Protecting the quality of fresh water in the world is an ongoing effort at the individual and world-wide level. One aspect of this effort is the concept of water recycling, replenishing what we use instead of abusing the amounts of water that are slowly dwindling because the planet cannot replenish them quickly enough. Water recycling also cuts down on the amount of wastewater that is produced and discarded.
Water Recycling Process
The water recycling method is sometimes called water reclamation or water reuse, but these names all mean the same three step process. The procedure is what is used not only to recycle water for immediate use, but to also pipe water back into fresh water sources like the Mississippi River, from which drinking water is siphoned. The three steps include:
- Primary Treatment � The removal of sediment and other solid contaminants.
- Secondary Treatment � Biological oxidation and disinfection with bacterial agents.
- Tertiary Treatment � Chemical filtration and disinfection.
The level to which a batch of wastewater is treated according to the three steps is usually based on what it is going to be recycled to do. Obviously, water being used to irrigate food crops is going to be more treated and purified than water being used on non-food crops. But according to EPA standards, there is much on-site and case by case determination of how much treatment is needed depending on the use and the beginning condition of the water.
Uses of Recycled Water
Recycled water has many uses, mostly non-potable (non-drinkable) uses though. In the United States, recycled water is generally required to be treated to the second level, just for the sake of safety. Some of the uses, by treatment level, include:
- Primary Treatment
- No uses are recommended at this level, but there are particular site-specific cases that can use water that has only been treated at the primary level.
- Secondary Treatment
- Surface irrigation of orchards and vineyards can use water treated at the secondary level.
- Non-food crop irrigation can also use water from the second level of treatment.
- Aquifers that are made of non-potable water can be recharged with secondary treatment recycled water, to keep salt water from seeping into the aquifers.
- Augmentation of wildlife habitats and streams, depending upon the site-specific specifications.
- Some industrial cooling processes can also use secondary treated recycled water for their needs.
- Tertiary Treatment
- Water that has been treated at the tertiary level can be used to irrigate lawns, golf course greens, and landscapes.
- The tertiary level of treatment also makes water safe for toilets.
- Another use of water treated to the tertiary level is water for vehicle washing.
- Crops of food plants can be irrigated using water treated at the tertiary level.
- Recreational sites such as man-made lakes can also use water treated at this level.
- Surface and groundwater sources of potable water can also be recharged with this kind of water.
Using recycled water for the above mentioned uses not only reduces the need for removing fresh water from surface and groundwater sources, but also helps in keeping more potable water for just drinking purposes. This also helps in protecting natural habitats and is a part of water conservation.
Water Recycling and Conservation
One of the ways to practice water conservation is indeed with water recycling. Water recycling not only limits the amount of water that has to be taken out of the environment for non drinking water purposes, but also helps protect the habitats out there. Some may argue that it also helps with the energy conservation portion of water conservation, but water recycling does require a lot of energy to work. Ways water recycling does affect conservation also include:
- Enhancing water habitats � Recycled water pumped back into habitats can not only replace water removed from those habitats for our use, but also enhance the amount of wildlife that can live there.
- Reduction in pollution � Water that is pumped back into water sources after being recycled is far less contaminating than wastewater pumped back in without being treated.
- Reduction of harm to delicate ecosystems � Recycling water helps reduce harm to delicate ecosystems in two ways. First, it reduces the amount of pollution that is reintroduced to sensitive ecosystems, and secondly it removes less water from those delicate ecosystems.
Future of Water Recycling
The future of water recycling is looking positive, as the examination of long term effects have been promising when reintroducing recycled water to the places of origin. There are few harmful side effects to water recycling, but a few problems have seemed to appear when trying to implement water recycling plants.
- Cost � The cost of beginning water recycling is expensive, and while it saves money in the long run, it is hard to gather the amount of money needed to start up.
- Public outreach � If water recycling is going to begin, the agencies in charge must spend the time and money early into the process to ensure that the people in the area are aware of what is going on and do not have any objections to it.
- Institutional barriers � There are also difficulties when the agencies want to get started with water recycling. There are strict policies in place by the EPA and other government organizations that make it difficult to implement the projects.
Yet, if these problems can be overcome, water recycling could be used for almost all non-potable water uses. It could also be used eventually in sustaining potable sources of water as well in the near future, and for more than just watering crops.
Water recycling is an excellent part of water conservation. It not only promotes the health of natural water and habitats, but reduces the amount of water wasted in things like irrigation and man-made water features. In the future, it seems water recycling will be a main part of the water supply process and eventually will have a part in all aspects of the water system.