Wastewater recycling, part of the solution to water shortage?

After the report on mountaineering and my experiences on the ascent to Mount Aconcagua, I return to the subject of water, and the opportunities and challenges in recycling it.

In earlier posts here I wrote about a very sophisticated system of wastewater recycling in Singapore, which turns it back into drinking water.

And at this year’s Singapore International Water Week, the Californian Orange County received the highest recognition, for a scheme where perfectly treated wastewater is pumped back into underground aquifers, to be later pumped up again as drinking water. It also serves as a barrier to seawater intrusion.

These two examples, especially Singapore, are probably the most far-reaching examples I know of achievement in water recycling.

Places like San Diego, hit by a drought, are now re-considering again the idea to follow the Singapore example, despite some opposition from civil society. So, to what extent is it possible to scale up these kinds of activities globally; is there potential for wastewater to contribute in a substantial way to closing the gap of some 300 cubic kilometres between the level of water withdrawals and sustainable supply?

Estimates show close to 300 cubic kilometres of wastewater is generated by municipalities per year (average 2003-12). This is the equivalent of some 50% of global average annual withdrawals for household use.

Part of the other 50% of withdrawals not counted as ‘wastewater’ may well be lost in leakage in pipes (in some countries this accounts for up to 70% of the water withdrawn by the municipal water supply schemes). Another part could be ‘used’ through evapotranspiration in lawns and gardens, etc.

As the table below shows, only about half of this wastewater is actually collected and treated, but less than 10% of the treated wastewater is directly reused.

Table 1: Municipal wastewater generation and treatment data 2003-2012, country groups by income per capita

Source: FAO aquastat

 

To get an idea of how municipal water could contribute to closing the gap between withdrawals and sustainable supply, let me go through the water supply chain.

The first step would require a better understanding of what happens with the 50% of municipal water apparently ‘disappearing’. Where this is down to leakage, governments have to set the right incentives so municipal water authorities address the issue.

One way proposed by the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) in South Africa, which has been implemented by the government there, is to measure both water delivery and water intake, and to pay a premium to the schemes where the difference (i.e., water unaccounted for) gets smaller.

According to 2030 WRG cost-curve estimates, the cost savings would by far exceed the necessary spending to reduce the leakage.

As part of my proposals for targets within the water goal for post-2015 sustainable development, I suggest primary treatment of all wastewater by 2030 – an idea I will come back to in a later post.

So, what happens with 285 km³ of estimated wastewater generated, and what needs to be done? We will first have to increase collection, particularly in economically deprived areas, to make sure wastewater is collected and available for proper treatment.

Actually, only 36% of the world’s population has a sewage connection; this leaves 4.6 billion people unconnected. According to a WHO study, initial investment to set up a sewer connection is about USD 170 per capita; so the investment cost to connect them would be somewhere close to USD 800 billion. The annual cost of capital, repayment and operating cost is estimated at USD 1 per m³.

Next: treatment of both the up-to-now untreated collected – and the newly collected – wastewater. Estimates amount to USD 0.35 per m³. A big part of this cost is energy, an often forgotten link in the water-food-energy nexus framework.

And last but not least: less than 10% of treated wastewater is used directly. This can and must be increased. Direct use is, for instance, the Singapore approach, bringing treated water back to consumers as so-called ‘NEWater’.

Another example is Australia: around 1.4 cubic kilometers of municipal wastewater are treated, of which 0.4 cubic kilometers are used directly, mostly in agriculture.

At Nestlé we have a similar approach. All our factories treat wastewater (in fact the first wastewater treatment plant in the group was built in the 1930s, so we understood the need for this very early) and as much of this treated wastewater as possible is used directly.

At the same time, we should keep in mind indirect use, even though it’s often difficult to measure. Treated wastewater is returned to rivers and then often withdrawn again and treated further for human consumption.

One might, for instance, assume that a significant part of the water in the River Thames, once it reaches London, is treated wastewater from communities further up the river. Increasing the share of direct use of wastewater should clearly be encouraged – in a form accepted by local communities.

So, all in all there are some significant opportunities to use treated wastewater as a resource, helping to close the gap between freshwater withdrawals and sustainable supply. But these opportunities need to be carefully evaluated, to make sure they are fully accepted, but also cost and energy effective when compared to other solutions. Via Peter Brabeck-Letmathe – Linkedin More

 

Drought apocalypse begins in California as wells run dry

(NaturalNews) Water wells in central California have begun to run dry, reports the LA Times. (1) “Extreme drought conditions have become so harsh for the Central Valley community of East Porterville [that] many of its residents dependent on their own wells have run out of water.”

Tulare County has confirmed their wells have run out of water, and so far hundreds of homes have no running water.

According to the LA Times, rumors are also spreading that Child Protective Services officials will begin taking children away from families who have no running water, although the county claims the rumor is false.

It begins: the collapse of California's water aquifers

With this news, it is now official that the collapse of California's water aquifers has begun. With each passing month and year, more and more wells will run dry across the state as California plummets into the desert conditions from which it once sprang.

Extreme drought now covers 82% of California, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. (2) Fifty-eight percent of the state is in “exceptional drought.”

During the unfolding of this drought, California farmers and cities have siphoned unprecedented volumes of water out of the state's underground aquifers. This is called “fossil water” and it can take centuries to regenerate. Once this fossil water is used up, it's gone.

35-year “megadrought” may be on the way

“The southwestern United States has fifty percent change of suffering a 'megadrought' that lasts 35 years,” reports the Daily Mail. (3)

“They say global warming has meant the chance of a decade long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a 'megadrought' – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.”

One scientist is quoted in the story as saying, “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region.”

Unless politicians become magical wizards and figure out a way to create water out of nothing, what all this really means is that cities of the American southwest will not be able to support present-day populations. A mass migration (evacuation) out of the cities will be necessary sooner or later.

California's water deficit will lead to ecological and economic collapse

In an almost perfect reflection of California's state budget deficits, the state is also running an unsustainable water deficit. It is a mathematical certainty that when you remove far more water from the aquifers than is being replenished, the amount of water remaining in those aquifers will eventually reach zero.

This “zero day” water reality is still psychologically denied by most Californians. If the reality of this situation were widely recognized, California would be experiencing a glut of real estate inventory as millions of homeowners tried to sell their properties and evacuate the state. The fact that the real estate market has not yet collapsed in California tells us that Californians are still living in a state of denial about the future of their water supply.

Even as California's water supply collapses by the day, local farmers and towns have few options other than drilling for more water. “Drill! Drill! Drill!” is the mantra of the day, creating an 18-month backlog for well drilling companies. Each new well that's drilled must seek to go deeper than the previous wells which are running dry. It's a literal race to the bottom which can only end in catastrophe.

Then again, a willful acceleration toward catastrophe is merely a sign of the times when it comes to human civilization. There is almost no area in which humans have ever achieved balance: not in fossil fuels, metals mining, fossil water exploitation, debt creation, industrial chemical contamination, ecological exploitation or even global population. It's almost as if the human race is determined to destroy itself while racing to see who can achieve self destruction first. More

 

Karachi thirsts for a water supply

KARACHI: On the outskirts of the slums of Pakistan’s biggest city, protesters burning tires and throwing stones have what sounds like a simple demand: They want water at least once a week.

In Karachi people go days without getting water from city trucks, sometimes forcing them to use groundwater contaminated with salt. A recent drought has only made the problem worse. And as the city of roughly 18 million people rapidly grows, the water shortages are only expected to get worse.

“During the last three months they haven’t supplied a single drop of water in my neighbourhood,” protester Yasmeen Islam said. “It doesn’t make us happy to come on the roads to protest but we have no choice anymore.”

Karachi gets most of its water from the Indus River — about 550 million gallons per day — and another 100 million gallons from the Hub Dam that is supplied by water from neighbouring Balochistan province. But in recent years, drought has hurt the city’s supply.

Misbah Fareed, a senior official with the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board that runs the city’s water supplies, said that only meets about half the city’s needs — 1.2 billion gallons a day.

Karachi’s water distribution network has exacerbated the problem by forcing much of the city to get its water through tankers instead of directly from pipes. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board operates 12 water hydrants around the city where tankers fill up and then distribute. Even people in the richest areas of the city get their water through tankers that come a few times a week to fill up underground cisterns.

But criminals have illegally tapped into the city’s water pipes and set up their own distribution points where they siphon off water and sell it.

“I personally know some people previously associated with drug mafias who now switched to the water tanker business,” Fareed said. “Just imagine how lucrative the business is.”

Other areas of Pakistan pump massive amounts of groundwater. But in the coastal city of Karachi, the underground water is too salty to drink. Many people have pumps but they use the water for things such as showering or washing clothes.

The water shortage is exacerbated by Karachi’s massive population. Pakistani military operations and American drone strikes in the northern tribal regions, as well as natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes, have pushed people toward a city long seen as the economic heart of Pakistan.

The city is trying to increase the amount of water it gets from the Indus River by building another canal — dubbed the K4 project. But even if they were to get political approval from the capital to take more water from the river, it would take a minimum of four years to build.

But analysts say supply isn’t the only problem. Farhan Anwar, who runs an organisation called Sustainable Initiatives in Karachi, said the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board is horribly overstaffed and many of those are political appointees. The cost for water is also very low and the agency doesn’t collect all that it’s due, Anwar said. That’s made it difficult to upgrade the ageing pipes the system does have, meaning contamination and leakages are common.

Meanwhile, Karachi residents have to spend more money or walk further and further to get water. One elderly resident Aisha Saleem said in recent months even the little water they get from the water board is salty.

“Women and kids have to go miles by foot and carry drinking water every day,” she said More

 

How extensive is California’s drought?

A snake-like trickle of water flows underneath Lake Oroville's Enterprise Bridge — just one striking example of how much California's chronic drought is affecting the state's lakes and reservoirs.

Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas in Butte County, Lake Oroville is one of the largest reservoirs in California, second only to Shasta Lake. After enduring three straight years of drought, the lake is currently only filled to 32 percent of its capacity.

In any case, the drought in California is getting serious. Phase 2 of Los Angeles' mandatory water conservation ordinance is now in effect, which means a team of water-use inspectors are tasked with enforcing water restrictions and fining water wasters. If the drought continues through fall and winter, the ordinance will move to Phase 3, which entails even stricter rules and some prohibitions.

To get a better idea of the dire situation in the Golden State, continue below for a photo comparison of water levels taken in 2011 and 2014, looking at Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake, another major California reservoir located in Sacramento County that is now filled at 40 percent of its capacity.

Bidwell Marina, Lake Oroville

Folsam Dam, Folsom Lake

Enterprise Bridge, Lake Oroville

 

China Suffers Drought, Water Shortage

This summer has been one of the hottest in decades in Jilin Province, China, and several counties are facing the complete loss of their harvests.

Currently, Changling, Nongan, Gongzhuling and 10 other agricultural counties in Jilin are facing a severe drought. The severity of the drought is comparable to that in 1951.

A villager Ms. Lee from Wanglong village, Huajia Township, Nongan County, Changhun City, told Epoch Times: “The drought is very bad. All the corn leaves have turned yellow. Corns are not fully grown, only their tips are seen with barely any kernels.”

Since July 1 this year, the rainfall in Jilin Province totaled only 4.4 inches, which is about 48 percent less compared to the same period from previous years. This year had the second lowest rainfall in history; the least amount since 1951.

Over 14 million acres of farmland are affected.

Government data indicates the drought has impacted more than 1.3 million acres of farmland in the major agricultural areas of Jilin with no improvements in sight. According to the weather forecast, the average rainfall could be as low as a third of an inch per day.

Ms. Lee, a villager from Wanglong village said: “Even the water level of our own well is slowly dropping. It is only enough for domestic use. Our farmland has not been irrigated for over a month.”

Mr. Sun from Zhen-Chai village, Nongan County said that all their cucumber plants have perished from the drought.

Chinese media has reported two-thirds of the corn stalks have withered in some towns while others have completely perished.

Local governments have not taken any measure to tackle this problem and villagers are on their own. A staff member at Jilin Grain Bureau only briefly told Epoch Times that the situation was “unclear” and then hung up the phone.

Other Provinces Impacted

During the summer, a total of 12 provinces, including Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi Anhui, Hubei, Gangsu, and Xinjiang, have been affected by the drought. Over 14 million acres of farmland are affected.

Henan Province, for example, is witnessing the worst drought in the last 63 year with 740,000 people facing a temporary shortage of drinking water. In Shandong Province the cost of the lost harvest is reaching $630 million.

All these statistics put into question the recently announced food exports to Russia. After Russia announced it would stop importing food from Europe, the United States, and Australia, China immediately started building a warehouse on the Russian boarder to facilitate customs clearance for fruit going into Russia. More

 

“Containing the Resource Crisis”

LONDON – The proclamation of a new Cold War, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, turned out to be alarmist and premature. However, it reflected the anxiety of today’s decision-makers in the face of a crumbling global order.


With emerging economies far from committed to established norms in international relations, many governments and multinational companies are feeling vulnerable about relying on others for vital resources – the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas being a case in point.

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing our assumptions about global governance and cooperation, at a time when collective leadership is becoming ever more necessary. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships, rather than short-term competition.

The stakes are high. Resource scarcity is closely linked to political risks. Consider, for example, the drought that decimated Russia’s 2010 wheat harvest. In response, Russia imposed export restrictions to shore up its domestic supplies, sending food prices soaring in its main export markets, especially Egypt. This in turn helped spark the political uprisings that spread rapidly across North Africa and the Middle East. Climate change is expected to trigger many more such chains of events.

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply. Several Nile Basin countries, including Sudan and Ethiopia, have now ratified a new, Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework agreement, which Egypt has yet to sign. Given Egypt’s concerns about potential water shortages arising from Ethiopia’s new upstream hydropower plants, its assent is far from assured.

Indeed, in Egypt’s febrile political atmosphere, its newly elected president, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, may be tempted to escalate the threat of military action in response to Ethiopia’s hydropower projects. Such a move would send shockwaves through a region already reeling from conflict in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

To avoid another dangerous political-environmental chain reaction, nudging all sides toward agreement will require achieving mutual recognition of resource concerns. Ethiopia must credibly guarantee the supply of water downstream, for example, by establishing a water-replenishment rate at its dam reservoirs that does not threaten the onward flow of water to Egypt. At the same time, Egypt, while retaining the fundamental right to protect its water supply, must recognize the interests of its upstream neighbors and be ready to negotiate in good faith a new Nile Basin treaty.

Multinational companies and sovereign investors like China, which have financed hydropower projects upstream, will come under increasing pressure to adopt a position. They, too, can play a positive role by considering the cross-border investments that will address critical interdependencies, like Egypt’s wasteful agricultural irrigation practices.

Similar resource-related tensions are surfacing in other parts of the world. Water stress and food security threaten to constrain India’s economic promise, as increasing coal-powered electricity generation diverts water resources away from agriculture. The political risks of investing in Nigeria’s agriculture sector are also rising as a result of the country’s demographic explosion, high inflation, weak rule of law, and insecure land rights, with wider political consequences.

These resource strains are aggravated by foreign investments that seek to meet developed-country consumers’ voracious demand for resources without attention to their impact on sustainability in the host countries. This virtual outsourcing of the industrialized world’s environmental impacts, apart from being hypocritical, is no basis for building a strategy for global environmental sustainability.

Instead, the world needs to invest in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and green infrastructure. To be sure, the most promising efforts by leading multinationals today must confront entrenched subsidies and vested political interests. Unless the necessary policy frameworks are put in place green investment initiatives will continue to struggle to achieve a meaningful scale. Moreover, developed and developing countries seem unable even to agree on a fair division of environmental responsibilities, even though they have become increasingly interdependent in trade, investment, and the supply of natural resources.

These difficulties should not stop us from trying. The Earth Security Initiative is working with the BMW Foundation to develop global roundtables on resource security over a two-year period, starting in Hangzhou, China, on July 17- 20. These high-level, informal meetings will bring together leaders from politics, business, and civil society in Europe and emerging economies in an effort to bridge just such differences.

We know what needs to be done, why it is important, and who must be involved to secure our planet’s long-term future. We must now address the equally vital question of how this will be achieved.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/alejandro-litovsky-addresses-the-increasingly-close-links-between-resource-scarcity-and-political-risk#qFDfi1xP668YyhLg.99

 

 

‘There Will Be No Water’ by 2040? Researchers Urge Global Energy Paradigm Shift

The world risks an “insurmountable” water crisis by 2040 without an immediate and significant overhaul of energy consumption and demand, a research team reported on Wednesday.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today,” said Professor Benjamin Sovacool of Denmark's Aarhus University, who co-authored two reports on the world's rapidly decreasing sources of freshwater.

Many troubling global trends could worsen these baseline projected shortages. According to the report, water resources around the world are “increasingly strained by economic development, population growth, and climate change.” The World Resources Institute estimates that in India, “water demand will outstrip supply by as much as 50 percent by 2030, a situation worsened further by the country's likely decline of available freshwater due to climate change,” the report states. “[P]ower demand could more than double in northern China, more than triple in India, and increase by almost three-quarters in Texas.”

“If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it's not a matter of the price,” Sovacool said. “There's no time to waste. We need to act now.”

In addition to an expanding global population, economic development, and an increasing demand for energy, the report also finds that the generation of electricity is one of the biggest sources of water consumption throughout the world, using up more water than even the agricultural industry. Unlike less water-intensive alternative sources of energy like wind and solar systems, fossil fuel-powered and nuclear plants need enormous and continued water inputs to function, both for fueling thermal generators and cooling cycles.

The reports, Capturing Synergies Between Water Conservation and Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the Power Sectorand A Clash of Competing Necessities: Water Adequacy and Electric Reliability in China, India, France, and Texas and published after three years of research by Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation, show that most power plants do not even log how much water they use to keep the systems going.

“It's a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realize how much water they actually consume,” Sovacool said. “And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon.”

Unless water use is drastically minimized, the researchers found that widespread drought will affect between 30 and 40 percent of the planet by 2020, and another two decades after that will see a severe water shortage that would affect the entire planet. The demand for both energy and drinking water would combine to aggressively speed up drought, which in turn could exacerbate large-scale health risks and other global development problems.

“The policy and technology choices made to meet demand will have immense implications for water withdrawals and consumption, and may also have significant economic, human health, and development consequences,” the report states.

The research says that utilizing alternative energy sources like wind and solar systems is vital to mitigating water consumption enough to stave off the crisis. “Unsubsidized wind power costs… are currently lower than coal or nuclear and they are continuing to drop,” the report states. When faced with its worst drought in 2011, Texas got up to 18 of its electricity from wind power and was able to avoid the kind of rolling blackouts that plague parts of China, where existing water shortages prevent power plants from operating.

An equally important step would be to shutter “thirsty” fossil fuel facilities in areas that are already experiencing water shortages, like China and India, where carbon emissions can be significantly more impactful.

“[We] have to decide where we spend our water in the future,” Sovacool said. “Do we want to spend it on keeping the power plants going or as drinking water? We don't have enough water to do both.” More