The agriculture, industry and the municipal sectors are the major sectors responsible for water withdrawals across society.
There’s also various ways water is lost or wasted across these sectors.
In the guide below, we consider the different ways we might use water more efficiently & sustainably across each these sectors.
Summary – How We Might Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Agriculture, Industry, & For Municipal Use
Firstly, Why Would We Want To Be More Efficient & Sustainable With Water Use In Agriculture, Industry, & For Municipal Use?
We mentioned above that these sectors are major water users, and may also lose or waste water in several ways.
oecd.org in particular mentions that ‘The agricultural sector is the largest and often one of the most inefficient users of water …’
Additionally, agriculture (particularly irrigation) and energy generation (which is part of industry) water demand is also forecast to increase in the future according to some reports.
It may therefore make sense to find ways to be more efficient and sustainable with water use across these sectors in the future as one way of ensuring we have enough water for the future.
How Much Water Do Each Of These Sectors Withdraw On Average?
The global average water withdrawals for each sector might be:
Agriculture (and irrigation) – 70%
Industrial (& particularly wet cooling in thermo electric power plants) – 19%
Municipal (public services and households) – 11%
However, these averages can also differ between individual countries (especially in more industrialized vs less industrialized countries).
How To Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Agriculture, Industry, & For Municipal Use
We list potential solutions, ideas and considerations for each sector in the guide below
There is a key focus on water efficiency, as well as preventing or reducing water loss and waste
As a brief summary of perhaps some of the key solutions for each sector might be:
Because irrigation uses the most water in agriculture (and even uses a significant amount of water on it’s own compared to different industries in an economy), solutions focussing on irrigation may be more effective when the aim is sustainable water use in agriculture overall
More efficient irrigation systems and practices may be a key focus, along with better irrigation precision
Apart from increasing water use efficiency of irrigation (and precision), reducing water waste and loss in agriculture (such as water loss from irrigation leaks, evapotranspiration, etc.), and also managing total water demand from all agricultural water users, may be some of the key ways to use water more sustainably.
Capturing, treating and reusing wastewater might be the main way to reduce water loss and waste in industry and business, although, there can be a cost barrier for businesses to implement water treatment and recycling at this stage
Reducing water pollution (from dumping waste water, contaminants from other industrial processes)
Reducing water leaks from various industrial processes, and equipment
Specifically focus on water sustainability for cooling systems (like once through cooling systems that use freshwater) for thermo electric power generation at power plants
– Municipal Use
Reduce water leaks and water waste from the public supply pipes and network
In homes, fix leaks, be more sustainable with direct water use, and consider how to be more sustainable with indirect water footprint (with food and potentially electricity making up a large % of the indirect footprint)
Sustainable Water Solutions Might Be Addressed At The Local & Individual Levels
Custom strategies and solutions to use water more sustainably might be more effective than general strategies and solutions.
Solutions might be aimed at the local level (individual cities and regions), and at individual sectors, as well as individual water users within those sectors.
They might take into account the different factors and variables of water use and water management, and therefore each sustainable water strategy may be different in some ways.
As one example of this in agriculture, where individual farms may need custom strategies tailored to the local conditions and climate, the agricultural products they produce, their individual business model and objectives, and so on. These things can vary from place to place.
The way oecd.org explains it is ‘Solutions to water use in agriculture are ultimately complex and locally diverse …’
The same principle applies for sustainable water use solutions in industry (for different industries, products, and services), and also municipal use.
How We Waste & Lose Water In Agriculture, Industry & For Municipal Use
In this guide, we outline some of the potential ways we waste or lose water in agriculture, industry, and for municipal use
Several potential solutions for using water more efficiently and sustainably across these sectors may be based on addressing these causes of water waste and loss
How To Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Agriculture
Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as oecd.org, eniscuola.net, wired.com, worldwatch.org, water.jhu.edu, canwefeedtheworld.wordpress.com, news.thomasnet.com, watercalculator.org, locker.com.au, greentumble.com, csmonitor.com, cuesa.org, canwefeedtheworld.wordpress.com, huffingtonpost.com, and bbc.com.
Potential solutions, ideas and considerations for using water more efficiently and sustainably in agriculture might be:
– Specifically Focus On Irrigation
Several reports indicate that this is where most water use in agriculture goes towards i.e. the irrigation of crops
So, it makes sense to explore whether sustainable water solutions can be found with irrigation in line with this large amount of water use
– Specifically Address Runoff & Evapotranspiration In Irrigation
Runoff from irrigation can be caused by a range of factors (such as the irrigation method used), and runoff may have a compound effect of contributing to water pollution whereby nutrients, particulates, and agricultural chemicals can runoff into nearby water sources (like rivers, streams, groundwater aquifers). We discuss water pollution below in this guide
Evapotranspiration can be a result of growing in warmer temperatures, but also using certain types of irrigation methods like field flooding can contribute to this (as opposed to drip irrigation and other irrigation methods)
Reducing both runoff and evapotranspiration might help use water more efficiently
– Specifically Address Inefficiency In Irrigation, & Lack Of Precision Of Irrigation Systems
More efficient and more precise irrigation systems might help save more water, or use it more effectively.
Existing irrigation systems can be replaced or upgraded with more efficient or precise ones, which might be more advanced with more modern technology, or be better designed.
More efficient or precise irrigation systems might include drip irrigation and micro irrigation systems, specific irrigation system features, and irrigation systems that are laid out in a better way on the farm
In regards to the method of irrigation, using drip irrigation may be better in some ways than some other methods like field flooding, or spray type irrigation.
Drip irrigation may use ‘drip’ lines that deliver water directly to plant roots (i.e. to areas that crops most need it), instead of spraying or flooding a section of a field that doesn’t need water as much.
Drip irrigation may reduce the evaporation that can occur with spraying and flooding irrigation systems
Approximately 60 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted [and implementing micro irrigation might be a potential solution.]
Drip irrigation methods can be more expensive to install, but … [research] shows [it] can also be 33 percent to 40 percent more efficient, carrying water or fertilizers directly to plants’ roots.
worldwatch.org indicates that in ‘In arid regions of the Middle East … an experimental drip irrigation project … reduced the annual demand for water by 30 percent and increased agricultural yields by nearly 60 percent’
Modern irrigation systems … can reduce the amount of water lost through surface evaporation by 30 to 70 percent depending on crop and weather conditions [and they can also reduce field flooding] (water.jhu.edu)
In regards to different irrigation systems features, features like timers (for starting and stopping irrigation), scheduling (which controls how much water is released, how often it’s released, as well as releasing water when less sun out in order to reduce water loss via evaporation), sensors, software, using smaller sprinkler heads (to minimize water waste), using metered sprinklers, and other technology and features may also help with efficiently using water.
Some irrigation systems may even be able to measure the soil water content to optimize the timing and placement of water on crops.
huffingtonpost.com indicates that ‘Farmers can use mobile technology to save water [such as using] mobile phones to turn irrigation systems on and off remotely. This helps reduce the amount of water and electricity wasted on watering fields that are already saturated.’
cuesa.org may suggest that irrigation timers ‘Can save up to 80% of water that is used in conventional irrigation [and can] Can contribute to increased crop yield’
csmonitor.com indicates that ‘[When using …] Flood-irrigated fields using laser-leveling technology … the sensor gathers a signal from satellites to ensure fields are cleared as smooth as possible, preventing water from pooling’
news.thomasnet.com indicates that: ‘… hardware- and software-based solutions [in irrigation management] use remote sensing data and satellite images to measure factors such as evaporation and yield, identifying areas where water is being used productively and areas where it’s being wasted.’
In regards to how irrigation systems are laid out, laying out these irrigation systems in a way that makes water use more effective may be another step that is taken. This may depend on individual crop fields and other farm variables though.
– Reduce Leaks & Other Forms Of Water Loss In Irrigation
In addition to fixing leaks in the irrigation water supply distribution networks when they occur, leak detection features and systems, and regular maintenance processes, may help reduce water lost from leaks in irrigation systems.
– Specifically Compare Flood Irrigation vs Spray Irrigation
Flood irrigation (and field flooding) might have pros and cons vs spray irrigation
usgs.gov compares flood vs spray irrigation:
‘[In the US] Flood irrigation is not the most efficient irrigation method, but it is cheap and low-tech. On the one hand, less water is lost to evaporation than in spray irrigation, but on the other hand, more water can be lost from runoff at the edges of the fields.’
– Generally Consider Which Type & Design Of Irrigation System Provides The Best Balance Of Cost, Performance, & Sustainable Water Use
‘[Examples of types of irrigation systems might include] center-pivot, drip/micro irrigation, flood/furrow, spray/sprinkler, sub irrigation, and surge flooding’ (usgs.gov)
– Generally Use More Sustainable Irrigation Practices
As one example taken from above, field flooding may be a more unsustainable irrigation practice than some others available
But, there may be other more sustainable irrigation practices that can be used.
Some efficient surface irrigation techniques farmers use are levelling of fields, surge flooding, and capture and reuse of runoff (usgs.gov)
To solve the problem of water waste it’s necessary to introduce more modern technologies such as drip irrigation and renewing distribution networks … (eniscuola.net)
– Consider The Challenges In Making Irrigation More Sustainable
Cost is obviously a large barrier to changing and upgrading irrigation, and it can limit the feasibility of changing or upgrading irrigation systems and practices in some places
There can sometimes be political barriers too
[Introducing …] modern technologies such as drip irrigation and renewing distribution networks [comes with] serious financial and political problems [that] limit these options
– Focus On Countries That Are Responsible For Majority Of The World’s Irrigated Water Use
Some reports indicate that about half (or more) of the total area being irrigated worldwide is located in Pakistan, China and India
There may also be more potential for more sustainable irrigation water use in these places
– Focus On The Largest Individual Users Of Irrigation
Going a step beyond the main countries, the largest individual major water users from irrigation within different countries can also be identified
Consider how sustainability programs to help large agricultural users be more sustainable with water use might help (which might include funding/subsidies/grants, investment, training and support)
Consider how incentives (or credits), and also penalties for the largest agricultural water users might impact water use
Policies and regulations may also play a role in influencing water use for the largest water users
– Consider How The Price Of Water That Agricultural Users Pay Impacts Water Use
In some regions, agricultural water users may not pay the full price or value of the water they use for various reasons (this is something that oecd.org mentions)
There may be consideration for whether altering the price of agricultural water use can reduce excessive or wasteful water use amongst some of the largest water users, as water would be valued at it’s true price
Some reports indicate that a tiered water pricing is one option so that all individuals have basic and affordable water rights, but high users face penalties for inefficient or excessive use
– Manage Water Demand In Agriculture As A Whole
Water demand in theory should be equal to or less than the renewal rates of the water sources they are being withdrawn from, in order to prevent these water sources from depleting.
In some regions around the world (and particularly in some dry climates, or water scarce regions), agriculture as a sector withdraws water faster than the water sources it is is withdrawing from can replenish
Restricting agricultural withdrawals, or increasing total water supply capacity, might be two ways to address this
– Consider How To Best Address Water Use By Agricultural Water Users Through Policy, & The Water Rights & Water Allocation Systems Set Up In Some Countries
This is something discussed and explained by csmonitor.com (paraphrased below)
Water rights owners have to use their water allocations to maintain their rights, and it can be hard to track which farmers are using more water than their allowance (i.e. data collection can be difficult, as well as tracking individual water users)
California is a current example of a State with perhaps poor water data in this area, but is establishing (through laws and policy) a floor for water levels where water restrictions would be imposed
csmonitor.com goes on to explain though how getting a system established is complicated, and also explains how in California specifically, total water used on farms has only declined ‘… just under 1 percent’
– Consider Alternate Water Sources (Or Additional Water Sources) For The Agricultural Sector, Other Than What Is Currently Being Used
Additional water sources can increase the total amount of water available for agriculture to use
A few examples of this might be additional rainwater harvesting, or even water recycling
Rainwater catchment systems, man made ponds, and pits may be a few ways to harvest more rainwater on farms.
Although, water efficiency measures may be cheaper than some forms of increasing water supply via alternate water sources
bbc.com mentions that (paraphrased) treated waste water might be used in agriculture, and in order to maintain food safety, food can be washed when it’s processed to remove pathogens and other risk factors
wired.com (paraphrased) mentions the idea of water sharing between countries, but also mentions that the US and Mexico, and Spain and France have had issues with this
In regards to rainwater harvesting on farms, huffingtonpost.com indicates that ‘… making planting pits wider, deeper and filling them with organic material can help retain rainwater longer, helping farmers to increase yields even in years of low rainfall.’
– Consider Whether More Rainfed Agriculture Is Practical (Over Irrigated Agriculture)
Some regions of the world have more rainfall than others.
There may be consideration for using more rainfed agriculture in these regions as opposed to agriculture that heavily uses irrigated water in other parts of the world where heavy use of irrigated water presents a problem
Having said that, rainfed agriculture may have specific requirements in order to practically work, and may need to be integrated with irrigated agriculture to maximize yields.
[For rain fed agriculture, the soil needs to be able to retain water well through sustainable farming practices like conservation tillage and mulching]. [These things as well as] small-scale water harvesting can increase rain water infiltration by as much as 2-3 fold.
… the yields from irrigated farms are often higher than from solely rain-fed agriculture … [so] integrating a combination of rain-fed and irrigated agricultural methods to optimize the yields of crops [might be smart]
– Use Groundwater More Sustainably
In some countries, agriculture may mainly use groundwater, and may intensively pump this groundwater at a rate that depletes it
Pumping groundwater at a more sustainable rate, using other water sources, or even importing more agricultural products from countries that have more water, may be other options to address this
– Consider Soil Health, The Soil’s Ability To Retain Water (Water Retention), & Sustainable Farming Practices To Save Water, Or Use It More Efficiently
A soil’s ability to be productive and also retain water can be impacted by soil health
Soil health can be impacted by a range of factors and issues, but soil erosion and salt build up (or soil salinity), are specific issues that can impact soil and soil health
Prioritizing soil health, preventing detrimental soil issues, and increasing the ability of soil to retain water, can help with making sure water is used more effectively in agriculture
Sustainable farming practices may benefit soil health and soil productivity in different ways than some conventional farming practices
Sustainable farming practices may also generally help with water conservation or efficiency in various ways
Practices that may help with soil health, soil fertility, soil conservation, keeping nutrients and water in the soil, soil replenishment, building strong root systems, and other aspects of sustainable farming, such as increased water efficiency, might include:
Growing crops suited to local conditions, dry farming (relying on soil moisture instead of heavy irrigation), using organic fertilizers, using compost and mulch (to improve soil structure), cover crops (to retain soil moisture and reduce soil erosion), low or no-till soil practices and conservation tillage (to increase soil conservation, and reduce soil erosion), crop rotations, agroforestry, growing perennial crops (which protects the soil longer than annual crops), growing diverse crops instead of monocultures, residue management, the use of permaculture like contouring, field levelling and the use of swales, the use of ground cover fabrics, the use of permanent raised bed crops, and even adding certain minerals to certain types of soil to mitigate evaporation
As just one potential example of a sustainable farming practice of this from huffingtonpost.com: … “annual grain crops can lose five times as much water and 35 times as much nitrate as perennial crops.”
– Consider The Seeds & Crop Protection Methods Used By Farmers
In some instances, sustainable practices that optimize soil conditions and efficient water use may not be enough to combat against other risks in farming, such as natural events like droughts, extreme heat, and pests
So, in addition to sustainable practices, farmers may also make sure that their seeds and crop protection methods are optimized too
Plant regulator products might be an example of a crop protection product
– Consider The Impact That Crop Productivity & Yields Might Have On Efficient Use Of Agricultural Resources
The productivity of or yield of farming operations (which is impacted by a range of factors, such as soil health and fertility, farming practices, climate, and more) also impacts how efficiently different agricultural resources like water are used
The more productive and the higher the yield of farming operations, the more efficiently water might be used
– Consider The Impact Of Agriculture On Water Pollution
When water is polluted, the quality of the water is degraded, and it may become unsuitable for some uses without treatment.
Agriculture may cause water pollution from fertilizer runoff, livestock effluent runoff, and also pesticide use, amongst other sources of pollution
Reducing water pollution from these sources may lead to less water loss from pollution. An alternative option would also be to treat this polluted water before use.
Some reports suggest a ‘polluter pays’ policy for agricultural pollution
We’ve written a separate guide on addressing water pollution across society
locker.com.au mentions that when it comes to irrigation runoff as waste water: ‘Strategies such as using screens or mesh are options to reducing matter in wastewater, whilst diverting its flow into retention ponds where it can be reused for irrigation is an effective way to curtail the total volume used.’
locker.com.au also mentions that some countries may have decreased their water consumption doing this
– Consider How Water Intensive Or Water Hungry Different Crops & Agricultural Products Are
Some crops and agricultural products might use more water than others, with potential examples being rice, cotton, sugarcane, and some types of meat (whereby animals might need feed crops grown for them)
Beverages like fruit juices may also be more water intensive than just water, as they require crop production
Growing less water hungry crops (where feasible and practical to do so) may be one way to use water more sustainably.
Growing drought tolerant crops or crops that are suited to hot or dry climates (where that’s the predominant climate in the area) may be a generalized way of doing this too.
– Consider How Growing In Hotter Climates May Impact Water Use
Growing in hotter climates may lead to more water from irrigation evaporating before it can be absorbed by the soil.
This may mean more water is needed to achieve higher production rates, compared to growing in cooler climates where evaporation rates may be less of an issue
Growing in cooler climates (and climates with more rainfall), or importing certain agricultural products in water scarce countries may be some options to address this
If Earth’s climate continues to change in the future – this has the potential to impact growing conditions and water use in different regions of the world too
– Consider How Agriculture Can Work Holistically With Other Industries To Use Water More Sustainably
In this guide, we outline how agriculture might consider working with other industries by doing the following:
Use treated sewage waste water as a fertilizer (as it contains nutrients) for biofuel crops
Send runoff to waste water treatment plants, and re-use treated water once it’s ben treated for pollution or contamination
– Address Financial & Political Barriers To Making Agriculture More Sustainable In Some Regions
In some regions, financial and political barriers and problems need to be addressed first, before farmers can upgrade irrigation systems, and implement other sustainable solutions
– Consider The Potential For Public Private Partnerships In Agriculture
Public private partnerships sometimes work in other industries to get certain projects going.
The potential for a public private partnership in agriculture to improve water sustainability might be an option.
– Consider How Reducing Food Loss & Waste Might Indirectly Reduce Water Waste
Food loss might occur in the supply chain, and food waste might occur at the consumer level.
Food has an embedded water footprint used to make it.
Any reduction in food loss or waste may indirectly reduce water waste as a result (such as the irrigated water used to produce it)
– Consider Solutions At The Different Levels Of Water Use & Water Management
This is something that oecd.org explains (parpahrased) i.e. multiple policy responses at different levels, each adapted to specific water resource systems
Those levels are the farm level, watershed level, and also the national level
In their report, they provide different solutions at the different levels
Something they mention at the farm level and watershed level is having better information systems that give farmers and water management decision makers at the government level a better idea of how water is being used and where it’s flowing, and also what potential water risks might be based on this usage and flow data (but also based on events like droughts, and a changing climate)
Essentially, each level has different roles and responsibilities in ensuring sustainable water use and management, and there’s different solutions at each level
Read oecd.org’s report for a full breakdown of the different levels and the different solutions at each level
– An Integrated Approach To Sustainable Water Use & Management In Agriculture May Be Best Over One Specific Solution
There is no silver bullet [or one answer to sustainable water management].
But an integrated approach [and a] tailored [approach] to the local conditions, crops, and farmers can maximize water use efficiency.
– The Needs Of Farmers Should Be Included In Any Solution Or Strategy
This includes that solutions and strategies should be feasible from a business perspective, there needs to be access to education and training (including sharing of knowledge) for farmers on how to implement new solutions and strategies, and there may need to be subsidies and additional support (such as insurance) provided to farmers in transitioning to new approaches in order to reduce risk for them.
Farmers also need to be able to afford to buy any new equipment and operate it.
Small farmers and agricultural producers may also need extra assistance and support.
– Consider How Technology Used In The Future May Result In More Sustainable Water Use In Agriculture
A few potential examples might include:
Artificial Intelligence technology and systems may play in more sustainably or efficiently using water in agriculture in the future
Some reports indicate that GMOs used in agriculture might lead to water conservation and water efficiency in some ways, such as not needing as much water, or being more resistant to droughts and extreme heat (although, some dispute this)
New technologies … such as micro-scale solar desalination units or nanotechnology hold some potential … but … many of the solutions to agriculture’s dependence on water require knowledge, research and access to forms of innovation.
[Investment might be aimed towards] participatory research that meets the water and production needs of local farmers
– Other Potential Solutions
waterscarcitysolutions.org provides a list of potential solutions to sustainably use water across various parts of society, including some agricultural and irrigation solutions
How To Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Industry
Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as fmanet.org, sswm.info, ge.com, news.thomasnet.com, telegraph.co.uk, allianceforwaterefficiency.org, locker.com.au, ucsusa.org
Potential solutions, ideas and considerations for using water more efficiently and sustainably for municipal use might be:
– Focus On The Industries & Specific Industrial Processes That Use The Most Water
It makes sense that some of the greatest potential for being more sustainable with water use might lie in the industries (or the industrial processes) that use the most water.
In this guide, we outline the industries and industrial processes that might use the most water.
Agriculture and power generation (specifically the thermoelectric-power industry, and electricity production) withdraw a lot of water directly.
Electrical power production in particular uses more water than any other single industrial process.
Other industrial product industries and processes are mentioned in that guide too.
– Consider Indirect Water Use (In Addition To Direct Water Use)
There’s also indirect water usage to consider (such as water used through the supply chain)
Consideration of how to use water more efficiently and sustainably would have to consider the embedded water footprint in the supply chain and other places that water is used indirectly.
– Consider Withdrawn Water vs Consumed Water
Another thing we mention in that linked guide is the difference between withdrawn and also consumed water.
Withdrawn water is returned to it’s water source, whereas consumed water is not.
There may be more focus on industries and industrial processes that consume water and take it out of circulation, as this might be where the most potential to impact sustainability might be.
One example of an industry or industrial process that uses a lot of water, but most of the water is withdrawn, is cooling processes and cooling systems for electricity production in some countries. This water can be returned back to the water source it was withdrawn from once it has been used for cooling.
– Specifically Make Cooling Systems In Energy Generation (At Thermal Power Plants) More Sustainable
These cooling systems use a lot of water, and once through cooling system may only make use of water’s cooling capacity a single time.
Potential ways to make cooling systems more sustainable might be by:
Using a closed loop or circular water cooling system
Using salt water instead of freshwater where practical
Consider dry cooling
Consider using waste water
… on average a single large wastewater treatment plant could satisfy the cooling demand for one power plant, reducing freshwater withdrawal and energy consumption in the process.
– Increase Efficiency Of Both Electricity Generation, & Transport Fuels
Both electricity and transport fuels have a water footprint to generate/produce.
An indirect way to be more efficient with water use might therefore be to increase the efficiency of electricity and fuel use where possible.
One example of this might be using more energy efficient light bulbs over less energy efficient ones, but there could be many other relevant examples too.
Another example might be increasing the efficiency of cooling towers, or retrofitting existing power plants
The chemical composition of some fuels themselves, or the vehicles they are used in, may also be altered to get more distance from one gallon or litre of that fuel.
According to ucsusa.org:
One of the easiest solutions [for increasing water efficiency] is also the most cost-effective: using less electricity or transportation fuel by making appliances, buildings, and vehicles more efficient.
– Treat, Recycle & Reuse Wastewater
Wastewater from some industries may be discharged into the environment without treatment, or without re-use (some estimates indicate 80% of waster water is dumped globally without treatment)
Capturing, treating and recycling/re-using waste water may be one way to restore the quality of this water, and keep it in circulation (and a closed loop water system might be used to capture water, before it’s treated and re-used)
Having said that, recycling wastewater does have some pros and cons to consider, such as the cost barriers for some businesses to implement it on-site.
Additionally, industries and industrial processes that produce the most waste water might be targeted.
news.thomasnet.com for example notes that (paraphrased) the textile/garment industry produces waste water, in particular wet processing and the dyeing of fabrics.
From sswm.info: ‘Depending on the contaminants present in wastewater and its future reuse, it can either be directly reused, or treated and reused (recycled).’
sswm.info also provides further information about waste water recycling, including (paraphrased) listing the potential benefits and impact (potentially increasing productivity, lowering waste and pollutant discharge, reducing processing cost, and reducing thermal energy consumption)
They also list the different technologies available for direct reuse as well as decentralised wastewater treatment for wastewater recycling, such as Direct Re-Use Within Business, Direct Re-Use Between Businesses, and Treat & Re-Use (Recycling)
They also mention that the cost of ‘… implementing wastewater treatment systems may prohibit wastewater recycling’ for businesses.’ Between businesses, wastewater reuse potential depends on several factors (which they list in their report)
ge.com (paraphrased) mentions how addressing regulatory standards may help with more efficient reuse of greywater, and give an example of how this has worked to some degree in Singapore
They also give an example of a company doing their own on-site treatment and reuse of waste water with a membrane bioreactor and reverse osmosis system
Additionally, they mention the potential benefits in the oil and gas industry, along with other potential benefits of advanced anaerobic digestion technology provided elsewhere
fmanet.org indicates that ‘… Chrysler’s automotive plant in Mexico [is] recovering more than 95 percent of processing water, decreasing pollution, and saving money in chemicals, water costs and biological treatment.’
Specifically for the mining industry, locker.com.au mentions (paraphrased) that there might be a range of active and passive ways to treat waste water, and lists these active and passive treatments.
Filtration and chemical treatment might be active treatments
Utilizing nature for filtering, and using bacteria might be examples of passive treatment
They also mention that screens and grating can be used to catch runoff on floors and walkways
– Reduce Water Pollution From Industry
Water that is polluted or contaminated from industrial processes can’t be used for some other uses unless it’s treated properly
Reducing water pollution from industrial processes helps keep the water quality at a level where it might be reused for some uses without treatment
We compiled a separate guide outlining some potential solutions to water pollution.
– Reducing & Fixing Leaks
Paraphrased from fmanet.org, leaks might be reduced at processing pipes with proper (or standardised) water pipe fittings and valves, and proper plumbing techniques being used (such as using compatible piping material and sealant compounds)
– Making More Effective Or Wider Use Of Clean In Place Systems
Some reports indicate that some ‘Clean In Place Systems’ might reduce water waste or loss, as they might ensure wash down completely fills and drains
– Recovering Condensate
This condensate can then be re-used (instead of losing it)
– Make Company Based Changes For Better Water Sustainability
Including but not limited to:
Better data collection on water use, water waste and loss, and overall water management both directly by companies, and up and down the supply chain (so businesses can understand the water footprint of the materials they are using)
A water audit of all company processes that use water
Training and educating business owners, managers and staff on water sustainability
Having internal water smart policies and practices
Formalising water use and water management goals, setting benchmarks, and making them public. These numbers may be compared to industry averages
Reviewing water use performance, and comparing against goals and benchmarks
Providing reports and updates on water sustainability and water use
Using software for different aspects of water management across the business
Consider which business processes can be changed or redesigned to us water more sustainably
Consider which equipment can be changed or upgraded to use water more sustainably or efficiently
Learn from (by reading reports and case studies) or speak to peers and competitors in the same industry for water sustainability tips
– Other ‘Industry’ Specific Steps, Practices, Processes, & Solutions That Businesses Might Implement
fmanet.org discusses (paraphrased) a list of steps and potential solutions that businesses might use, such as limiting rinse steps, ending the rinse process at a certain point, specifying water concentration to eliminate evaporation at a later step, reuse solutions like cascading, and recycling solutions like ‘Dissolved Air Flotation, Biological Treatment, Filtration, Granular Activated Carbon, Softening, Disinfection, [and] Deionisation’
allianceforwaterefficiency.org lists (paraphrased) a range of potential solutions, such as waterless processes, replacing potable water with non potable water where safe and practical, making use of rainwater and other water sources where feasible, improving cooling tower efficiency or retrofitting power plants with water efficient technology (such as steam sterilisers), replacing water based cooling with air based cooling, making sure cleaning hoses have auto shut off nozzles, replacing water cleaning with air cleaning or dry cleaning, using water efficient appliances and devices on-site, and using water efficient irrigation systems
– Consider Energy Sources That Are More Water Efficient
In this guide, we identify how much water different energy sources might use for energy generation.
To use one example, some renewable energy sources like solar or wind may be more water efficient than coal.
– Consider Foods Products That Are More Water Efficient
In this guide, we outline the water footprint of different foods.
Specifically when it comes to food manufacturing though (as opposed to the production of food in crops on farms), one report indicates that the industrial processes for some foods such as sugar, pet food and milk can use a lot of direct, and indirect water
– Consider Other Indirect Ways To Reduce Water Waste With Consumer Decisions
Such as decreasing rate of consumption, buying secondhand/pre-used where possible, and so on
– Consider That Sometimes There Isn’t A Suitable Alternative Product Or Service That Is More Water Efficient
When substituting a product or service with another, there isn’t always an alternative due to practical, financial, or other limitations or challenges.
– Consider How Public Private Partnerships Could Play A Role
One example might be companies that provide water monitoring technology for industrial equipment
– Consider How New Technology Or Practices Could Help With More Sustainable Water Use In Industry
Some examples may include:
The potential role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems might play in more sustainable industrial activity
– Other Potential Solutions
waterscarcitysolutions.org provides a list of potential solutions to sustainably use water across various parts of society, including some solutions across various industries
How To Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably For Municipal Use
For municipal use, the major stages or levels to focus on might be:
– The water treatment plant level
– The public supply pipe network level (i.e. water in supply pipes, BEFORE it gets to it’s end destination)
– The household level, and public services level (i.e. water delivered to it’s end destination AFTER it’s been transported through public supply pipes)
Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as theguardian.com, eandt.theiet.org, telegraph.co.uk, epa.gov, takepart.com, theguardian.com and audit.wa.gov.au.
Potential solutions, ideas and considerations for using water more efficiently and sustainably for municipal use might be:
At The Water Treatment Plant Level
– Addressing Leaks & Water Waste
Identifying where leaks and water waste are happening at water treatment plants, and addressing them as required
At The Public Water Supply Pipe Level
– Building Of New Pipe Networks
Building new public supply water pipes with durability and anti leaking in mind. Durable materials, and anti leak design and construction, might be priorities
– Monitoring, Auditing & Managing Existing Pipes Better
Have an auditing and monitoring program in place for public supply pipes to identify pipes that need maintenance or replacement
Technology to monitor or manage pressure in pipes might be part of this (i.e. maintaining a stable pressure), as well as active leakage control
– Maintaining, Replacing Or Upgrading Existing Pipes
Maintaining, replacing or upgrading existing pipes that are aging and showing signs of wear and tear, as a form of leak prevention
However, also consider that pipe upgrades, maintenance and replacements can either be very disruptive, or can be impractical and almost impossible in some cities or towns (because of how hard pipes are to reach, because of traffic, or some other factor).
So, there may be some limitations with maintenance, replacement and upgrading to consider too.
As an example of the above, theguardian.com indicates that in the UK, ‘[One problem with coming up with solutions is that] Large scale mains replacements are disruptive, especially with two-thirds of our network running under the busiest and hardest to reach roads in London.’
– Identify Leaks & Bursts In Pipes When They Happen
Technology such as sensors for leak detection, leak detection software, and drones that have infrared cameras, may help with this
This might primarily be a water corporation’s responsibility, and audit.wa.gov.au gives an example of how (paraphrased) a leak detection program has been used in Western Australia that uses special equipment (electronic and acoustic equipment) to detect leakage, and the information collected is reported back to a ‘document management system’, which signals a need for repairs if required
– Improving The Speed & Quality Of Responding To, & Repairing Leaks & Bursts In Pipes
Have systems and protocols in place to respond more quickly, and more effectively to leaks and burst pipes, and to repair pipes more quickly when this is the case
– Consider How Much Water Can Practically Be Saved/Recovered From Leaks & Burst Pipes vs Considering How Much Is Unrecoverable
This is a concept discussed by audit.wa.gov.au, but it involves understanding recoverable water loss vs unrecoverable water loss
Realistically, not all water loss can be prevented (because not all leaks can be prevented or detected, not all pipes are practically or easily accessible, and because of other reasons), so, we may instead identify realistic targets for water loss prevention, and formulate goals around this
To get a rough idea of how much water can realistically be saved, indicators such as the amount of water supplied in pipes vs metered consumption vs water physically lost may be tracked over time
Other metrics like % of all leaks that can be detected vs undetected, along with other metrics may also be tracked and considered.
It’s also possible to look at the yearly leakage and water loss rates from pipes, and see if it’s increasing or decreasing (as a % of total water supplied)
It’s possible to calculate how much water is lost or leaked from the public supply on a per day or per year basis. It can also be calculated per mile of main supply pipe. A national average can be obtained, and leaks in any one geographic area can be compared to the national average
Water leakage and loss from public supply pipes can’t be completely eliminated, but each city or town might figure out what the lowest achievable level of water loss might be (that is detectable and recoverable water) is in a given year, and work around those numbers
– Considering Other Water Infrastructure Technology
Such as intelligent water pumps
– Consider Water Companies & Water Suppliers
Identifying the water companies and water suppliers that leak or waste the most water from their mains compared to national average leak rates, might help with accountability for public water supply leaks and waste
Making water company and water suppliers performance available and transparent to the public may help with accountability
Companies and suppliers may be given targets or goals for water loss reductions
Also, there might be consideration about how penalties, incentives, credits and support programs could play a role to help achieve leakage or waste outcomes
Leak detection technology and new processes to identify and address leaks may help some water companies and suppliers with tracking and monitoring pipe health and performance
Something else that may help water supply companies is better collection of data on their water pipes, so that they can make more informed and effective decisions on how to manage them and prevent water loss and waste
Water companies should also take into account attributes specific to their own pipe networks, such as the average pressure in the distribution system and total length of water mains
– Consider Public Water Supply Pipe Issues Specific To Some Regions
Issues such as metering inaccuracies, water theft, and unmetered authorized consumption are more of an issue in some regions than others
Ensuring meters are accurate may be easier to address than some cases of water theft and unauthorized consumption, which might be hard to police
– Consider How Different Parties Can Collaborate & Work Together To Improve Public Supply Network Performance
Corporations, governments, and utilities may all need to work together to address water supply side water loss and waste, instead of the burden being unequally left to one party
At The Household &/Or Public Services Level
– Fix Water Leaks At Home
Water leaks at home can make up a notable % of overall water use at home in some instances.
Fixing leaks when they happen may help save more water.
– Consider Where We Use The Most Water At Home, & Where We Can Save The Most Water At Home
In this guide, we identify where we use the most water at home, and also how we might save water at home
Something we discuss in that guide is inside vs outside water use
We also identify how much water specific appliances and devices at home might use in this one.
Focussing efforts on these areas may be most effective in helping with sustainable water use at home.
– Consider Water Efficient Appliances & Devices
There’s a range of water efficient appliances that can be used at home, including but not limited to washing machines, toilets, taps/faucets, dishwashers, showers, and so on
Even in terms of light bulbs, fluorescent bulbs might save more water than incandescent bulbs, per unit of electricity used
We’ve included some data in this guide about how much water water efficient appliances and devices might use compared to standard appliances.
epa.gov indicates that:
‘… water-efficient fixtures and appliances … can save up to 20 percent more water …’, and they may ‘[… pay for themselves in as little as 1 year]’
[Specifically] Replacing a standard clock timer with a [water efficient] labeled irrigation controller can reduce an average home’s irrigation water use by 15 percent …
– Consider Food Footprint At Home
Our food footprint is part of our indirect water footprint at home.
Not wasting or throwing out food may be one way to cut down on our food related water footprint at home
– Consider More Water Efficient Forms Of Electricity In The Home
For example, some renewables like solar and wind might be more water efficient than coal in some instances
– Consider How The Potential Cost Savings Of Saving Water Could Be An Incentive
Saving water at home may save on water bills/costs (depending on individual application), and more awareness of this potential cost saving may incentivise some home owners to save more water where they practically can
– Consider Better Water Efficiency & More Sustainable Water Use For Public Services
For public services, water can be used more efficiently by upgrading to more efficient irrigation and sprinkler systems for example when watering public parks, reserves, sports fields, and so on. Water leaks in these systems should also be fixed
– Some Regions May Need To Address Basic Water Services Issues Before Moving Forward To Addressing Sustainable Water Use Issues
For example, some regions in the world still need acquire basic water service and sanitation/hygiene services
– Consider The Role Of AI & Other Technology
In the future, we might consider the role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems can play in more sustainably or efficiently using water for municipal use
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides