by Madison Smith
November 30th, 2020 (due Dec. 4th)
Fresh, potable surface water is remarkably hard to come by on this planet. Water accessibility varies greatly around the world. In regions with water treatment and distribution infrastructure where water can usually be counted on to be safe and clean, it is easy to be unaware of the issues surrounding water scarcity in the world1. About 97% of the water on Earth is salt water in the oceans. The remaining 3% that is fresh water is mostly locked up in polar ice caps and glaciers. About 1% of all water is fresh groundwater, and 0.5% is fresh surface water2.
This surface and ground water is what we treat and use to drink, bathe, cook, wash clothes and cars, water landscapes, fill pools, use in manufacturing processes, flush toilets, and myriad other applications. Increasing population projects an increase in demand for water, even as technology tries to close the gap in the form of low-flow faucets, toilets, and other household appliances3. Therefore, more innovation and aggressive solutions to water conservation will be necessary in order to meet the growing water demands of cities in the future.
One solution theory is the concept of “One Water,” which suggests that we approach water use and conservation strategies from a complete systems perspective, rather than breaking out water management into separate fields of treatment, distribution, collection, stormwater management, and remediation3. This approach would allow us to close the loop and begin to reuse and recycle much more of the water we use, decreasing the amount of water we would need to remove from the environment and ensuring that there will be sufficient water available in the future. This will require more communication between water management fields.
An example of the OneWater concept being implemented is Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System. The GWRS is a county-level approach to water conservation and aquifer replenishment. The Groundwater Replenishment System treats wastewater and stormwater from Orange County and directly injects it back into the Anaheim percolation basins4. These groundwater basins are one of the county’s drinking water sources. This program reduces reliance on the Colorado River and “creates a locally controlled, reliable supply of high-quality water that is drought-resilient.”
The OneWater concept has received some pushback, largely in the form of negative public opinion. In the 1990s, programs similar to Orange County’s were rejected because they became politicized and were labeled “toilet to tap.”4 Although we have the technology to treat wastewater and stormwater to drinking-water quality standards, the idea of drinking water that was previously used in toilets, bathing, cleaning, and other uses still repels people.
Public stance and focus on this issue may be changing in the present day. In February of 2020, the EPA announced its plans to develop a National Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP)5. The draft of the plan includes over 200 implementable action items that could be taken by “various water partners to support consideration of water reuse, which can improve the portfolio of available fresh water.”5 Parts of this plan include integrated watershed action (2.1) and policy coordination (2.2), both of which will be essential in the effort to sustain our water supply through responsible management.
The issue of water scarcity in both developed and developing countries will only become more urgent as climate change continues to exacerbate drought and disrupt the hydrologic cycle, while increasing population will simultaneously increase demand. Greater trust must be built between municipal entities responsible for treating water in order for concepts such as OneWater to become reality.
What do you think? Would you drink recycled and treated wastewater and stormwater?
Want to watch an excellent documentary about water? See “Brave Blue World” on Netflix (50min).
- United Nations, Water Scarcity. November 4, 2020. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/
- Leach, Franklin E. Aquatic Chemistry Lecture Slides. Environmental Chemistry, ENVE 4350. November 4, 2020.
- Arcadis International, Inc. Advancing the One Water movement with intelligence. December, 2019. https://www.arcadis.com/en/united-states/our-perspectives/2020/advancing-the-one-water-movement/
- Orange County Water District. Groundwater Replenishment System: About GWRS. November 4, 2020. https://www.ocwd.com/gwrs/about-gwrs/
- Environmental Protection Agency, National Water Reuse Action Plan: Improving the Security, Sustainability, and Resilience of Our Nation’s Water Resources. February 2020. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-02/documents/national-water-reuse-action-plan-collaborative-implementation-version-1.pdf
- Freshwater availability: https://www.fewresources.org/uploads/1/0/5/2/10529860/2324205_orig.png
- Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System: https://www.ocwd.com/gwrs/the-process/
- OneWater graphic: https://www.kennedyjenks.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Onewater-300×283.png
- WRAP Action Plan: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-02/documents/national-water-reuse-action-plan-collaborative-implementation-version-1.pdf