A Massive Water Recycling Proposal Could Help Lower Drought


Lake Mead, that supplies water to 25 million people in the American West, it has declined 36 percent of its capacity. A rural California community has the water escaped completely after its well broke down in early June. The fields are in place, while farmers sell their lots of water instead of cultivating the crops, feeding the nation. in danger.

When the West dries up under the extreme drought, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced HR 4099, a bill that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to create a program to fund $ 750 million in water recycling projects in the 17 western states by 2027. (The bill, which was introduced at the end of June, he is currently before the House Committee on Natural Resources.)

“This is starting to be our new normal – 88 percent of the West is under a certain degree of drought,” says Representative Susie Lee (D-Nevada), who introduced the bill. “Lake Mead is at its lowest level since Hoover Dam was built. And the Colorado River has been in a drought for more than two decades. ”

All the while, the population and economy in the western United States are in turmoil, putting tremendous pressure on a declining water supply. “We have, I think, more people – one. And there’s an increase in farm area – two,” says Representative Grace Napolitano (D-California), who presented the project. “And then climate change exacerbates the problem.”

Part of the solution, lawmakers say, is to fund the construction of more facilities that can recycle used water that flows from our sinks, bathrooms and showers. You might think it’s big and absurd, but the technology already exists — in fact, it’s been half a century. The process is actually quite simple. A treatment plant collects waste water and adds microbes that consume organic matter. The water is then pumped through special membranes that filter out nasties such as bacteria and viruses. To be safer, the water is then sprayed with UV light to kill microbes. The resulting water can actually be too much pure for human consumption: If you drink it, the clothes could leak minerals out of your body, so the installation will add back minerals. (One time drink the final product. It tastes like … water.)


UH recycled2Or it can be pumped underground into aquifers, then pumped again when needed, purified once more, and sent to customers. Or it can be used for non-potable purposes, such as agriculture or industrial processes.

Basically, you’re taking wastewater that would normally be treated and pumped into the sea – wasting it, really – and putting it back into the groundwater cycle, making it readily available to the public. “Part of what makes it so important as an element of water supply portfolios is its reliability,” says Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. “As long as urban centers exist and produce wastewater, they can be treated. It provides a reliable source of additional water supply – even in dry years when supply is limited and the development of alternative sources would be difficult or impossible. ”

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Recycled water is also bankable, in a sense: Inject it underground to recharge the canned aquifers for use during drought. This is likely to be particularly important in the American West, because climate change makes both droughts more punitive. and futzing with rain dynamics. Modeling by climate scientists shows that future storms will be more intense, yet come less often. And by the end of the century, the mountain snowpack – which will usually bank much of the West’s water until it melts in the spring rains – is expected to decrease by about half.

“Our hydrological cycle will become more unpredictable,” says Rafael Villegas, program director of Operation NEXT to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Food, which has been recycling water since the 1970s for non-potable reuse. “In conjunction with population growth, not just here in California, but where the water is coming from – Nevada, Arizona and Northern California – you can expect there to be additional demand on these systems. So we’re at the end of the straw, no? So we have to start thinking, how do we become more efficient with water than we are to do to get? “

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