Various initiatives and technologies have been developed to counteract water scarcity, modernize and adapt the water infrastructure
Water is the lifeblood of our economy, essential for humans, animals and plants, a foodstuff, source of energy, a transport medium, and a raw material. Without it, no living being could exist, no farmer could harvest, and no company could produce anything. Furthermore, it is a human right and subject of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (BMU; Oxfam; UNICEF). More than two thirds of the earth is covered by water. Yet, only less than three percent of it is drinkable (UNICEF). Chronic droughts, floods, sea-level rise and contaminated water sources are already destroying soils and make areas uninhabitable. Water availability and quality are deteriorating almost everywhere; as early as 2030, half of the world’s population will live in areas with temporary water scarcity (Oxfam).
The reasons for water scarcity are evident: summers are becoming hotter and drier, heavy rainfall is becoming more frequent, snow is becoming rarer, groundwater levels are falling, soil moisture is decreasing, drought is threatening crops and forests, waterways are increasingly no longer navigable, conflicts of use are increasing. Additionally, pollution endangers the ecological condition of water bodies and makes the extraction and provision of drinking water complex and expensive.
To counteract the worsening water security worldwide and to give guidelines for the modernization and adaptation of the water infrastructure, various initiatives have been launched to discover hidden risks: the Water Risk Filter is a practical online tool to help companies and investors assess and respond to water-related risks to their operations and investments worldwide. The indicators and datasets developed by WWF and the German financial institution DEG provide a range of risk maps – from global to local; users can select different additional layers to enable more detailed assessment and understand potential linkages between water risks and other factors such as protected areas, human footprint, etc.
The pollution of the seas, rivers and lakes is particularly critical. In Germany, at least one third of the groundwater bodies are so polluted that they can only be used for drinking water at great expense, if at all (utopia). In the rest of the world, the situation is even more critical: Worldwide, almost 250 billion m2 – the size of the United Kingdom – are covered in so-called dead zones. A dead zone is an area of a body of water where there is too little oxygen to support life in it; it is hypoxic. This is a natural phenomenon that is increasing in shallow coastal and river areas because of human activities. Nutrients in coastal waters such as lawn fertilizer, agricultural manure, sewage, and stormwater are causing massive algae growth that leads to fish kills, human illness, and deaths of marine mammals and shorebirds. The algae block light and consume all oxygen, then sink to the bottom where they are bacterially decomposed, consuming the remaining oxygen. Over the past 60 years, there has been a staggering increase in the number of dead zones worldwide. The largest dead zones are the Baltic Sea and the northern Gulf of Mexico, surrounding the outflow of the Mississippi River (Sailors for the Sea).
From domestic filters to reimagined harvesting – various companies are addressing water pollution and attempting to counteract its contamination and thus water scarcity through revolutionary technologies: the Dutch company Hydraloop has developed an all-in-one water recovery and recycling system for homes, hotels and businesses that can recycle up to 85% of a household’s water – saving up to 75,000 liters annually. Refrigerator-sized recycling units that can recover household wastewater from toilets, washing machines, and bathrooms and showers connect to a home’s existing water infrastructure and runs the wastewater through an intensive six-step sterilization and decontamination process. Afterward, the water is considered clean and safe to reuse for washing, gardening, or flushing toilets – without the use of chemicals, filters or other consumables (RESET).
Another best-practice is the German company O-VIVA: a high-end carbon filter system that guarantees purified drinking water – cold or hot, sparkling or still, flavored or non-flavored – directly from the tap. The machine that is made to prevent the production of up to 10,000 bottles in its lifetime filters up to 98% of all unwanted micro pollutants such as heavy-metals, micro-plastics as well as lime, and eliminates chlorine and chemical substances. It is 100% plastic-free, CO2 neutral, and climate-friendly.
As well as O-VIVA, the 2009 founded brand LEOGANT wants to reduce the waste of bottles with innovative concepts. Activated carbon filters combined with effective vitalization technology result in holistic filter systems for boiling, chilled or sparkling water directly from the tap. Pollutants such as medicines, heavy metals or bacteria are safely removed; at the same time, minerals and trace elements remain in the water when filtered with the natural filters.
The German company Wasser 3.0 has set itself the task to end uncontrolled distribution of microplastics and micropollutants such as pharmaceuticals, PFAS, heavy metals and pesticides in the water cycle. Aligned with the United Nations’ SDGs, they research and develop responsible approaches and solutions to detect, remove and reuse microplastics and micropollutants – for an environmental and health protection in wastewater treatment.
Another approach of water extraction are sourcing systems such as the weather modification technique cloud seeding, in which clouds are artificially made of tiny droplets or ice crystals that form when water vapors in the atmosphere. These droplets cool and condense around particles of dust or salt, resulting in raindrops or snowflakes. Cloud seeding improves this rain or snow production by artificially adding the before mentioned particles to the atmosphere. Cloud seeding is used all over the world as a method for enhancing winter snowfall and increasing mountain snowpack, supplementing the natural water supply available to communities of the surrounding area (DRI).
Majik Water uses a similar technique to harvest water from the air. A solar-powered intake fan pulls air through an air filter. So-called desiccants – sponge-like materials such as silica gel – extract water from the air, which is released when the gel is heated. It then passes through an activated carbon filter and other filtration and results in clean drinking water. It is being collected in anti-microbial storage tanks and accessed via a gravity-fed tap system which does not require a motor. The company’s goal is to produce clean water for a price of one cent per liter – far cheaper than bottled or boiling water – to purify it, while removing the risk of mineral contaminants (Financial Times).
In Germany, an average of 120 to 123 liters of drinking water are consumed per person each day (BMU). With 154.9 billion cubic meters of water remaining unused in Germany every year, it is hardly imaginable that the country could be affected by water scarcity one day (bdew). In contrary, more than a quarter of the world’s population has no regular access to clean water and two thirds already live in areas that suffer from water scarcity, at least seasonally (Oxfam). Besides, companies and investors are increasingly concerned to discover hidden water risks in their operations, supply chains and investments. It is therefore no doubt that a national, if not global, strategy is needed, and that innovative harvesting and purification technologies are indispensable.
by Marie Klimczak