011. Since then, when rain has fallen in the western half of the state, it didn’t land into lakes’ watersheds.

The drought is the second-worst in Texas after the 1950s Dust Bowl, according to the state’s climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon.

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Brown is the New Green

The  hefty cost of watering the lawn is causing a number of homeowners to forego maintaining a green front yard.  For those with homes on the market, the option is to spend up to $200 a month to water or potentially take a significant hit in the sales price of their home, provided they can keep a buyer from bolting.  From CBS Sacramento:

The California drought is hitting home prices as a growing number of brown lawns are making properties less attractive.

A broker told CBS13 it can cost around $200 a month to keep even a small yard green during the drought. As a result, he’s seeing more sellers give up on watering, causing them to take a hit on the sale price.

The front yards of some homes waiting for buyers in Sacramento look like they haven’t seen water in months.

“When the house was listed, it was a beautiful green lawn, and this is what’s happened because they can’t afford to water,” said Shaun Alston with Eagle Realty. “Previously we would talk about staging and painting and all of that. Now we are talking about the cost of watering lawns.”

Even with a housing market on the rise, the drought is impacting prices, and he believes it will should only get worse as the summer unfolds.