Publications

- September 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 8

Drought and recycling: Congress members push $750m bill to purify wastewater

by Mike Consol

The lakes, aquifers and rivers are running dry on the western front and could eventually imperil the U.S. national food supply.

Wired magazine recently pointed out that Lake Mead, a reservoir that provides water for 25 million people in the American west, has shrunk to 36 percent of its capacity. One rural California community has run out of water completely after its well broke in early June. Fields are sitting fallow, and some farmers are selling their water allotments instead of growing crops, according to the report.

Some relief for the extreme drought withering western states might be on its way in the form of a bill from the U.S. House of Representatives that aims to direct the Secretary of the Interior to create a $750 million program funding water recycling projects in the 17 western states through the year 2027.

Susie Lee (D-Nevada), the representative who introduced the bill, summed up the situation this way: “This is beginning to be our new normal — 88 percent of the West is under some degree of drought. Lake Mead is at the lowest level it has been at since the Hoover Dam was constructed. And the Colorado River has been in a drought for more than two decades.”

All of this is happening against a backdrop of booming western city economies, adding more pressure on dwindling water supplies, notes Wired.

Congressional legislators are thinking in terms of the construction of more facilities that can recycle wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers. The technology has been around for 50 years and involves adding microbes to wastewater to consume the organic matter it contains. The water is then pumped through special membranes that filter out bacteria and viruses and other dangerous elements, after which the water is blasted with UV light to kill the microbes.

“The resulting water may actually be too pure for human consumption,” writes Wired. “If you drank it, the stuff might leach minerals out of your body, so the facility has to add minerals back.”

The recycled water can be pumped into underground aquifers. Wastewater that would normally be treated and pumped out to sea would instead be put back into the terrestrial water cycle, making it readily available for human consumption and other uses, such as agriculture.

The magazine quotes Brad Coffey, water resource manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, who asserts: “The magnitude of changes that we’re seeing with climate change, and with long and persistent droughts — that’s not about how many gallons per flush a toilet uses. It’s really a broader issue that we have to attack from the supply side as well.”

Read the full Wired article at this link: https://bit.ly/3C1jtr8.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

 

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