Characteristics of the Global Water Crisis

Freshwater is a scarce resource (only 1% is easily accessible), but clean water is an even bigger problem that affects 1 in 3 people. Water is also a serious public health concern with waterborne diseases being one of the world’s leading killers.

When thinking of the Global Water Crisis, what factors should we consider - examples may include geography, populations, climate, sewage, and so on?

One angles to explore in relation to the problem would be to examine the price of water globally and what impact could this have on R&D/innovation in water-intensive processes (such as water used to cool power plants).

We know that water is wasted, and despite this we continue many inefficient practices. What if the global price was higher? When input costs rise, businesses are forced to invest in developing lower cost alternatives/inputs that can act as substitutes in a process. What should the price of water be?

Also, what are some of the other most water-intensive processes across sectors/industries?

@eve_pytel, @ATRatner, @dhanasreej, you may have thoughts on this topic.

We just started designing a prize to incentivize the creation of community-scale and net-zero devices that optimize the safe and decentralized reclamation of water from the grid and natural water bodies in order to make safe drinking water universally accessible and eliminate the risk of exposure to contaminated wastewater. You can learn more about this prize design here. I hope you’ll join the discussion!

When looking at the global water crisis, we’re also trying to examine some populations that are disproportionately affected by the challenges surrounding access to clean water and exposure to waste or contaminated water.

An XPRIZE competition tries to leave no one behind!

  • Which groups should we consider?
  • How are they impacted by the global water crisis?
  • Any interesting case studies of specific communities we should be examining?

An important characteristics of the global water challenge is institutional. More water is available than people imagine, and technology and practices are available to capture it and achieve drinking water quality. For example, simple boiling or exposure to sunlight can disinfect water and make it safe. Cost is also not often the barriers, as the cost of conventional piped water supplies can be an order of magnitude lower than the cost from water vendors in slums, which is the water supply for millions. And, for those who have to spend time fetching water, the lost productivity and lost opportunity (girls not going to school) greatly outweighs the cost of conventional systems. Technology alone is not the answer - if it was we would have a much more positive situation.

Thus, a key characteristics of the global water crisis is that solutions must not only be technologically reasonable and cost-effective, but they must be compatible with the relevant cultural settings. In this, I find that the concept that “if we only find the right technology this problem will be solved” is an impediment to progress. A key characteristic of the global water crisis is that it is not largely a technology problems, and especially it cannot be solved by technological solutions alone.

@gdaigger Thank you for your comment; you raise a very interesting concept of the complex understanding of cost. Along similar lines, when considering what should the output of the system be – non-potable or potable – non-potable water may cost less to treat. Still, additional costs occur when we begin to consider the infrastructure needed (i.e., gray water pipes) to ensure public and environmental safety.

Indeed, the cost-effective aspect is significant in increasing the reuse of water. Could you share some thoughts over how we should approach calculating the effectiveness of solutions or what benchmarks we can use?

I guess we should also look on how the economical production of goods is relate to the water loss or water use in the countries with the biggest water problems. I think the countries with waterscarcity are also the countries with mass production (crops, meat, Flowers, etc.). The mass production of goods is often related to the water scarcity. We should statistical prove the relation - the change between 1980/1970 and today.
Also when did the water problem began?

For the water Systems (potable and sewage): we should prove or try to prove the local small water Treatment possibilities. Also the green-energy use for water Treatment shall be considered and checked.

For sewage we should of course try to maximize vegetal/natural-WWTPs plants in many remote regions. Since sewage is related to the viral increase of the drinking water in many remote regions a focus of this Topic shall be done. Since there are always small amount of inhabitants it is often considered as not important. Since water reservoirs and river systems as wel as coastal lines become poor in Quality and quantity it should become important. A big issue for this poor Quality is often untreated sewage.

For big WWTPs of course we should consider the extension of this plants with Sludge-energy production. Often WWTPs can run with non extra power but only the power produced by the Sludge fermentation.

@delia Thank you for your interesting comments! We actually began looking specifically into Water Reuse for the exact reason you mentioned - because the water crisis is not just access to water, but also the risks involved with untreated wastewater. We also began looking into decentralized systems due to some of the reasons you’ve mentioned – and we are debating about the quality and energy (maybe NetZero?).

Can you share additional insights on benefits of increasing the quality, i.e., potable water quality will have more use cases? and more specifically, to your knowledge - does decentralized black to potable possible, feasible or already here?

@gdaigger your comments examining the cultural compatibility of technology as it relates to adoption is really interesting for understanding why water reclamation systems aren’t more widely adopted.

Would you say that is a key barrier in advanced wastewater treatment technology adoption?

We’ve heard from experts that the “ick factor” as it relates to public perception in adopting wastewater reuse is hugely significant as to why these technologies aren’t adopted.

Do you know of any studies that analyze how public perception can lead to adoption or dismissal of the technologies??

@delia We are very interested in the interconnection of water problems. We know that in a treatment system, the sludge and even the byproducts of the treatment process can create additional, or different types of contamination.

Do you know any examples of Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plants which are focusing on net-zero (energy, waste, and byproducts)? If not, who do you think is employing the best practices?

Good Day to everyone!
It is a pleasure to be part of this group.
Suitable methods for decentralized safe drinking supply should be selected based on the following criteria (Banerji and Chaudhari 2017):
• Simple to operate (should not require specially trained personnel)
• Robust (should not break down often and give consistent performance)
• Low cost (cost of treatment should be low as the villagers have low average income)
• Able to function without electricity
• Based on local resources and skills
• Accessible to community and women’s groups or the village elders
• Consider safe methods for sludge disposal (if applicable).

I would say these are well-known. What should be considered is the assessment of the water quality. It should be possible everywhere to analytically check to quality of (raw and) treated water. We are still here discussing on affordable methods because so many technologies have been said efficient but have not been monitored on the field or have not been tested for sufficient (long) time before recommendation.
Have a nice week-end!

I have not given the reference for Banerji and Chaudhari (2017):
Banerji T., Chaudhari S. (2017): A cost-effective technology for arsenic removal: Case study of zerovalent iron-based IIT Bombay arsenic filter in west Bengal. In: Nath, K., Sharma, V. (Eds.), Water and Sanitation in the New Millennium. Springer, New Delhi.

I agree with Gdaigger that technology is not all. But we need at first affordable solutions. Cultural settings are also secondary. As an example, I must always read that some people are “not ready to drink water from bone char filters”. The question is which culture can prefer people suffering from fluorisis? It suffices to conduct a real information campaign and even the most “radical” believers would know which choice to operate. The same argument is valid for institutional issues. Let ask institutions why they are not providing drinking water to own people, while the global community has defeated cholera and other water related diseases more that 170 years ago. Moreover, the used technology (SSF) is not only efficient but also affordable to each community.

Hello Everyone,

@Eti &Jordan I will answer your Questions Little later afer work :wink:

@technical Solutions DW = I think the most important thing is to find solutions easy to maintain and operate as well as poor investment costs and operational costs. This is always the problem in remote areas or poor countries. Even if we construct a 1A Plant for free nobody can operate it or pay the costs for the energy and it will be adandoned after short time. There are few good concepts for handling this problem. We should think about combinations of water treatment - reuse - waste water reuse - energy effective methods - poor operation costs - poor energy input. Since there is no method solving the problem 100% I think the combination of technical/natural solutions shall be focused on

I get back to you guys later today

All the best

@Eti Your Question if is possible black to potable….yes of Course it is but unfortunately a Liter of water would cost then Maybe 100€ :slight_smile:
I was more thinking of combined Systems where Fresh water is used ….the household waste water is used for exp Irrigation after a mechanical treatment stage and so on. Also, rain water Management has a big influence on the areas water availability. On my knowledge there is no system applicable for every type of region. For this prize event I suggest to look for combined solutions for managing the drinking water, waste water, waste, Energy, Pollution in general in remote Areas where this can quickly become a life threatening issue.

@Caroline: Which Groups should we consider?.. On my experience the pacific Islands are in a very critical condition related to these Topics. Since, this people are very dependent on help due to the Climate changing events these groups should be considered in this project. As well, we might focus on main problem countries like India or Bangladesh, Indonesia.

General: I suggest also to consider the education of people related to water and waste and how everything is connected. Realizing/Understanding the Problem “you shit where you eat/drink” can sometimes solve many problems and also brings the understanding for people why Environment and taking care is important for a better life.

Wish you all a great evening!

Good day everyone

I am still thinking about factors to consider and to also contribute finally work towards the good work Xprize is doing in terms of a prize design. Some stuff that came up so far in my mind. There are many forms a design prize can take but then maybe one must also considering putting some aspects in specific categories:
a) Communication in terms of raising awareness is a topic that don’t gets easily addressed. We also say we have a water crisis but if we look at it scientifically, water is all around us since it is part of a cycle. Then if we look at it again, we can say of sort that we have actually don’t necessarily have a water crisis but a crisis understanding the importance of water. If we get people more aware, then we will also get more support.
b) Different areas or areas of specialization surrounding the water crisis also needs to be look at. When someone design a prize, will one look at all factors i.e. water harvesting as well as making water safe to drink or just focus on one factor at a time? In case of making water potable or safe to drink there are a few practices but then quality should also be addressed when assessing for example: observe using fluoride vs. chloride. Different areas also may exist with regards to sewage water and/or desalination for farming use. In case of desalination of sea water another factor may comes into play. The sea covers much of the earth but how sure are we that we will not negatively impact for say micro organisms that forms indicator species in food chains, over time. Someone may also decides one day we can just go cut of a chunk of Antartica and towed it to a country and as it melts we have water but we know little of the organisms that are bound to Antartic waters and that we subsequently release into ecosystems.
c) Testing and final model presentation. I myself had a problem in that I struggled with funding. In the end I could not build a functional model simply because of a lack of money. Is there a way prize designers can try to accommodate some teams. Machine learning has been coming on sometime now but I don’t know yet of a simulation model (and I also doubt this) that one can use to work the small kinks in a design by running it first in an artificial environment but just maybe maybe someone somewhere knows. This could save some money because then you save on time and money building actual real life prototypes. Another option is to expose prize participants to some interested investors. Many companies these days have corporate social investment responsibility practices. In some countries if you donate to a worthy cause you may even get some money back from your country tax offices but can prize participants who struggle maybe be schooled or exposed to some interested donators.

This is definitively something we’re planning to do! Once a prize is awarded, we help the winner(s) find investors and partners to help them scale.

@ Jordan: You asked for examples of advanced WWTPs focusing on net-zero……….
Especially in western Europe it is a state of the art to build WWTPs including Sludge Fermentation and Energy production. Mostly this plant is energy self-sufficient. Since for big WWTPs lots of heavy metals and Hormones, drugs etc are included this Sludge must be burned after Energy win.

For small WWTPs in rural areas it is therefore important that only Household-wastewater is introduced. Then the sludge can be used for agriculture.
When I think of small WWTPs i think of vegetal beds where there are very little technical equipments installed - it can be also made without any electrical energy input. It is always a question of how many inhabitants are connected as well as the local conditions in generall.
If this type of plants need technical equipment it is mostly for one pump or for aeration. This can be done by solar or wind energy since the Input is not very big. We can discuss this in our meeting on monday.

For the insights of benefits of quality increase on my opinion there is more in waste water. Since WW contamine the drinking water bodies or water wells it must be seen as a closed system and can not be treated apart.
Also agriculture has a lot of influence on drinking water as well as the waste management in generall.
For DW i think we must concentrate on small energy Input Systems because here we have always treatments where a lot of energy Input is needed. Also it can not be seen alone since it depends on local energy production possibilities a.s.o

This Topic is just so big and related to so many things…it is hard to give a generall answer. I hope it helps you a little and we will come to a great result.

Wish you all a great day

Wow, thank you @delia, @Earthphoenix, and @Chicno for your insightful responses.

@Chicno, you bring up a great point when considering political will to provide clean, fresh water in the first place. You used the acronym SSF in regards to current technology, can you unpack that? I’m not familiar with this term. Thank you!!

@delia: We’d be very interested to know which waste to energy plant you feel is utilizing the most exciting technology. And yes - more to chat about in our discussion next week.

@Earthphoenix: Thanks for bringing up these ideas about the public perception of water, it does sometimes feel that in US culture, specifically, we see water as something infinite that we will always be able to access. We have found that for countries adopting water reclamation technology that a primary driver is seeking water independence.

Thanks for also bringing up Flouride versus Chloride. Currently, we’re looking into water purification techniques and how to ensure safety without creating a lot of different byproducts from disinfection (a new discussion to come on that shortly). Can you dive a little deeper into what types of considerations we should be thinking of in Flouride vs. Chloride? Thank you!

@Chicno @delia Thank you for your detailed comments! Very interesting to read!

I’d like to dig a little deeper on the aspect of
affordable, raised by Chicno. Like Delia said, potable is more expensive to treat; but, at the same time, when we look at “hidden costs,” higher quality eliminates the need for additional infrastructure to ensure health and safety. In addition, potable quality will increase use cases.

But to go back to affordability as a key driver for adoption of the system. Is there room then to address the energy aspect of decentralized systems to reduce costs? is direct cost to user more important? should we consider prioritizing energy aspects over potable water quality?

Thank you for your insights!