The Importance of Wastewater Treatment

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In the developed world it’s very easy to take fresh water for granted. Occasionally, we hear about drought conditions and the consequent impact on agricultural production and on farming communities. But when most people in western societies open a tap, they have all the fresh water they need. Globally, many are not so fortunate. Soon, the west will face challenges too. The need for clean water solutions is immediate.

Water is a precious resource, and there are a few facts that everyone should know:

  1. The extensive discharge of untreated sewerage and industrial waste into local waterways is not unique to the developing world. Even in the world’s largest economy, the United States, 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, industrial waste and storm water is discharged into US waters annually. As a result, 40% of American rivers and 46% of American lakes are unfit for swimming or fishing.1
  2. It has been estimated that 15-18 billion cubic meters of freshwater resources are contaminated annually by the production of fossil fuels. The long-term consequences for local ecosystems and communities who depend upon them for fresh drinking water and their livelihoods are severe.2
  3. The size of the global market for plant and equipment used in water treatment and distribution is a mere US$557 billion when compared to the estimated US$6 trillion energy market.2
  4. An estimated 90% of power production is water intensive, bringing it into direct conflict with human and environmental needs. In Europe, thermal power production – which represents approximately 80% electricity production worldwide – is responsible for 42% of freshwater withdrawals.2 In the United States nearly 50% of freshwater withdrawals are used to support thermal energy production, and in China (with a population of more than 1.3 billion people) more than 10% of available fresh water is used to cool power plants.3
  5. The developing world uses less water for energy production and more water for agriculture which occupies approximately 11% of the worlds land surface. Irrigated agriculture is responsible for 70% of fresh water withdrawals globally. The need for freshwater for agricultural use is expected to increase by 20% during the first half of the century.3
  6. A report by the American Academy of Microbiology 'Complacency about wastewater treatment can be dangerous' estimated that, on a global basis, 80% of infectious diseases may be water related.4 Wastewater treatment is either nonexistent or grossly ineffective in the developing world. Until effective wastewater treatment is initiated, the spread of waterborne disease will not be controlled. Even in many developed nations, water treatment and delivery systems are obsolete and insufficient for contemporary demands. The west is not immune from the health risks posed by contaminated water.
  7. About half the world’s population carry the risk of contracting water-borne diseases from drinking contaminated water. Of the estimated quarter of a billion people who fall ill each year, 5 to 10 million will die.1

Worldwide, corporations and small industries are more prepared to incur fines for fouling water systems than to take preventative action. Very often, the fines imposed are sorely insufficient to mitigate the damage done.

It’s time for governments (federal and local) and for organisations (large and small) to do their homework. The cost of quality water treatment can often be recovered by the reduced costs of waste removal and disposal. Waterways, landfills and communities will be the better for it. Cost-effective and environmentally friendly wastewater treatment solutions are available.

Sources:

  1. The Expedition Project. (2014). Top Facts about Pollution. Retrieved from: http://theexpeditionproject.com/info/top-enviro-stuff/522-top-facts-about-pollution
  2. UN Water Report, Water Energy Facts and Figures, p4. Retrieved from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002269/226961E.pdf
  3. UN Water Report, Water Energy Facts and Figures, p4. Retrieved from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002269/226961E.pdf
  4. Ford, Timothy E. and Colwell, Rita R. 1996. A Global Decline in Microbiological Safety of Water: A Call for Action, pp 12-13. American Academy of Microbiology. Washington. Retrieved from: http://www.thewatchers.us/PDF_files/waterquality-1995-ASM.pdf