Water: Environmental Challenges
Current usage patterns place a strain on water infrastructure and services, and on the environment.
DRINKING (POTABLE) WATER SYSTEMS
- Using potable water for activities other than human consumption can place a great strain on water supplies. Drinking quality water is often used for landscape irrigation, vehicle washing, and other activities that do not require potable water. At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortages by 2014.
- Water shortages due to increasing populations placing heavier demands on natural water sources. The problem can be exacerbated by periodic droughts resulting in: rationing, transportation costs to provide water from sources beyond the local region, negative impacts on ecosystems and aquatic and terrestrial fauna, increasing cost of acquisition, especially for communities that buy their water from other entities.
- Water sources are increasingly polluted by a wide range of human activities, including agricultural runoff, poorly managed landfills, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, septic tanks, improper disposal of household chemicals, and industrial waste discharges. Polluted water requires higher energy and economic costs for treatment to meet safety standards.
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems allow the sanitary sewer system to provide additional capacity for storm water runoff during heavy precipitation events. However, this has led to sewage discharges in communities during heavy rains, posing risks to human health and natural ecosystems.
STORM WATER SYSTEMS
- Impervious surfaces increase the quantity of storm water run off thus contributing to urban flooding, stream bank erosion, and the prevention water from replenishing natural ground and surface water sources.
- Impervious surfaces degrade the quality of storm water runoff by making it easier for litter and other surface pollutants to be washed into the drainage system.
ALL WATER SYSTEMS
- Aging infrastructure - Cities can lose up to 30% of its treated drinking water through leaks in delivery pipes.
- Water plays a critical role in energy production (for example, electricity uses water to turn turbines for hydropower or produce steam for thermoelectric power). Water scarcity will therefore lead to higher energy costs as reflecting the increase in production costs for utility companies.
- Traditional water treatment processes rely on chlorine and other chemicals for disinfection. However, these chemicals can themselves be harmful to the environment and human health in sufficient quantities.