For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.
Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.
While recently touring drought-stricken California, President Obama remarked: "We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more..."
In his State of the State address, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency. He suggested: “Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can’t control it. We can only live with it…We can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
He further emphasized the need to conserve water, expand storage, rethink water rules, invest in drinking water protection, and rethink the amount of state water each sector receives.
But, how can California move away from existing rules, expectations, and legacies that include multi-layered federal subsidies and senior water rights to a non-zero sum approach to resolve competing and conflicting water realties?
For users of water-based sanitation, most of us give little thought to what happens after we hear the sound of the toilet flushing. Wooooosh -- out of sight, out of mind.Certainly, there is massive benefit to be derived from owning and using a functioning toilet.
But what if you were told that there is nothing at the end of the sewage pipe that actually deals with what flows down the toilet? What if you learned that every flush pollutes the environment, and that combined with the chemicals, heavy metals and nutrients from industrial pollution and agricultural run-off, the improperly treated waste was turning rivers, lakes and estuaries into dead zones? Would you think twice next time you flushed?
Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water.
Jaehyang So, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Program, wrote an op-ed for The Huffington Post for World Toilet Day. In the article, Jaehyang So discusses the impact of sanitation on the world and the need to address basic human sanitation and hygiene in order to meet the Bank's twin goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity for the poorest 40 percent of the population. Read the op-ed below, courtesy of The Huffington Post.
Brian Arbogast is the Director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
At the Water Summit held in Budapest on October 8 this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for action on the urgent issue of sanitation to underpin human dignity and health, noting that “It is plain that investment in sanitation is a down-payment on a sustainable future. Economists estimate that every dollar spent can bring a five-fold return.”
For those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s, it is difficult not to remember the famous Live record released in 1983 by the reggae band UB40. Almost 30 years later I am still listening to their sound. As we mark World Food Day on October 16, I am reminded of one of the songs in that album, Food for Thought. In fact, I still remember some of the lyrics: "Eat and drink rejoicing, joy is here to stay." Drink, eat, and rejoice – a reminder of the link between water, food, happiness, well-being, and prosperity.