30 04 2019

Rethinking water resources

For a long time, wastewater was considered as a concern for human health and for the environment, but the need to make efficient and sustainable use of our resources is changing this perspective.

Making the most of wastewater potential

The role of treated wastewater reuse as an alternative source of water supply is addressed in European and national strategies. At international level, the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Water (SDG 6) specifically targets a substantial increase in recycling and safe reuse by 2030. According to the European Commission, treated urban wastewater reused annually accounts for approximately 2.4% of the treated urban wastewater effluents and less than 0.5% of annual EU freshwater withdrawals, but the EU potential is estimated in the order of 6 billion cubic metres.

Water drops contain much more than just water

Water, besides being a resource of its own, contains other resources: nutrients, materials, chemicals and energy are added to water when consumed at industrial and household level. All these resources can be recovered by closing water cycles. This sustainable use of water will provide ecological benefits, reduce the demand of potable water and increase water supplies.

The problem is not the availability of technology for resource recovery, but the limited awareness on the benefits of wastewater and the lack of a supportive and coherent framework to plan, identify and deploy the most sustainable solutions in a given context.

Closing water cycles

According to the European Commission, the main pressures from water consumption are concentrated on irrigation and domestic demand, including tourism. The reuse of water can relieve that pressure by keeping wastewater within the water cycle and use it for the irrigation of gardens and agricultural fields, the fertilisation of crops or for the fulfilment of certain needs for households and industry, which may include treatment to reach drinking water standards.