9 Viable Water Scarcity Solutions for the 21st Century


9 viable water scarcity solutions for the 21st century that are gaining traction such as artificial groundwater recharging, electrodialysis reversal, reverse osmosis, desalination, and nano-filtration.


Updated: May 8, 2024
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Jeremiah Zac
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The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) reports that over 1 billion people lack access to safe and clean water.






Water scarcity is prominent in regions with poor water infrastructure and sanitation methods. But developed regions aren't immune to the effects of water scarcity. Overuse of water through means of agriculture and industry can lead to mismanagement of clean water sources. Many organizations are exploring ways to mitigate the effects of water scarcity by introducing innovative solutions.

In this article, we'll discuss the most viable water scarcity solutions for the 21st century.





Improved Infrastructure



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Water infrastructure refers to the tools and equipment used to build, pump, treat, store, and deliver safe drinking water to the public. These structures include groundwater wells, dams, storage tanks, surface-water intakes, pipes, water treatment facilities, and aqueducts.

Infrastructure can also incorporate elements of the natural landscape, including surface and groundwater, to provide basic water services such as flood control, aquifer storage and recharge, and clean water delivery.

The United States' water infrastructure is made of 2.2 million miles of water pipes. According to the EPA, over 1 trillion gallons of clean water is lost annually in the United States due to leaky pipes in the infrastructure. A significant amount of clean water and cost can be saved by improving water infrastructure alone.






Groundwater Recharge / Aquifer Storage and Recovery



Groundwater Recharge

About 30 percent of the world's freshwater is found underground in what are known as aquifers, porous rock chambers through which water flows freely. In the United States, groundwater makes up 26% of the total amount of freshwater used daily.

Aquifers are recharged naturally through the hydrologic cycle as rainfall and runoff penetrate the earth's crust, replenishing the groundwater below.

However, the overpumping of groundwater can lead to depletion and drought, which has been the case in many parts of the world.

Artificial groundwater recharging refers to the process of replenishing aquifers by artificially injecting excess water back into the ground through wells, subsequently replenishing the water volume below.

Recharge is traditionally done via surface infiltration into unconfined, shallow aquifers, with the intention of eventually penetrating deeper through its own natural processes. But in recent years, this has evolved to accommodate direct injection into deeper aquifer systems, including those containing poor-quality groundwater, making freshwater storage available in areas where none formerly existed.

A major constraint to recharging by injection is the clogging of pores from particulates, chemical precipitation, and biofilm formation, greatly inhibiting the natural flow of water through the aquifer chambers. This can adversely affect groundwater quality by forming dissolved sulfides and iron solubilization (EPA, 2017). Notwithstanding, if done and controlled correctly, this method can greatly reduce water scarcity in some areas stricken by groundwater depletion.











Pollution and Contamination Control



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Water pollution plays a major part in reducing the amount of water available for consumption. Agricultural, pharmaceutical, and many chemical industries contribute to contaminating clean water sources with dangerous chemicals, ultimately making clean water sources more difficult to use.

About 80% of the world's wastewater flows back into clean water sources without being treated, further adding to the pollution problem. Wastewater treatment facilities in the United States process 34 billion gallons of wastewater per day, reducing the amount of pollutants and their effect on clean water sources.

Agricultural pollution is the largest contributor to river and lake contamination in the United States, introducing pesticides, fertilizers, and algae blooms in these water sources.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has implemented regulations for public water treatment centers to ensure that the public water supply meets certain quality standards before the public consumes it.

The Clean Water Act enacts regulations and standards for wastewater and pollution discharge, preventing industries from freely contaminating clean water sources without oversight.

While industries will always have byproducts that can harm clean water sources, programs such as the SDWA and the CWA help monitor pollution levels to protect water sources. Water pollution can be greatly reduced if more regions can implement programs to protect clean water.










Water Conservation / Drought Mitigation



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Each person in the United States uses an average of 82 gallons of water for domestic use daily, and the average family spends about $1,000 a year on water bills.

Due to household leaks, the average family can lose up to 9,400 gallons of water annually, equating to over 900 billion gallons of water wasted across the country.

By implementing water conservation measures, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water can be saved.

  • By replacing old toilets with water-efficient models, the average family can save 13,000 gallons of water and $130 in water costs per year
  • 8 gallons of water per day can be saved by simply turning off the tap while brushing your teeth
  • 320 gallons of water can be saved annually by running the dishwasher only when it's full, significantly reducing its usage
  • Replacing the fixtures in a home's main bathroom with high-efficiency toilets, showerheads, and faucets can pay for itself in as little as one year





Rainwater Harvesting / Water Catchment



Rainwater_harvesting_tank

Rainwater harvesting is the primary water source for many people in developing nations and rural regions of developed nations. It is also used commonly in suburban areas as a means of supplementing the main water source.

Rainwater is captured with a catchment device, typically a roof, and diverted and collected into a tank. The water can then be used for various purposes, including vegetable gardening,  livestock, daily chores, cooking, and even drinking.

A major advantage of rainwater harvesting is that it allows for the collection of water to be used in supplementation to the main water source or as a reserve for later usage. By storing rainwater in plastic barrels, water can be accessed via a hose for outdoor gardening, reducing the usage of the primary water source and ultimately reducing water costs.

Rainwater can also be filtered for indoor uses such as drinking and cooking.

While the potential for rainwater collection is dependent on each region's climate, significant amounts of water can be collected even in areas with infrequent rainfall. Per every square foot of rooftop, a little more than half a gallon of rain can be collected for every inch of rainfall.










Water Credit / Water Equity



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Primarily practiced in developing countries, water credit entails the provision of loans to households and small enterprises to increase access to safe water sources and sanitation. Governments and other public-sector organizations finance most water credit investments, but private organizations and Micro Credit institutions can supplement the effort. Microcredits usually target the impoverished and less fortunate, helping them meet their water needs.

In the water sector, three major types of water credit schemes exist:

  • Those aimed at improving household access to water supply
  • Those aimed at improving water access to small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Those aimed at upgrading water services in urban and shared facilities

Many water initiatives, such as water.org and charity water, implement water credit schemes that involve providing toilets, water purifiers, and rainwater harvesting tanks, ultimately helping improve access to water for people affected by water scarcity.






Research and Technology



water technology

Recent breakthroughs in research and technology have made it possible to turn severely contaminated water into viable drinking water sources. These methods include Reverse Osmosis, Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR), Desalinization, and UV Filtration.

  • Reverse osmosis is the process of purifying water on a molecular level by forcing contaminated water through a semi-permeable membrane. Pores on the membrane are small enough that only H20 molecules and beneficial elements can fit through. The result is that contaminated particles are left on one side of the membrane while clean water passes through the other side. Reverse osmosis is used in commercial, industrial, and residential applications.
  • Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR) is similar to reverse osmosis in that water passes through a membrane. But unlike reverse osmosis, which relies on water pressure, EDR uses an electrical current. Electrodes are used to pull naturally occurring salts through an ion exchange membrane, effectively separating water from the salts.
  • Desalination is the general process of converting saltwater into potable water and includes methods such as reverse osmosis and EDR. Desalination is mainly used to treat seawater but can also be used to purify brackish water, water from wells, and water from rivers and streams, depending on the salinity. This process that can produce enough water to support large coastal populations is continually evolving and under research to improve efficiency (American Membrane Technology Association).
  • UV Filtration is a purification technique that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to eliminate biological organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, worms, and protozoa, making water safe to drink.





Support Clean Water Initiatives



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Another vital solution to water scarcity is supporting and donating to organizations and initiatives that seek to provide clean water to those in need. Donors and grants support many of the programs initiated by these organizations, relying entirely on the support of the public rather than profit.

These organizations include Charity Water, Water.org, Lifewater International, WaterLex, Save The Water, World Water Council, and World Water Council.






Increase Awareness and Education



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Many people are unaware of the reality of water scarcity, its adverse effects, and the number of people suffering from it. Education on conservation, technology, and initiatives can lead to more effective collaborations and broadened avenues to combating water scarcity.

Organizations such as The Pacific Institute, The Water Education Foundation, Water Tech Online, and IWA Publishing are leaders in their sectors and responsible for shedding light on this difficult topic.



Conclusion



Over a billion people lack clean and safe water access. And while some of us in developed countries don't think twice about turning on the tap, many people spend a whole day searching for water to drink. These solutions are at the forefront of battling water scarcity worldwide.





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References

American Membrane Technology Association. (n.d.). Water Desalination Processes. Retrieved from https://www.amtaorg.com/Water_Desalination_Processes.html

EPA. (2017, November 17). Aquifer Recharge and Aquifer Storage and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/uic/aquifer-recharge-and-aquifer-storage-and-recovery

EPA. (2018, January 23). Water Efficiency for Water Suppliers. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure/water-efficiency-water-suppliers#stormwater

Kinhal, V. (n.d.). Ways to Stop Pollution. Retrieved from https://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/ways-stop-pollution

Lenntech. (n.d.). Nanofiltration and Reverse Osmosis. Retrieved from https://www.lenntech.com/nanofiltration-and-rosmosis.htm

Maxwell-Gaines, C. (2018, May 5). Rainwater Harvesting 101. Retrieved from https://www.watercache.com/education/rainwater-harvesting-101

Porta Potty. (n.d.). Water Conservation - The Best Ways to Save Water. Retrieved from http://www.portapotty.net/water-conservation/

Rinkesh. (2016, December 25). Causes, Effects and Solutions of Water Scarcity. Retrieved from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-solutions-of-water-scarcity.php

Suez Water Technologies. (n.d.). Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR) Water Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.suezwatertechnologies.com/products/electrodialysis-reversal-water-treatment

Three Issues. (n.d.). Drought mitigation. Retrieved from http://threeissues.sdsu.edu/three_issues_droughtfacts04.html

Water.org. (n.d.). WaterCredit - A Microfinance Solution. Retrieved from https://water.org/about-us/our-work/watercredit/

World Wildlife Fund. (n.d.). Water Scarcity. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

Yeoh, N. (2017, December 2). The Surprising Solution To The Global Water Crisis: Solar Power. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilyeoh/2017/12/02/the-surprising-solution-to-the-global-water-crisis-solar-power/#6135407f340b

I'm Jeremiah, the owner of World Water Reserve. I'm a writer and researcher with a particular interest in sustainability and rural living, water scarcity, and innovative water purification methods. I utilize my multimedia and communication experience in the NGO and humanitarian fields to bring light to important topics. My passion is to educate others on the reality of the global water crisis and on ways to sustain themselves and their families in the midst of it.
Jeremiah Zac