Natural & Cultural Stewardship

A National Look at Water

Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:05:00 CST  — by: Georgia Skerman, C'15, Sustainability Undergraduate Fellow

waterUndergraduate fellow Georgia Skerman (C'15) examines water re-use at the national level.


The water cycle has recycled waste water for millions of years. With industrialization, population growth, and increased water consumption per capita among members of nations, such as the US, the natural cycle does not move fast enough to keep up. Recent droughts in the US paired with the draining of aquifers has led to a water crisis in some regions. Droughts in the South-West in 2009 were met with dramatic suggestions to import water from other states and even to seize icebergs from the arctic in order to meet water demands. With problems such as these, water reuse is becoming increasingly appealing.

Man-made water recycling systems are not as old as the natural systems, but they are not new. Large industries have been reusing waste water for decades in order to save money. With the added pressure of water scarcity and pressure from environmental groups, investment in reuse systems has grown significantly in the past ten years. Reuse eases pressure on the environment by providing a dependable source of water for human use that is controlled locally, thus discouraging further attempts to divert more water from already suffering ecosystems, and lessening the need to discharge polluted water into sensitive environments.


Water reuse systems generally generate water for irrigation, industrial reuse, toilet flushing, concrete mixing, and creation of artificial lakes. They do not directly produce potable water, but through discharge into aquifers and through secondary purification systems potable water can be an output. There should be no fear of the quality of this water as it is released into farmlands, aquifers, and reused in residences. A majority of US states have laws regulating the quality of gray water or other recycled water. Some cities are even taking initiatives to promote water reuse. Tucson, AZ has passed laws in 2008 that require some sort of reuse system to be included in the construction of new residential buildings or for the construction of apparatuses that would make future reuse systems easy to install in the new buildings.


With increased interest in water reuse and with the unrelenting environmental stresses that continue to drive us toward more sustainable practices, investments will be made that lower the cost of these systems and lessen our negative impact on the environment, while providing for ourselves.

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