Preparing now for future drought can cost less than waiting until problems arrive
Climate warming has brought more frequent and persistent droughts that threaten humans and ecosystems around the world. To safeguard agriculture, energy production, health, biodiversity, and other vital interests, we’ll have to manage drought-associated risks better, and the best way to address them is preemptively.
Considering the expense, it’s not easy to do this, but how much more is a reactive stance likely to cost than a proactive one? The Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit that runs the global disclosure system for environmental impacts, estimates that inaction in the face of water risk costs businesses five times more than preparation. It’s time to act — how can we address drought risk right now?
Stop Wasting Water With Reuse
Nowadays, there’s little sense in using precious drinking water for tasks that can be accomplished with safely treated, nonpotable effluent.
Irrigated agriculture, which uses approximately 70% of the world’s fresh water, can stop waste with water reuse, which has been expanding greatly in recent years. In some cases, recycled effluent supplies 100% of agricultural water demand without depleting natural groundwater resources.
Industrial operations also are good candidates for nonpotable reuse, and can use treated wastewater streams for processes, cleaning, blowdown, HVAC systems, and more.
Communities can establish reuse programs for their wastewater, including so-called purple pipe networks that distribute treated effluent for nonpotable applications.
Many hotels and resorts now reuse their domestic, kitchen, and laundry wastewater for golf course or landscape irrigation; for filling fountains and lagoons; washing walkways, drives, and buildings; and for flushing toilets.
On the cay of Great Exuma in the Bahamas, for instance, a Seven Seas Water Group wastewater treatment system reuses a resort’s wastewater to irrigate a golf course on an island that couldn’t otherwise support one.
Another enormous but often invisible source of water waste is leakage. Ofwat, the United Kingdom’s water services regulation authority, has reported the extent of water lost to leakage. In 2021-22, water firms in England and Wales lost an average of 2,923.8 million liters of water per day to leaks, and the problem is only getting worse as repairs and replacement are put off.
A decentralized strategy presents an important alternative to replacing leaking pipelines. By placing smaller plants around a service area to shoulder the same load as a large, central plant, the necessity for long pipe runs can be eliminated. That’s good news for initial infrastructure costs, but the savings can increase over time because shorter pipe runs and the smaller-gauge pipe required make leak detection and repairs less problematic.
Regardless of the path taken to water efficiency, entities that can use less water to do more will achieve higher levels of drought resilience.
In areas with access to seawater, a thoughtfully planned and sited desalination plant can provide all the water needed with little environmental impact. A Seven Seas desalination plant on Trinidad solved a water crisis on the island while earning high praise for its low environmental impact.
Seawater is only practical near coastlines and on islands, but brackish water, which is abundant in the United States, is another promising source. In fact, in the U.S. there is 800 times more brackish groundwater than fresh groundwater. It’s also easier to desalinate. A Seven Seas brackish desalination plant in Alice, Texas, is on track to deliver a new, local source of drinking water for a city that has long depended on a piped-in water supply.
Seven Seas’ Water-as-a-Service® is providing the plant through a P3 arrangement, which eliminated upfront cost and guarantees delivered water at a lower price than the city already pays.
Whether the goal is addressing water risk through water efficiency, developing a new source of water, or both, Seven Seas is ready with flexible P3, BOO, and BOOT financing to deliver and maintain drought resilience over the long haul. Contact us to learn more.
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