Difficulty accessing water of suitable and sufficient quality for domestic, industrial, and agricultural needs has become an issue of growing concern in various parts of the world. There is an increased demand for water and short supply, significantly caused by underinvestment in water supply system infrastructure and water pollution; this has raised doubts about the efficiency of the centralized water treatment and distribution system used in many modern countries. This paper will discuss the challenges affecting water reliability and security and how technology and institutions can work hand in hand to solve them.
Environmental water can be defined as any legally available water through various allocation and legislative means (Horne et al., 2018). Environmental water management encompasses the allocation process, determination, implementation, and management of environmental water. It operates based on a spectrum between Passive, Active, Legal rights for the environment and Conditions on others. Horne et al. (2018) state local nuances; however, environmental water is allocated Legally or Hydrologically. When different decisions on environmental water are required due to changes in the seasonal condition and water availability, active management is preferred as it is a more flexible approach. In contrast, in passive management, environmental options are limited and thus must be determined prior and set as rules.
The 2014 sustainable groundwater management act is a prime example of how environmental water is managed legally. The act directs local water consumers to settle their water basins into long-term balance before the onset of the 2040s to prevent groundwater scarcity in California (Ayres & Hanak 2021). The government of California is implementing efficient water use measures to improve consumptive outputs and save water through relocation of water with priority given to the higher-value uses (Ayres & Hanak 2021). Water banking and trading require approvals to ensure that the shifting of water is harmless to the people and the environment. Processes of water banking and trading should be streamlined and smart while maintaining the protection rights of the environment and the user. The upgrading of infrastructure allows for the efficient navigation and distribution of water at the correct times.
Decentralization of treatment and reuse of sewage and rainwater reduce water scarcity by supplementing conventional water supply and ensure equal water distribution. Zodrow et al. (2017) show that the surplus water from reclaimed wastewater and rainwater coupled with the distribution of the reuse facilities locations will improve the water infrastructure resiliency such as the quick recovery from or disruption in regular operation such as equipment failure or flash floods. Decentralization boosts system resiliency as any breakdown in the system would only affect a limited Populus (SSZodrow et al., 2017). The concept of efficiently using environmental water is still novel. In most applications, there has been a particular emphasis on the use of infrastructure to allocate environmental water; thus, smaller volumes of water can stretch their ecological use.
Unequal distribution of water
In other places, unequal water distribution warranted a solution that addresses the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of both current and future water supply system infrastructure by integrating decentralized treatment and reusing facilities that ensure the treated water quality matches the intended use. The treatment facilities are integrated into existing water networks closer to the end-users (Zodrow et al., 2017). The integration significantly reduces the energy, supply cost, and distance required to transport water over long distances. Despite this, the approach struggles due to inadequate funding to maintain and upgrade worn-out water infrastructure, as well as technological and institutional inhibitors. These include utilities’ risk prevention and potential political, regulatory, and social barriers exacerbated by the financial difficulty of maintaining and upgrading worn-out water infrastructure. Zodrow et al. (2017) show that there have been several developments in treatment processes, modern and network science that promote reevaluating and improving the resiliency and efficiency of water infrastructure. The results support hybrid distributed water supply systems and fit-for-purpose water treatment facilities. Still, they rely on optimization to achieve treatment goals, comprehensive system designs, improved infrastructure, and enabling technologies.
The current water infrastructure allows independent centralized water and wastewater treatment systems. These antiquated systems distribute water for diverse use then collect and treat wastewater for later release after treating freshwater to potable quality. Zodrow et al. (2017) assert that centralized infrastructure is cost-effective if it is adopted to a well-preserved water source, an effective distribution network, and healthy surface water bodies to receive treated wastewater. Since the current centralized infrastructure faces high energy demand and water quality deterioration associated with transporting potable water across an extensive, often faulty pipe network, it is exacerbated by insufficient investments in system maintenance and expansion (Zodrow et al., 2017). These developments are increasingly necessary as the aging water infrastructure endangers public health. Efforts to preserve economic development and quality of life are negatively affected by the undependable supply, high water cost, or the high energy cost required to treat and deliver it.
Local operation centers can improve oversight over distributed treatment facilities and synchronize with centralized facilities to meet fluctuating water needs to address this challenge depending on local wastewater and stormwater (Zodrow et al., 2017). Wastewater and stormwater from a small area would be collected, treated, and disinfected at the same distributed treatment facility, according to the local nonpotable water requirements (Zodrow et al., 2017). Centralized facilities differ from the current treatment approach as different systems collect and treat various influent streams. In this case, better infrastructure for treatment and distribution is necessary.
Technological means (such as the integrated water and solid treatment plan in Tuas) are used to curb water pollution, reduce water-related risks, increase economic welfare, enhance social equity, and attain long-term sustainability. According to Zodrow et al. (2017), access to water of sufficient and suitable quality for industrial, domestic, and agricultural purposes is a growing issue globally. In Tuas, located in the western region of Singapore, the government is constructing its first integrated water and solid waste treatment facility that will help maximize optimal resource, energy, and land use. The integrated facility boasts energy self-sufficiency through harnessing synergies from both facilities (the water and solid waste treatment facilities), thus reducing Singapore’s annual carbon dioxide output (Lim 2020). The plant receives wastewater streams from domestic and industrial areas via two separate deep tunnels for treatment, enabling efficient treatment of industrial wastewater for industrial use, thus preventing cross-contamination. Lim (2020) states that the enhanced wastewater treatment protects downstream ecosystems by reducing contaminant discharge into the environment. The water reclamation plant comes equipped with the largest membrane bioreactor, which makes it more energy-efficient via eliminating the need for a long sea outfall, thus conserving and reducing energy consumption.
The ministry of environment and water resources has put in place various plans to overhaul the used water supply systems to meet the growing water needs and ensure efficient, effective, and safe water supply and sewerage systems. The minister of environment and water resources launched the deep tunnel sewage system (DTSS), which will convey wastewater to the Tuas facility and ensure that every drop of used water is reused (Teh 2019). The DTSS will benefit Singapore’s economy since it will provide about 150 hectares of land by phasing out the older water reclamation plants and pumping stations.
Water is a crucial resource required in almost every aspect of daily life, from simple drinking water to the water needed for agricultural purposes. Water reliability and security are thus of utmost importance but come under constant threat from various challenges such as water scarcity, contamination, and unequal distribution of water. There are several technological and institutional methods of solving these challenges, such as the decentralization of water supply systems, formation and implementation of new policies and legislation that aid with water distribution and conservation, the construction of modern wastewater reclamation facilities, and the construction of contemporary wastewater reclamation facilities uphauling water supply system infrastructure. These technological and institutional methods work in tandem to ensure water reliability and security and that water is used efficiently and effectively.
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