No, we don’t mean literally smashing hydrogen and oxygen atoms together to form water molecules. Although the Hindenburg explosion did produce a massively large amount of water vapor, there are many less-volatile solutions to explore- as we’ll see. We’re approaching this question from more of an environmental conservation perspective. How can we create greater water availability? What are some cool methods out there, seeking to secure a greater freshwater supply?
First, we have to acknowledge the old solutions. Dams! Dams have been built for decades, for the purpose of power generation and creation of freshwater reservoirs in flowing rivers. However, as we’ve learned over the years, small-scale dams are not enough to solve global water scarcity, and large-scale dams are often more detrimental than beneficial: with common side effects being a decrease in biodiversity, disruption of migrating fish patterns, increase of waterborne pathogens, and greater risk of landslides in the basin area. In the long run, they can prove to be pretty “dam” ineffective.
Instead, we divert our attention over to the lesser-known innovations of the future: aimed at solving the problems of the present.
Desalination (1) : You’ve probably already heard the statistics: the planet’s 70% water, 3% of which is freshwater, and 1% of which is actually accessible freshwater. So evidently, we’re faced with a huge abundance of saltwater, taunting us because it’s so similar – but not similar enough – to what we need to survive. Desalination is the process of taking saltwater and applying reverse osmosis techniques to take the salt out of it. Genius, right? However, boiling out the oceans takes a lot more effort, precision, technology, and money than it may seem. Although they’re expensive, keep an eye out for desalination plants popping up around the world within the next decade. Many countries in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia have already established great investments in desalination – and if we can use some of that solar energy in the desert to bring water where it’s needed, the expenses may prove to be totally worth it.
Water Vapor Extraction (2) : This concept literally brings water out of thin – sorry, thick – air using green energy. Although it’s in no way ready to be magnified enough to make the level of impact necessary for the planet, the process of Atmospheric Water Generation (AWG) extracts water from air in many ways: by pressurization, by cooling the water vapor below dew point, or by using desiccants (you’ve most likely seen these moisture-absorbing packs of silica gel tucked in shipping boxes!) If using green energy, AWGs can prove to be a sustainable solution to explore in areas of disaster and unreliable water sources, and have already been a point of large investment in Chile and other South American countries.
Rainfall Enhancement (3): Also known as cloud seeding, inducing rainfall is essentially the process of manipulating the condensation process of rain by embedding clouds with dry ice or historically, pellets of silver iodide. China is famous for having successfully used this technique to “drain out” all of the clouds in the sky days before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Weather modification, however, comes with some dangerous side effects as a byproduct of intercepting the water cycle. Understandably, catalyzing the crystallization of the clouds are not always as harmless as we hope, and can find themselves to work too well, as shown by this infamous British flooding catastrophe. Nonetheless, rainfall enhancement is a captivating method being explored in heavily populated areas like China, desert-areas like the UAE, and even closer to home: in the state of California.
Let’s take a step back from the mind-blowing global players in the water-conservation game and take a much-needed view at the potential impacts that are being explored on a residential scale.
Greywater Recycling: Reusing water from laundry and showers for cleaning or gardening is not a new concept. It has actually been a long-adopted necessity of Native American communities living on water-scarce reservations, and it was a highly common effort in Cape Town, South Africa as citizens escaped from hitting “Day Zero” in 2017. Greywater recycling proves to be a sustainable and even beneficial process. If it is released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, the nutrients in greywater become pollutants, but act as efficient fertilizer and sufficient water necessary for plants.
Toilet to Tap(4) : You may have heard this one! Toilet-to-Tap is a program facilitating direct residential wastewater treatment cycling. Instead of sending potable water back into saltwater oceans after getting treated for contaminants, treated water (it’s completely clean, we promise!) is sent directly back to your tap, never leaving the freshwater supply cycle. The only problem lies in the psychology of citizens. As the American Psychology Association found, it is just inherently difficult to accept the source of recycled water, and many residents are against the solution despite it being indisputably clean, well-treated water. However, this program is common in drought-ridden places like California and even countries like Singapore, who are just looking to be more sustainable. Whether it truly is toilet to treatment to tap, or the treated water joins an environmental buffer like aquifers or freshwater reservoirs before being drawn back into the tap supply, this technique is perfectly safe for you – and even better for the environment.
We hope you enjoyed our brief summary of just a few of the many ideas out there countering global water scarcity. Although it may seem as though Fix-A-Leak Week focuses on small-scale water issues, we here at H2O Connected strongly believe that the best solutions solve the greatest problems. Fixing a leak is a small and important step in addressing a global issue – and we would love to help you.
Visit leakalertor.com for more articles on water from all perspectives and scopes.
1 Reuters. (2018, August 28). Global Water Desalination Market 2018-2025 Current Trends, Demand, Consumption Analysis, Key Insights, Business Overview and Future Growth Opportunity.
2 AIP Conference Proceedings 1712, 030009 (2016); https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4941874
3 Simms, V. (2010). Making the Rain: Cloud Seeding, the Imminent Freshwater Crisis, and International Law. The International Lawyer, 44(2), 915-937.
4 Wall Street Journal. Harris-Lovett, S., & Sedlak, D. (2019, May 17). From Toilet to Tap: What Cities Need to Overcome to Make That Happen.