World Water (Reuse) Day!

Water Wonk Wednesdays

Weekly water news, tips, and innovations.


by Erik Baard

Happy World Water Day!

The UN World Water Day theme for 2017 is “Why Wastewater?” New York City consumes a billion gallons of water a day from reservoirs up north and then dumps 27 billion gallons of raw sewage into our local waterways because our wastewater system gets overwhelmed when rainfall adds to household discharges. This assault on our estuaries is a problem of water wealth, which might be solved by technologies developed by cities that suffer scarcity.

As I wrote for The Street, Singapore is directly reusing its wastewater (“toilet to tap”) by filtering and sterilizing. Orange County, California takes an indirect approach, pumping treated water below ground to mix with naturally occurring water tables for later uptake. Many other municipalities are similarly thrifty with H2O, and others are studying how reuse might work for them. Global climate change driven by carbon emissions from livestock, industry, transportation, and power generation could disrupt water supplies to many major population centers.

One of the biggest proponents of wastewater reuse is Bill Gates, whose foundation backs the Omniprocessor, a facility that turns sewage into water, energy, and ash.

A less dramatic, but valuable, approach is to reuse cleaned wastewater for agriculture and other non-potable applications. At HarborLAB’s GreenLaunch we’ll be capturing rainwater, mixing it with shower water (where only strictly vetted soaps that we provide will be used) and feeding that to our native habitat and orchard areas via underground irrigation hoses. Our toilet will be a waterless or low-water composter.

Perhaps NYC will one day build Omniprocessors or the technology will lend itself to small-scale, distributed use. After all, just because today we have a wealth of water doesn’t mean we should waste it.