What is Water Scarcity and How Can Businesses & Municipalities Handle It!
What is water scarcity?
If you need water for whatever reason, and you can’t walk ten feet and turn a handle to get a glass or more of clean, fresh water, then you are probably dealing with water scarcity. There’s evidence of this epidemic all over the world, even in industrialized countries.
There are two types of water scarcity: physical and economic. Either people don’t have any freshwater sources nearby, or they do and simply don’t have the funds to find it or utilize it.
Physical scarcity affects areas in the very north and very south of Africa, the Middle East, parts of India and northern China, Northern Chile, and the southwest United States. Looking at a world map, you can see how few bodies of water exist in those areas. This is the more difficult type of scarcity to deal with as there is no one easy solution.
However, you can see multiple bodies of water in Peru, Bolivia, Central America, central Africa, northern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc. These countries suffer from economic water scarcity, which is arguably the more distressing form of water scarcity. It persists almost entirely because of a lack of compassion and good governance. It could so easily be managed with appropriate funding.
Why is water scarcity a problem?
The most obvious answer is in how it affects the ecosystems of humans, animals, and plants. That is perhaps the most pervasive and perilous issue. After all, living beings need water to function and survive, but it is not the only problem.
The food you eat, the gas in your car, the medication you take, the components that make up your cellphone: all of those things and many more used water at some point in their production process. Industries rely heavily on water in production processes such as fabrication, cooling, and cleaning. It’s a cheap resource with invaluable properties that make it incredibly useful on many industrial fronts.
Problems for industries:
Water scarcity presents two particular problems for industrial businesses and subsequently, municipalities and communities.
One is the inevitable decrease in production volumes. With less access to or restrictions on raw water, facilities would be unable to make increases in the amounts of products they produce. This would prevent them from meeting higher market demands and profits would suffer. In some cases, water can be substituted for other fluids, but they may be more expensive or may not work as effectively or efficiently. In other cases, water cannot be replaced.
The other problem with water scarcity for industries is the reduction of supply for communities. A facility in a town or city draws water from the same source as the local communities. At some point, supplies will dwindle enough that there isn’t enough to go around. Restrictions will likely be in favor of disgruntled communities as human need outweighs industrial need.
How to prevent worsening water scarcity:
As humans have been learning for decades now with fossil fuels and trees, to prevent further resource decline, we must find ways to reuse and recycle the resource in question as well as look for alternative sources.
With the right technology in a treatment system, even the worst wastewater can be reused. A company could reuse 70% or more of its wastewater and cut down on their raw water use and associated costs. This reduces strain on local water sources and makes the facility more self-sufficient.
Our planet is 71% water. Nearly ¾ of Earth is covered in water but we’re still concerned about water scarcity? That doesn’t seem to add up… Well, how about this: 96.5% of all the water on earth is saltwater. Approximately 68% of our planet’s surface is salt water, but it’s absolutely useless to humans in that form. However, it doesn’t have to be useless. The technology exists that can remove up to 99% of the salts from seawater. If you look at a map of global water scarcity you can see that many of the countries that are near or facing water scarcity are located next to bodies of salt water, namely oceans. If industries use desalinated saltwater or their processes, it does not affect human need. Even coastal municipalities could potentially use seawater as a renewable water source.
Some solutions for the water scarcity problem
We’ve just talked about how to prevent water scarcity from worsening, but how can we treat wastewater and seawater? What technologies could feasibly work but also be sustainable themselves.
It’s one thing to treat wastewater so that it can be safely reused or discharged, but treatment solutions should also be sustainable such that they do not produce harmful wastes or use large amounts of energy or similar issues. Some of the most sustainable water treatment technologies are those that aren’t chemical based. Electrocoagulation is one such solution as is UV disinfection. Both of these technologies can replace chemical treatment methods that either produce lots of unuseable sludge or can result in toxic byproducts.
Reverse osmosis has been proven to be one of the most effective tools for desalination processes. It is a purely physical process that forces water through a membrane while leaving behing the salt ions. When properly maintained, these systems can remove up to 99% of salts from seawater. And after, the concentrated brine can be sustainably discharged back into the ocean without any adverse effects due to the unique dispersion nature of specialized discharge systems and the naturally self regulating features of oceans.
How to overcome the water scarcity problem for your business
There isn’t a cut and dry, one size fits all solution for companies that want to do their part to help overcome water scarcity. There’s even more than what has been mentioned here and often it takes a combination of different types of solutions to be effective. There is also storage, management, and conservation approaches for businesses and municipalities to use alongside wastewater reuse and utilizing seawater desalination. The desalination and reuse efforts add to your personal water supply, while other methods ensure that your resources are being used in an efficient manner. Your business, community or municipality should consider how these approaches should be balanced to allow you to maximize your sustainability and production goals.