Monday, July 9, 2012

No room for waste in urban water management

Jenny Marusiak in Eco-Business: Cities are literally flushing resources down the drain as part of an age-old water management system they can no longer afford, said experts at last week’s Singapore International Water Week.

Water infrastructure has remained basically unchanged since ancient times: Cities bring fresh water in, use it and then get it out of sight as quickly as possible, said this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize laureate Professor Mark van Loosdrecht at the biannual Singapore International Water Week water lecture.

Although most cities have become better about treating the water before sending it away, they are still failing to recoup valuable resources, added the Dutch water technology expert. While the used water is itself a recyclable resource, it also contains heat, nutrients, energy, minerals such as phosphorus, and organic material that can support algae. Even the cellulose from tissue paper in the water can be reused.

Professor van Loosdrecht said that 40 per cent of the solids in Amsterdam’s wastewater is cellulose, which industry can reuse for glucose. And some organic solids can be used for bioplastics, he noted. Such innovations are progressing rapidly, and used water treatment systems will soon be able to power themselves or even generate extra electricity, he added.

Yet, despite the valuable resources embedded in used water, many cities are struggling with insufficient funding to maintain aging and inadequate systems. “The technology is not the problem; it is widely available. Management is the problem,” said Professor van Loosdrecht. He explained that the people in most towns with water problems manage to have mobile phones and televisions , even though these amenities are more expensive than the per capita cost of an adequate water system....

Jurong Lake in Singapore (a reservoir for the city), shot by Groyn88, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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