Water Shortages: Existential Threat or Problem Solved?
With dire warnings about water shortages in the UK, we draw on the expertise of Roger Wiltshire, M.D. of The PureH2O Co. and PureH2O Global Water Treatment to examine the options for preventing water crisis.
Within a generation, the UK will experience water shortages so severe they will pose an “existential threat”, according to the head of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, speaking at the Waterwise Conference last month. (BBC News)
Water shortages caused by climate change and population growth will take the UK to “the jaws of death” (BBC News) within 25 years if current levels of water use continue. And if things are expected to be so bad in Britain, a rainy country, how will water stressed countries fare?
Sir James sets out admirable goals for preventing a water crisis, including a wholesale change in attitude towards water use and investment in infrastructure, but these recommendations take time – a lot of time.
What if we already have the technology to provide enough water for everyone not just in the UK but in water stressed areas, too? Even in the face of water shortages caused by climate change and population growth?
Rethinking water shortages in England and around the world.
Roger Wiltshire says:
“Water shortages could be viewed as nothing more than ineffective management of supplies. The supply of water is limitless. The question is, how we manage it.
You only have to look at our annual rainfall statistics to understand this; watch all the flood warnings and swamped housing estates to understand that there is so much water that we really don’t know what to do with it, other than let it run-off into rivers and then into the seas.
It’s not just the UK that has enough water. Taken as a whole the world has a limitless supply of pure drinking water, enough to supply every human being for life – and their offspring, and their offspring, too.
Even in water stressed countries such as Tunisia, China and Australia, it’s not hard to provide enough water for everyone, thanks to desalination technologies. It’s just a matter of priorities.”
Solutions for Water Shortages
Reducing water use & investing in infrastructure.
Sir James’ calls for a shift in attitude that would see wasting water become socially unacceptable. He points to the changing attitudes of previous generations over car seatbelts, smoking in public places and single-use plastics pollution. The scale of water cutbacks required amounts to 40 litres per person per day (that’s roughly the amount a household uses to flush the toilet and do the dishes every day).
It’s not just individuals and businesses who need to change their habits, it’s water companies, too. Fixing leaking pipes would have a massive impact; in fact Sir James says this would be action enough to supply enough water by 2050 not just for current demand but for a population increase of 20 million people.
Sir James calls for investment in infrastructure to maximise water supplies, including facilities to transport water to stressed areas, development of new reservoirs and building of desalination plants to convert brackish water (slightly salty water from river estuaries) into drinking water.
Rethinking Water Shortage Solutions
Reaching most of these goals will be difficult and take a considerable amount of time. Water companies have known about leaks for years but have failed to adequately address the problem. Plus, there is public resistance to building new reservoirs; objections include risk of flooding, impact on wildlife and loss of farmland. There’s also scepticism about projected levels of population growth and anger over water companies failing to fix leaking pipes.
So, let’s rethink how we address concerns about water shortages in the UK and worldwide and make use of technologies that are easier to implement: water recovery and water desalination.
Water Recovery through Ultrafiltration
What about recycling water already in-use? In the water treatment sector, this is known as water recovery.
Water recovery is a relatively simple process, pretty cheap and can be employed by every country in the world – with little changes to infrastructure. So what kind of water are we talking about? Over to Roger Wiltshire:
“Think about it, we stand in the shower every morning and use perfectly good water to rinse away the little dirt we hold on our skin. The water touches our skin for seconds and is then thrown out as if it’s contaminated hazardous waste. It’s not, it merely holds dead cells, some oil, soap and possibly dirt.”
‘Grey’ water from showering and bathing can be recovered instantly through Ultrafiltration. This process employs low differential membrane pressure to remove dead skin cells and dirt we regard as hazardous. In fact, it brings the water to a cleaner state than when first used in the shower. We can treat oils and soap residue, too. The key is that with minimal interference shower and bath water can be reused over and over again. And we can even recover heat, thereby reducing costs.
The reality is that water recovery is a better starting point for water stressed environments than water storage. This is because we can implement water recovery methods more quickly than we can build the infrastructure and chain management necessary for water storage.
Bio-Secure Drinking Water from Multiple Feed Sources
Ultrafiltration can be incorporated into a variety of water treatment and delivery systems, for example the PureH2O Pure Loop. This system takes multiple feed sources including rainwater, bore or mains water and treats them with Ultrafiltration. This produces bio-secure drinking water delivered through a ‘loop’ that serves even the largest buildings. This system is extremely resource efficient and protects against accidental or deliberate contamination, being an absolute barrier to pathogenic (life-threatening) bacteria.
Seawater and brackwish water can be treated by desalination plants to produce pure drinking water and the process of desalination itself is reason enough to say that there is no shortage of drinking water.
Here are two case studies from the Global Water Treatment division of The PureH2O Company that highlight the effectiveness of desalination plants in addressing water shortages worldwide:
Desalination Plants in China and Australia
Dr Terry Cummings, Engineering Director of The PureH2O Company designed a process called Zero Liquid Waste (ZLD) Desalination and proved its effectiveness in Tianjin, China and Port Stanvac, Australia. These installations provide two examples of how purified drinking water can be created cost free. Pure salts recovered in the ZLD Desalination plants facilitated a financial position where drinking water could have been given away free of charge.
Capacity-Building in Tunisia
Tunisia has little in the way of water storage and relies instead on abstraction from wells that are becoming more saline because there is little rainfall to top up ground water supplies. Tunisia needs 10 desalination plants to overcome its water shortages and The PureH2O Company has been pleased to advise the Republic of Tunisia Ministry of Agriculture’s National Water Distribution Utility (SONEDE) on such matters, recommending PureH2O ZLD Desalination plants. We have also trained many Tunisian engineering graduates in the art of water treatment in order to build in-country capacity.
Thanks to water treatment technologies including Ultrafiltration and desalination, we don’t need to worry about a water shortage in the UK, or around the world. We don’t need to wait for our water use habits to change. We don’t need to find the political will to invest in new infrastructure for water storage.
All we need to do is make the most of the abundant supplies of water that are readily available to us.
And that’s why there’s really no such thing as a water shortage.
PureH2O Pure Loop: bio-secure pure drinking water from multiple feed sources, including non-potable: https://www.pureh2o.co.uk/product/purity-pro-500-2000-pure-loop/
Water Desalination Plants and Ultrafiltration from The PureH2O Company’s Global Water Treatment division: http://www.purewater.co.uk
Harrabin, R Climate change: Water shortages in England ‘within 25 years’ BBC News 19.03.19 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47620228 accessed 17.04.19