Giving Compass' Take:

• According to recent research, recycled wastewater could help improve efficiency in making potable drinking water in cities. 

• How will this research revolutionize the way we think about water consumption in urban areas? How could it help rural towns? 

• Read about wastewater reuse efforts in India for more innovative ideas. 

Using Houston as a model, researchers developed a plan that could reduce the need for surface water (from rivers, reservoirs, or wells) by 28% by recycling wastewater to make it drinkable once again.

While the energy cost needed for future advanced purification systems would be significant, researchers say the savings from supplementing fresh water shipped from a distance with the “direct potable reuse” of municipal wastewater would more than make up for the expense.

And the water would be better to boot.

A report on the comprehensive model of the environmental and economic impact and benefits of such a system appears in Nature Sustainability.

It shows how engineers can enhance Houston’s planned reconfiguration of its current wastewater treatment system, which will eventually consolidate the number of treatment plants from 39 to 12, to “future-proof” water distribution in the city.

“All the technologies needed to treat wastewater to drinking water quality are available,” says corresponding author Qilin Li, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, materials science and nanoengineering, and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University.

“The issue is that today, they’re still pretty expensive. So a very important part of the paper is to look at how cheap the technology needs to become in order for the whole thing to make sense financially and energy-wise.”

“Another way to improve potable water would be to cut its travel time,” Li says. Water delivered through a system with many distribution points would pick up fewer chemical and biological contaminants en route.

The model shows a tradeoff will always exist between the acquisition of potable water, the energy required to treat it, the cost of transporting it without affecting its quality, and attempts to find a reasonable balance between those factors.

For the new study, researchers evaluated these conflicting objectives and exhaustively examined all possibilities to find systems that strike a balance.

Read the full article about recycled wastewater by Mike Williams at Futurity.