Would you like to drink a freshly squeezed fruit juice in which someone had a sip like a cockroach? How about eating a brownie that shapes a poo or gulps a delectable soup out of a newly sterile bedpan? Perhaps when you are into this kind of scenario, you would likely turn them all down.
Human brains are stimulated with a powerful feeling of aversion that even to the slightest suggestion of contamination, humans probably evolve to be easily disgusted because it somehow saved from eating unpleasant stuff foods through the snacks or food served to you is perfectly safe to eat. Disgust still makes humans decisions even the rational way of figuring out what’s safe.
The imagery is not enticing. Many people are disgusted by the idea even knowing that the water, once treated, may be cleaner than what comes out in most faucets. There are countries, however, like Singapore, Namibia, which has limited supplies of fresh water are being augmented by adding highly treated wastewater to their drinking water.
Due to climate change and increasing population, it strains freshwater resources and such strategy are likely to become more common around the world, even in the United States.
What Water Recycling is For
Recycled water or reclaimed water (also called wastewater or sewage) has been used to sustain landscaping irrigation, for commercial and industrial water needs, recharging groundwater aquifers, and for drinking. Recycled water is treated to remove impurities and other contaminants primarily for water conservation and sustainability, instead of discharging to surface waters to rivers and oceans.
It is a fact that all water on Earth is considered a recycled water, but "recycled water" or "reclaimed water" typically means wastewater sent from a home or business through a pipeline system to a treatment facility. It is where it is treated to a level consistent with its intended use, then the water is routed right away to a recycled water system, it is treated differently depending upon the source, the use of the water and how it gets delivered.
There are cases that recycled water is being used to increase stream flow through releasing storage water from tanks under normal conditions. This is especially to benefit the ecosystem and improve aesthetics, for instance along Calera Creek in the City of Pacifica, CA. In addition, there has been scientifically-proven water technology that allows communities to reuse water for many possible and varied purposes intended for industrial cooling, irrigation, and drinking.
Here is a few list of communities that have safely used recycled water for many years:
The Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) is California that has received an unrestricted use permit for its recycled water, this means that water can be used for any kind of purpose as long as not for drinking.
The Orange County Water District, where water is used indirectly for drinking and given more advanced treatments.
Los Angeles County's sanitation districts since 1929 have treated wastewater for landscape irrigation in parks and golf courses.
The first recycled water facility in California was built at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1932.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) make sure that they maintained the recycled water projects meet state laws and that water quality criteria. It also allows construction and operation permits for reclaimed water systems, as well as inspects any recycled water that is used for indoor purposes, like toilet flushing and even decorative fountains.
Water recycling suggests and financial savings and utilized resources. This kind of implementation should integrally be connected with solutions, where it is most economical to attain the expected outcomes.
How is Recycled Water Produced?
Recycled water is a product of wastewater treatment plant where the local wastewater is collected from schools, offices, households, hospitals, industrial and commercial facilities then prepare the water for reuse or discharge into the environment as means of processes in several stages of treatment. These treatment processes are intended designed to make sure that wastewater is safe and reliable for its projected use.
There is three basic treatment process that is required for treating the wastewater and these include:
- Primary treatment—the wastewater is momentarily held in a sink so solid waste materials can settle to the bottom and be removed.
- Secondary treatment—when the solid waste materials are removed by primary treatment, the water left behind is treated further to remove or reduce remaining wastes that are suspended in the water.
- Tertiary treatment—the final stage which involves further removal of harmful chemicals and cleansing to kill disease-causing organisms.
The minimum requirement for treating reclaimed water is secondary treatment, albeit many treatment plants use tertiary treatment. Reclaimed or recycled water flows out of the wastewater treatment plant and is piped back to the community for its intended use.
Is Recycled Water Safe for Drinking?
Even though there are concerns how water recycling possibly hurt the environment, it has several significant benefits and the most important is sustainability. Is recycled water safe to use? Why bother to use recycled water? There are a number of countries or parts in the world where wastewater that goes through the drain – toilet flushing, yes – is being filtered and treated now until it has become as pure as spring water. It probably sounds appalling but, yes, recycled water is safe and taste just like any other, like the ordinary drinking water, bottled or tap.
Here are facts to know about the safety of recycled water:
- Recycles water is subject to a series and array of quality testing to make sure that it is safe for use;
- There is a minimal health risk associated with exposure to chemical contaminants. This has been reported by the National Research Council (NRC) wherein the reviewed current wastewater treatment have found;
- Another NRC authors reported that the government could extend so much help to increase public confidence and trust in wastewater treatment programs for drinking – the potable water – as well as provide consistent maximum level of protection across nation;
- As being stated in Clean Water Act, the treatment regulations could be updated to a more aggressively track organic contaminants and pursue it, and this has been tremendous advanced to reduce toxins in the nations’ wastewater.
Nonetheless, perhaps the greatest challenge that needs to overcome by the people before it is going to be fully acceptable as drinking recyclable wastewater is actually not legislative nor technological, but it's psychological. This is the biggest hurdle that must be conquered and be defeated, the mindset and insight of the public about recycled water.
Recycled water has been gradually accepted by the public, thus its tremendous impacts to the community increase as it can be used almost in any way, so long as it is treated to a certain level fit for its intended purpose. It has helped to ensure a diversified water supply which can be carried to the next generations.
The use of recycled water has a number of benefits which includes:
- Agricultural use such as irrigation of crops, forestry, pasture, flowers, viticulture, and sugar cane growing
- Farming such as irrigation
- Non-drinking uses in households like laundry, washing dishes, gardening, cleaning the garage, etc.
- watering golf courses and recreational parks like zoos, parks, and trails
- Industrial uses such as washing and cooling in power stations and factories
- Fire Fighting water supply
- Municipal landscapes and environmental flows
- Recharging our groundwater aquifers
Water recycling can greatly help find alternatives especially in decreasing the diversion of water in the ecosystem and help sustain wildlife habitats by providing an additional source of water. Using recycled water extends the freshwater supplies and ensures the sustainability of the natural resources. It also reduces the cost of landscape irrigation rather than potable water which is practically costly for consumers.
Moreover, by providing an additional source of water, it can actually help decrease the wastewater discharges thus it would reduce perhaps, if not prevent pollution, for instance, the number of cities that have been using wastewater recycling as means to solve water shortage caused by drought. The communities who have extracted fresh water from sewage could actually create a sustainable water supply that is more cost-effective rather than extracting salt from seawater or purchasing water supply somewhere else.
There is a number of farmers who often use recycled water that otherwise is a waste to irrigate crops, with this, they do not need to rely on water from the environment. But, they must employ the prescribe farm techniques in maintaining soil integrity and mitigate the possible outcome of pathogens and chemical on crops.
Downside of Water Recycling
There are a number of advantages brought by water recycling to the environment, industrial or technological, and even the ecosystem but it adversely affects various factors such as the wildlife, threatens human health and other risks are at stake. Risk management is vital when it comes to water recycling and should help maintain public confidence in the process. With this, it is imperative to those in charge of water recycling program to vigilantly protect wildlife and the public.
The Wildlife and Ecosystem
Although recycled water provides welfare to some wildlife, it unpleasantly affects many other animals and habitats. According to a recycling proposal prepared by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, diverting previously discarded wastewater from the Sacramento River for the purpose of water recycling would rob endangered salmon and other fish of the water needed to maintain their habitats.
Threatens Human Health
Recycled water when used by humans pays a high level of risk most especially the health. This water contains microbial pathogens, including bacteria, harmful viruses and even helminthes (which are basically parasites). Most people do not become easily become ill due to high exposure to pathogens but some do. Advocates affirm and strongly assert that as long as people are using recycled water to its rightful and intended purpose, then the chances for humans to contract the illness and other harmful infections is minimal. This is a genuine concern in spite of the risk of exposure to these pathogens.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) are present as well in recycled water. These chemicals have found a wide range found in medications, heavy metals, pesticides, and insecticides, are shown to disrupt the proper flow of endocrine system function in animals. There is no concrete evidence, however, that low amounts of exposure have great impacts on human health. The highest concentration of these contaminants are mostly found in untreated and unprocessed sewage or wastewater, yet there are a few remains in the recycled water through even after treatment.
Another risk when wastewater is used for the purpose of irrigation. In agricultural irrigation, for example, treated water can be disrupting the pH and salinity levels of soils, this will lead to poor yielding and plant toxicity.
In connection with this dilemma, communities must adopt and follow strictly thorough monitoring procedures, that is, to effectively use recycled water while reducing any kind of risk to the environment. As pharmaceuticals or even researchers have gone into the water supply, their health should not be ignored too, as they present the same problems or risks to EDCs. While research shows the threat and risk of pharmaceuticals in water to be small, it may be too soon to understand its true bearing.
Upshots of Water Recycling
There have been studies and researches show that water recycling has proven to be effective and has successfully created a new and reliable water supply without compromising the public health.
Non-potable reuse has been the widely accepted practice that hopefully will continue to grow and progress. There are several regions in the United States however, the uses of recycled water are increasing to accommodate the needs of the environment and growing water supply demands.
Many predictions as the studies say that advances in wastewater treatment technology and health studies of not directly potable reuse will soon become more common and rampant. Water recycling and gray water require far less energy rather than treating salt water with the aid of desalination system.
The treatment of wastewater for reuse and the installation of distribution systems with centralized facilities can be expensive initially compared to the water supply alternatives which are imported water, groundwater or even the usage of gray water onsite from homes while water recycling is a sustainable approach and can be cost-effective in the long run.
Water recycling will play a greater role in human’s overall water supply as water energy demands and environmental needs grow. By working hand in hand, together, overcoming the obstacles, along with water conservation and productivity, water recycling can help manage sustainably the vital water resources.
Learn more related stories about Water Recycling and Reuse
- Water & Wastes Digest’s Industrial and agricultural Reuse
- People in Namibia have been recycling sewage into drinking water for 50 years now.
- MUNICIPAL WATER RECYCLING IN CALIFORNIA
- Pioneering Water Reuse in the Old West
- Drinking sewage: solving Singapore's water problem
- Recycling Water in Australia
- Water Reclamation and Reuse in Virginia
- Creating New Sources of Water