Water scarcity is a global issue and must be addressed with as many approaches as there are regions on earth. Desalination in the Middle East would not be practical for isolated farmland in America. Singapore’s urban recycling and reuse campaign would be less successful in the arid Australian outback.
Here are some local actions that are expected to bring more clean water where it is needed.
United States in Need of Infrastructure Improvements
In the United States, where decaying infrastructure threatens urban areas and fossil aquifers lose irreplaceable resources daily, solutions are actively sought. In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, The American Society of Civil Engineers graded the U.S. drinking water system at a “D” and wastewater earned a “D+.”
“Because America’s drinking water infrastructure provides a critical service, significant new investment and increased efficiencies are needed as filtration plants, pipes and pumps age past their useful life,” the report states. “Every day, nearly 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water are lost due to leaking pipes, with an estimated 240,000 water main breaks occurring each year.”
The report cards point out:
- According to the American Water Works Association, upgrading existing water systems to meet the drinking water needs of a growing population will require at least $1 trillion.
- By 2032 it is expected that 56 million more people will connect to centralized treatment plants, rather than private septic systems—a 23 percent increase in demand.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that at least 23,000 to 75,000 sanitary sewer overflows occur in the U.S. each year.
While most Washington, D.C., insiders say an infrastructure bill is unlikely in 2018, President Trump did send a framework for legislation to Congress. The proposal encourages comprehensive legislation that would impact water and wastewater systems, waterways, water resources, energy and rural infrastructure. It includes items on expanded water infrastructure financing and encourages privatization of the water sector. If passed, tax-exempt bonds would continue to apply to facilities including those that furnish clean water, sewage treatment and solid waste disposal, and would expand bond privileges to hydroelectrically power generating, flood control and stormwater facilities.
Life-Saving Pump Helps Haitians, Others in Developing Nations
At the base of the mountains of arid Northwest Haiti is a remote village called Moulin. Several years ago, the stream it relied on dried up. A rainwater cistern was installed at a school, but the water is often thick with algae and debris. Rain falls only every three to six months here. For communities like Moulin, a hand pump is often the best option.
“We drilled a well [in Moulin], and we’re at 423 feet at this well—that’s the deepest we’ve ever drilled—and we think we have a fair amount of water there,” said Bruce Robinson, a missionary engineer to Haiti who implements infrastructure improvements in communities like Moulin. “The problem is the normal hand pumps are only good to about 150 feet. You can put them in at 250 feet [but] they’re going to break all the time. There’s really nothing to put in at 300 or 400 feet.”
This summer, however, Moulin will receive new technology that will provide them with safe and reliable water. They will receive the first LifePump150, a progressive cavity hand pump specifically engineered to reach water at depths of 500 feet (150 meters).
“We’re really excited that we’re going to be able to put this LifePump in,” Robinson said. “Nobody in the world has a hand pump that’ll go to 400 feet.”
LifePump150 is based on the original LifePump, a hand pump developed by engineering nonprofit Design Outreach (DO). DO’s mission is to use engineering research and development to design tools and technologies that can help alleviate global poverty.
SEEPEX’s then-president and now president emeritus, Mike Dillon, first partnered with DO co-founder Greg Bixler to design the LifePump and begin production of its key components, rotors and stators.
The original LifePump reaches depths of 325 feet (100 meters), twice the depth of typical hand pumps. Because of persistent drought and dropping water tables, many rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and in Haiti do not have yearlong access to safe water. LifePump was engineered to reach deeper and last longer than standard hand pumps, giving these communities a source of safe water they can rely on.
“SEEPEX has developed a new, lightweight composite stator material that not only helps to reach the deeper water, but it also makes the hand crank easier to turn,” said Mark Brooks, research and development engineer at SEEPEX. “The part is also now easier to transport. That’s one thing we had to consider with this design because we knew traditional shipping methods like trucks weren’t always possible, and villagers would be walking or biking the parts to their destinations.”
The progressive cavity design—which uses a rotor and stator to create pressure that moves progressing pockets of water toward the surface without losing prime—is what allows LifePump to reach such great depths while remaining ergonomic and easy to operate by hand. LifePump150’s even-wall stator distinguishes it from the original design.
Currently, LifePumps are installed in six countries: Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Haiti. This year, DO celebrates the five-year anniversary of its first LifePump installation.
“It has to make you feel good to know that some of what we do does make a big difference to some people,” Dillon said.
DO’s long-term plan is to install 25 more LifePumps in Haiti. This plan also includes establishing a supply chain, forging new partnerships and training more local technicians on LifePump installation and maintenance. The organization also plans to collect pump data and study the impact of continuous water supply in these communities.
Article contributed by Amelia Messamore, development coordinator for Design Outreach.
Olympics Shed Light on Brazil’s Water Challenges
As host country of the 2016 Olympics, Brazil faced some very public water and wastewater challenges.
Raw sewage plagued waterways. Promised infrastructure improvements went unaddressed. Headlines blared health warnings like this one from The Independent: “Swimmers need to ingest only three teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus.”
Since the Olympics, more issues have come to light. Poor fishing communities ply their trade in filthy waters where the wildlife is dying. Five million of its 205 million residents lack access to safe water, and 25 million lack proper sanitation, according to water.org. “For those who do have access … supply downtime, disruption in service and deficiencies in drinking water systems remain challenging,” the organization says.
Meanwhile, rainfall shortages in southeast Brazil worsened what has been called the biggest drought there in 80 years. While the last 18 months have seen more precipitation, the crisis prompted citizens to look for solutions.
The future is looking a little brighter for the country as numerous pump companies set up or expand offices there. The International Desalination Association held its annual World Congress in Sao Paulo in 2017, shining a light on opportunities in the region. Groups like water.org are bringing microfinance markets to help communities find the resources for improvement. Changes in farming practices and deforestation offer some hope for the future, but there remains much to overcome.
South Africa Faces Day Zero in Cape Town
Due to a lack of rainfall, Cape Town is experiencing critically low water levels in the dams that provide drinking water to the city. The city is focusing on Day Zero, the day that the dam levels reach 13.5 percent and the municipality will take control of the water supply to avoid full depletion. Earlier this year, Day Zero was predicted to occur in April 2018. Thanks to a variety of mitigating factors, including reduced usage by citizens and businesses and water donations, Day Zero had been pushed out to 2019 at the time of press.
One approach authorities are taking to increase water supplies is groundwater extraction. According to capetown.gov.za, authorities drill deep holes to access water catchment areas underground, then put pumps in the well to bring the water to the surface, creating aquifers.
Cape Town officials have implemented a Level 6B water restriction, meaning individuals can use only 50 liters of water per day (the equivalent of 13 gallons). The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the average person in the U.S. uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day.
South African authorities also plan to try the desalination approach. While there are already desalination plants in other parts of the country, Cape Town has selected seven sites for future plants. They intend to use both land-based plants and sea-based desalination barges to form sweater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plants.
Other African Countries Gaining Access to Water
With more than 1.2 billion people on the continent of Africa—roughly double the population of North America—the need for access to clean drinking water is paramount. From the desert of the Sahara to the grasslands of the savanna, the variety of landscapes on the continent is as varied as the types of water sources. Sadly, one thing many African countries have in common is the challenge of harnessing clean drinking water. According to The Water Project, 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to improved, reliable drinking water sources.
In rural areas of Africa, many people have the challenge of walking for miles to find a water source. The Water Project says women and girls make up 72 percent of those who must fetch water daily; 40 billion hours of labor per year are lost in sub-Saharan Africa by people who must spend time collecting water instead.
Pump companies and other organizations are working to combat the variety of water challenges throughout the continent, such as installing and training communities in more rural settings on using pumps. Franklin Electric, for example, has helped install a system that uses solar panels to power a pump and motor, drawing groundwater to the surface. The company says the system has been ideal in remote areas “where delivering water is impractical due to the availability of electricity.”
Franklin’s Wells for the World Foundation addressed needs in several African communities in 2017. Here are more details on these projects.
Jabulani Camp, Ladysmith, South Africa: Jabulani Camp is an organization that operates with project managers, facilitators and volunteers from the local community. They train women groups and youth groups, focusing on 16 schools, reaching 3,200 teenagers in poor communities and 2,000 women, who care for 10,000 family members in local communities. They have community gardens, each with 10 to 20 members, supplying food for 50 to 100 family members. Due to three years of drought, the existing well ran dry. While rain has picked back up, the water supply had yet to replenish.
Chimwara Co-Operative School, Zimbabwe: The Chimwara School was formed by the community in 2001. Chimwara is run and managed by the community and parents. The school covers first through seventh grades. Funding of all books and literature is provided by the community from crop production and livestock sales. The school previously had a well run by an inefficient gas generator that could only be used when funds were available for fuel, as well as one electrical pump situated far from the community that was extremely expensive to maintain.
Molo Primary School, Tororo District, Uganda: Molo Primary School was founded in 1936. The original shelter used was grass thatched, but later, in 1953, was replaced with a four-classroom block. Currently, the school has five classroom blocks with a total of 11 classrooms, two offices, a store and a nursery. Previously, the nearest source of water for the school was a community well with a hand pump more than a half mile (1 km) away, from which the entire community of about 6,000 people collected water.
Tuba Primary School, Tororo District, Uganda: Tuba Primary School, founded in 1942, has 11 qualified teachers and over 650 students. The population for the Tuba community, Kiporo Zone, is estimated at 3,500. Tuba Primary School is located 10 miles (16 km) away. The previous water supply was an inadequate borehole with a hand pump that was more than 650 feet (200 meters) away.
Sanayi Bright Primary School, Sanayi Wakiso District, Uganda: Sanayi Bright Primary School was founded in 1966 and has 10 teachers and 300 students. The previous water source was a hand-dug shallow well containing contaminated water approximately a half mile (1 km) away. School children and teachers had to leave over an hour early to retrieve water before school, which greatly affected school attendance.
Queensland Region Continues to Suffer from Drought
In several areas of Australia where drought still plagues much of the land, a program implemented by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development is expected to help people whose work opportunities have been adversely affected.
As of March, rain shortages have increased inland and in western Queensland, according to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. The deficiencies also exist on the east coast of New South Wales. While some heavy rainfalls came earlier in the year, they did little to help overcome the shortfalls in the areas of Australia that have experienced serious or severe droughts, the bureau stated.
The Drought Communities Program hopes to target projects that “stimulate local community spending, use local resources, businesses and suppliers, and/or provide a long-lasting benefit to communities and the agricultural industries on which they depend,” according to the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competiveness White Paper, which is the government’s plan to grow agriculture. The plan includes $35 million for these local infrastructure projects and is a ripe opportunity for investment in water efficiency and innovation projects.
According to a report in The Australian newspaper in January, drought was officially declared more than five years ago and has affected two-thirds of Queensland. The newspaper reported that the state government has handed out $140 million in drought assistance, and while the proportion of the state affected has fallen from 87 percent at the beginning of 2017, thousands of farmers and graziers are still suffering.
The Pacific Institute, a global water think tank based in California, said Cape Town can learn from how Australia handled the Millennium Drought, which gripped the continent from 1996 to 2010.
“The Australian experience shows that investment in water conservation options provided the cheapest, quickest and most effective contribution to managing demand during the drought,” said professor Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. He added that the continent survived the Millennium Drought also by relying on new innovations, water planning and management.