For Americans, clean water that is available in almost unlimited quantities any time of the day or night is something we have grown to expect as normal. But there are many factors changing our water landscape and the EPA is acting now to define present and future water use, problems to address and how to put technology to use to protect our water resources.
In its recent publication, “Promoting Technology Innovation for Clean and Safe Water: Water Technology Innovation Blueprint—Version 2”, the EPA defines how and how much water we use.
In 2005, for example, Americans withdrew about 330 billion gallons of freshwater for the following:
- Domestic use – 29.4 billion gallons per day,
- Industrial and mining use – 19.2 billion gallons per day,
- Farming (including agricultural and horticultural irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture) – 138.8 billion gallons per day, and
- Thermoelectric power plants – 142 billion gallons per day.
But water use is not the only way we need to consider water, and EPA says the global water market, which includes control and cleanup, is estimated at about $500 million. The U.S. economy’s cut of that includes:
- The total revenue for the domestic U.S. water and wastewater industry in 2012 was $139 billion,
- About 44 million anglers spent $48 billion in 2011 to fish in U.S. waters,
- Irrigated crops accounted for 55 percent of the total value of U.S. crops In 2007, and
- The beverage industry used 12 billion gallons of water in 1999 to produce $58 billion worth of products.
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Going forward, the EPA is addressing challenges facing our water resources, some of which are already happening. These include:
Water Scarcity: Aquifer depletion is occurring at a much higher rate than either natural precipitation or ground water recharge can refill them. As of February 2014, more than 36 percent of the continental U.S. is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.
Water Quality: Many of the nation’s coastal waters, estuaries, rivers, streams, and lakes are impaired by pollution or through physical alterations. According to the 2008-2009 EPA National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA), 55 percent of U.S. river and stream miles do not support healthy populations of aquatic life, with phosphorus/nitrogen pollution being just one of the problems. Population growth and land development also increase storm-water runoff from impervious surfaces, while declining source water quality is a problem for treatment plants charged with meeting drinking water standards.
Aging Infrastructure: According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our nation’s current water and wastewater infrastructure get a “D” grade. Each year we experience about 240,000 water main breaks and approximately 75,000 sanitary sewer overflows annually dump 3-to10-billion gallons of untreated wastewater into our nation’s water bodies.
Climate Change Impacts: The effects of climate change are diverse and include warmer water, precipitation pattern changes, more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, drought, and changing flows all or any of which may combine to change the availability of water resources.
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Among the many ways the EPA is pushing water technology innovation is by removing regulatory barriers that might hamper growth, including:
- Updating the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards Program to more explicitly consider sustainable and innovative technologies when developing national standards for controlling water discharges.
- Exploring ways to tailor the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to foster technology innovation within existing legal and regulatory authorities.
- Providing technical support to overcome barriers and allow for the use of innovative technology, for example, ways to advance “Utility of the Future” concepts, and
- Continuing to encourage and promote green and natural infrastructure to achieve a broad set of environmental, social and economic objectives.
These are just a few of the many insights and ideas offered in the Innovation Blueprint, which is available at http://www2.epa.gov/innovation/water-technology-innovation-blueprints.