One Water: Promoting Circularity in the Global Water Cycle

Art Umble, SVP & Director Stantec Institute for Water Technology & Policy at Stantec will present at the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit in London in February. Ahead of the summit he shares his view on a circular water economy. 

Achieving global sustainability in water requires a thorough understanding of the global water cycle and how as a single entity—One Water—interacts with economic growth and development via its numerous physical forms.

Promoting circular economy principles is core to securing a sustainable planet in the decades to come – and to do so, societies must embrace circularity now. Circularity requires, on the one hand, abandoning the linear model of resource material extraction, manufactured production, product use, and end-of-service-life disposal. And on the other, its refurbishing and recycling end-of-life products back into the economy for continued like-service or different uses, while capturing wastes that occur throughout life cycles and converting those into usable products. Nowhere is this closing of loops more critical to sustainability than in our global water environment.

Water’s influence on global economy is perhaps most notable through its role in agriculture and industry, particularly energy generation. Shifts to high-efficiency crop irrigation methods and mechanics (drip irrigation, furrow/flood irrigation, subirrigation, no-tillage farming, etc.) around the globe is integrating more circularity into the water cycle. But it is energy production – which is the lifeblood of global economic growth – that poses the greatest challenge to water sustainability due to water’s direct nexus with energy. Energy generation relies heavily on vast volumes of water for system cooling and makeup. This water is obtained from both surface and groundwater sources, a strong competitor to water needs in other economic sectors. Therefore, expediting the transition of our energy matrix to renewables such as wind, solar, hydropower, and tidal which do not consume water; and binary cycle geothermal, which operates in a closed loop water cycle; all relieve pressure from the water-energy nexus. This opens avenues for water to be utilized more sustainably in supporting economic development and growth, the most critical of these being fit-for-purpose water reuse at both macro and micro scales.

The reuse of used water is essential in a circular economy. This is particularly true for urban areas where water exists in numerous forms: groundwater, direct rainfall, catchment runoff, and municipal and industrial gray and black wastewaters. Technology exists to treat any of these waters to a level of quality appropriate to meet any variety of non-potable and potable end uses ranging from industrial to residential. In so doing, stress on the fragile ecological water cycle from extraction of freshwater from the natural environment is significantly reduced. Here again, however, when traditional reuse treatment technologies are applied, such as reverse osmosis (RO), the nexus between water and energy reappears, resulting in high energy demands to treat water to reuse qualities. Non-RO solutions, such as Ozone with Biologically Active Carbon, remove excessive energy demands, while promoting closed loop circularity. These types of solutions must be strongly promoted if a sustainable water future is to be achieved.

The firm grip that global economic development and growth hold over water is not a sustainable future.  The dependency must be decoupled. Transitioning to reliance on renewable energy sources and being laser-focused on promoting the continuous reuse of all water classes—One Water—are the two most important actions in which societies must engage. In doing so, global economic growth is guaranteed while the water environment cycle flourishes.

We’re excited to welcome Art to the summit in London next February – join his presentation on ‘Climate Resilience: Creating a Circular Water Economy with Potable Reuse Technology’ at 10am GMT Feb 22, followed by his panel discussion on ‘Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach to Drought Resilience’ at 10.05am GMT. 

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