Having grown up in the beautiful Chicagoland area in the 80’s my water needs were strictly as follows: Need #1: Water from hose to power clown-face sprinkler, fill water balloons, and hose off muddy dirt-bike/self, Need #2: Water from faucet to occasionally brush teeth and occasionally make Hi-C or Tang, Need #3: Water from shower to occasionally bathe. It was a simpler time, and I was a kid. To me and most other kids (adults?) in the 80’s water was simply there, always on the ready for any and all of the above dalliances.
The days of water-logged frivolity are over. We now live in a time where many parts of the world face water shortages, limited access to safe, clean drinking water, an ever-diminishing groundwater supply, and a growing number of water-related disease and death.
In fact, just last week, motivated by three years of water shortages in California, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency which may be followed by water rationing measures.
As a result of the myriad of water emergencies that the world faces I have put together a short-list of the 5 world-saving water solutions that offer hope for the future of our water, and therefore our existence.
Pervious concrete is porous and allows water to filter back into the soil through permeable pavement instead of running into the sewer system or flooding a neighboring property. The concrete serves to filter the water while recharging the important—and diminishing—groundwater supply.
This permeable concrete offers another environmental benefit as well. The light-colored concrete reflects sunlight which reduces the heat island effect.
It should be noted that Chicago, a city that has been using groundwater since the mid-1800’s has recently started a project in which they plan to re-pave its nearly 2000 miles of alleys with pervious concrete. This is a better-late-than-never attempt to re-establish the water table below the city.
Low-Energy Desalination Plants
Desalination plants offer the opportunity to remove the salt from the abundant saltwater on our planet (approximately 310 million-trillion gallons). Water that we could then use for our daily drinking, irrigating, and cleaning needs. The problem had long been that these desalination plants were quite energy intensive–typically drawing energy from coal-fired power plants. In the case of powering desalination plants with coal fired power plants we are causing more problems than we are solving. Coal-fired power plants contaminate our water with, among other pollutants, mercury and coal ash. Mercury causes harm to the heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Coal ash is not much better–among the long list of particulates found in coal ash includes the highly toxic arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, and PAH compounds, all of which are harmful to our bodies in large quantities. And, as a result of the amazing rate at which they emit carbon dioxide, these power pants also greatly contibute to climate change.This dirty solution needed some help. Fortunately, there are a number of low energy desalination solutions beginning to pop up.
Oasys Water Inc. has recently received funding for their engineered osmosis technology which uses waste heat from power plant smoke stacks to filter water which, as CEO Aaron Mandell says, will “eliminate the need for lots of electricity.”
The Seawater Greenhouse is another (very) low-energy desalination plant that solves the problem of providing water for agriculture in arid, coastal regions. It does so by using seawater to cool and humidify the air that ventilates the greenhouse and sunlight to distil fresh water from seawater. Their website points out:
With agriculture accounting for approximately 70% of all water used, the water crisis is closely linked to food production and economic development. Conventional agriculture is very inefficient in its use of water with several hundred litres needed to produce just one kilogram of produce. There is a need for affordable and sustainable means of producing food and water, without reliance on energy reserves.
Creating Energy from Toilet Water
We can now recycle our toilet wastewater by collecting and using the methane to produce energy!
San Antonio is doing it.
New Belgium Brewery is too.
So is a waste treatment plant in Australia
The more this solution catches on the more water, energy, and money will be saved!
The Slingshot can turn anything containing water (ie. urine, ocean water, toxic sludge, sewage etc.) into pure, distilled drinking water. The Slingshot does this without the use of filters or reverse-osmosis membranes. It purifies the water-containing source using vapor compression distillation, and can run on cow manure. As if that weren’t enough, the manure-powered Slingshot generates enough electricity to light 70 energy-efficient light bulbs!
Low flow shower heads use approximately 2.5 gallons per minute compared to roughly 4 to 5 gallons per minute with conventional heads. For a 10 minute shower that’s an extra 15 to 25 gallons of water being used. If every shower used 15-25 less gallons per shower that’s serious conservation!
Low flow faucet aerators can cut water usage from 4 to 2.5 gallons per minute on average.
Low flow toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush compared with approximtely 3.5 gallons of water used by a standard toilet.
Conservation helps further save water in the bathroom. Turn off the water while you shave and brush your teeth, try to take 5 minute showers, and if it’s yellow…you know.
I cannot end a post on potential world-saving technologies without pointing out the number one ingredient to solving our water problem—you!
You can conserve water. You can conserve energy. You can reduce pollution. You can educate. You can lead.
And hopefully someday you can pee into a Slingshot and drink it.
It’s all up to YOU!
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons GNU Free Documentation License, map: World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Geneva, 1996; Global Environment Outlook 2000 (GEO), UNEP, Earthscan, London, 1999.