Heat wave presses need for a circular economy of water

Heat wave presses need for a circular economy of water

As many Europeans are already all too familiar with, this past July brought on some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe. As a deadly heat wave swept over the continent, heat records were broken in multiple countries, with Paris seeing a record high of 43°C, its highest temperature ever recorded.

The effects were largely disruptive at best, and devastating at worst: trains were cancelled, planes grounded, and 13 deaths were reportedly caused by the massive heat wave that lasted an entire week.

High temperatures, low water supply

Less striking but no less important, however, were the effects this heatwave had on the affected countries’ agriculture. As the heatwave scorched crops, farmers had to work double to keep them irrigated, causing sharp declines in groundwater and river water levels.

France, one of the hardest-hit countries, had to place hard restrictions on water usage after it saw dramatic falls in its ground and river water levels.

Those high temperatures, however, are far from being a one-off event. Though the weather has cooled again in mainland Europe and the UK, temperatures still soar in the Arctic. The most recent victim of this heat is Greenland, which lost a record-breaking 11 billion tons of ice in one day when temperatures reached an unprecedented high of 22°C.

European heat wave caused 11 billion tones of ice to melt in a single day

Heatwaves like these are no longer an anomaly. The past years have seen an increase in frequency of devastating droughts and heatwaves across the world, and according to the Wold Weather Attribution heatwaves as intense as these are occurring 10 times more frequently than they did just one century ago. In fact, weather experts at the World Meteorological Organization predict that 2019 will go on the record as one of the five top warmest years ever recorded, making 2015-2019 the warmest five-year period on record.

And as we have seen, with an increase in high temperatures comes a sharp increase in water demand that is matched by an even sharper decrease in the world’s water supply. In fact, the UN predicts that by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed the supply of water by 40%, leaving half of the global population to suffer water stress.

Hence, the UN has called for a fundamental shift in water management strategies, in order to mitigate an impending global water crisis. While countries scramble to come up with ways in which to better manage their water policy, the circular economy offers an effective solution.

A circular economy of water

The circular economy centers around the two principles of maximizing resources and minimizing waste. In a circular economy, these activities become one and the same: the waste, energy, and by-products resulting from one process are looped back into the system for re-use in another process, for example by capturing waste water and purifying it back into potable water. Thus, the waste from one process becomes resource for another, simultaneously reducing the need for virgin resources and the amount of waste produced.

As such, circular water management strategies centre around preventing as much of it as possible from going to waste by maximizing the use of the water we already have and feeding what would otherwise go to waste back into the system.

Water innovation companies like Nijhuis Industries are using advanced space technology to capture and sanitize contaminated water that is used for purposes such as showering or flushing the toilet, back into clean water that can be used again for washing and even for drinking. This recycled water can also be used to sustain remote villages by being used as irrigation water for crops and gardens.

It isn’t just the water that can be recaptured, however. As the nutrients and waste material within this waste water are filtered out during the sanitation process, Nijhuis Industries also processes them into organic fertilizers. This way, circularizing water does not only recapture water for use in the same purposes but can also further provide resource inputs into other industries.

Similarly, circularizing water can also produce energy. Water treatment plants can double as hydropower generators, ideates Christos Makropoulos, an expert in urban water management. The facility and the water both are already there, so all that is left to do is to engineer a synergy between the processes of water treatment and hydropower generation in order to make maximal use of the water we have at our disposal.

The UN predicts that by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed the supply of water by 40%

In a time when the hottest days are only getting hotter and our limited water sources are only becoming more scarce, it’s now more important than ever that we use circular economy principles to maximize our valuable resources and waste as little water as possible.

Infographic showing uses of waste water. It includes potable water, irrigation water, fertilizer, and energy.
If we treat water right, it can be used again and again, and produce many additional byproducts.

Do you know of another way in which circular economy principles could be used to ensure global access to water and mitigate an impending water crisis? Get in contact with us in the forum below!

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