With growing concern over the future availability of water resources, many cities have taken action in order to prevent water-supply crises. Water use in Boston (where I’m from) has actually gone down to a 50-year low. In the 1980s Massachusetts Water Resources Authority decided to institute a conservation program out of concern that demand for water would soon outstrip supply. They fixed leaks in older pipes, increased the efficiency of plumbing fixtures, and retrofitted many buildings. Ultimately, the initiative ended up saving the city over $500 million.
Places like Las Vegas do not have enough water to meet their demand. In fact, there is even a count-down (http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/topics/water/) to predict when the city will run out of water entirely. Las Vegas has actually exhausted its rights to water from the Colorado River. In order to maintain water supply, officials have been obtaining water from other places, running into legal barriers along the way. Despite the knowledge that there are water shortages, Nevada’s lavish, unsustainable structures continue to expand. In order to support these buildings and developments, water used in fountains and for other non-consumptive purposes is often recycled or “grey” water. Using this recycled water also has the benefit of decreasing energy and pumping costs. Decreasing water supplies have led many cities to consider turning reclaimed water, or wastewater into drinking water in their water treatment facilities. San Diego is an example of a city that has had success in this regard, as its water treatment plant now treats some wastewater to be used as drinking water. Population growth, particularly out West, is the reason that officials are considering this new and controversial method of producing drinking water. Treating wastewater was used over ten years ago as well, to supplement other stream flows, but this was considered to be a fallback plan. Some cities, like San Diego, Orange County, El Paso and Singapore have started to mix treated wastewater with their wells and aquifers. This treated water is sold as NEWater, and many places use it more for irrigation and cooling in power plants than pure drinking water. The filtration process has been developed since the 1950s, and involves filtering the water through microfibers, reverse osmosis, and then using hydrogen peroxide and UV light. It is safe to drink, however it is much more costly than getting local groundwater. One of the largest issues with reclaimed water is public opinion- in a San Diego poll, 63% of people were against the use of treated wastewater. However, with the threat of water shortages, which is causing some companies to consider relocating, people are becoming more accepting of the use of reclaimed water in their water treatment plants.
Written by Leslie Wolf, Class of 2015