12 May 2022
Alex Mason By Alex Mason

How do we Solve our Global Crisis of Water Scarcity?

Without water, life cannot exist, yet there is a growing water scarcity crisis currently affecting over 3 billion people. The combination of global warming and overpopulation has decreased the fresh water available per person by 20% over 20 years. With nothing stopping either problem, an already struggling water supply is somehow expected to meet a 40% rise in demand over the coming decade, forcing water prices ever higher.

To discuss solutions to this challenge I invited experts Nick Bognanno, Chandra Mysore, and Sabine Stuiver to join me on a live webinar, as part of our ‘Future of Smart Cities’ series. They touched on how smart cities offer the expansion of water reusage, using data to keep natural sources full. With 95% of each American’s used daily water literally going down the drain, reuse by smart cities can safeguard supplies and maximise sustainability, is this a potential solution to the water scarcity crisis? In this webinar, we discuss just that.

Smart Cities Can Implement Water Reuse

Smart buildings and cities are designed to improve their own energy efficiency using internally sourced data to optimise utilisation. This means they could also improve water utilisation.

What’s really fantastic about where we’re at today, is that there are a lot of digital innovations that can be leveraged to really hit on water reduction, water reuse, and water recycle.”

Said Nick Bognanno, Global Vice President of Sales at Nalco, who touched on the use of data collection to reduce water demand, essential in at-risk watershed/water basin areas.

These digital insights can really help us be proactive in how we’re looking at water utilisation and identifying opportunities to really reduce that water stream... there’s many different options out there.”

For example, smart cities in Los Angeles divert and reuse greywater (from showers, washing machines, toilets, AC units etc.), which requires a lower sterilisation standard and accounts for 70% of total usage.

Only 5% of water is drunk, and the public is hesitant to drink perceived ‘dirty’ reused water, so reused potable water is not the current strategy to solve water scarcity. US law states that potable water cannot be created in-house so the industry must build smart cities to enable this, a goal which therefore is in the future. Despite this, there is continued research into superior disinfection techniques, which will make reused potable water more economical and accepted. Smart cities have real potential to implement water reuse, with proven greywater reuse mechanisms already in place, and potable solutions in the pipeline.

Water Reuse Can Impact the Scarcity Crisis

Smart cities reuse greywater, slowing drinking water usage by half, which helps to ease the scarcity crisis. Sabine Stuiver, CMO & Founder at Hydraloop, commented:

So, if we just treat that and make it clean to reuse it again for the toilet flushing, for the washing machine, for the garden and so; then that will have a big impact. We save almost 50% on the drinking water take up, but maybe even more importantly, because this is maybe even a larger issue, the treatment of the wastewater is more economical.”

However, the impact depends on the type of reuse system. Decentralised systems are implemented easily, with small-scale infrastructure systems tailored to the needs of a building or community using point of use (affecting a single source) or point of entry (affecting the whole supply) devices.

Centralised systems which function at a much higher level are needed to solve the global scarcity crisis. Advanced techniques for water purification, such as improved reverse osmosis (RO), recover more water and so minimise wastage. Used water can be diverted into cooling towers or boilers within industries or facilities, saving water and reducing the volume being expensively sterilised. Municipal indirect reuse schemes treat water with ultrafiltration, RO or UV peroxide and return it to natural sources (ground or surface water), correcting the imbalances which are accelerating the scarcity crisis.

Chandra Mysore, VP of Drinking Water & Reuse at Jacobs, mentioned the impact of AI and machine learning:

I’m also seeing a lot of interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Can we use all these huge volumes of data and use AI machine learning techniques - which is really cutting edge - and apply them to the water reuse side as well?”

Smart cities could use AI and machine learning to identify the best solutions to maximise their water efficiency, but this will require commitment from international governments and businesses. Bognanno described redesigning billions of unspecialised legacy systems and buildings and ensuring every new building is optimised. Despite the challenge, impressive data, such as the 675 million gallons reused in Loudon County’s industrial businesses, show reuse could be the key to solving the water scarcity crisis.

Solving Water Scarcity

Emerging energy-efficient smart cities also lend themselves to water efficiency. To prevent water supplies from buckling under the immense strain of sustaining our species for the next 10 years, companies must take the initiative to create smart buildings and cities which reuse water.

Where the public seems oblivious to the urgency needed to solve the water crisis, this leaves governments required to advocate reuse through the rethinking of existing buildings or purpose-creation of others.

Once functioning it is expected that these systems will set and achieve water usage goals, making water reuse a reality. It is left to be seen whether this is enough to solve the scarcity crisis, but it seems turning off the tap to brush your teeth just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Where the creation of fully autonomous buildings with AI is the end goal. The first, and necessary, focus is the operational alteration of existing buildings to reduce the emissions which are killing our planet.

To read more about how smart buildings contribute to The Future Smart Citiesdownload the full takeaways PDF here, or watch my live webinar, here.

Fancy chatting about water technology implementation, or trends in the wider the industry? Drop me a message at alex.mason@industrial-cm.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Alex Mason

Alex builds teams globally within the water and utilities industry. His strong understanding of the market is complimented by a specialist network which helps him deliver a thorough search process. Having also published articles about how smart technologies can prevent water scarcity, Alex’s passion and dedication to this space is there for all to see.

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