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NSF scientists create the urban water cycle "of our dreams”

Today’s pattern of water usage is one that’s largely governed by waste. People leave the tap running while they brush their teeth. For most Americans, the shower isn’t simply a place to get clean; they stay under the hot water each morning until they experience a virtual rebirth and feel ready for the day. Between cooking, drinking, cleaning, and bathing – it takes a lot to keep our water cycle running every day.

This is particularly true in urban areas, home to 80% of the U.S. population. The need for energy, agricultural products, and clean drinking water keeps growing as populations continue to rise. Because of this, scientists are working to figure out how we can make better use of our urban water supply.

Engineers with the National Science Foundation have created a fascinating design – an illustration of what they’re calling the urban water cycle “of our dreams.” They believe that systems like this could make an efficient engineered water cycle a reality.

The process involves purification using membranes that would filter water removed from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. This could be used as drinking water.

Another source of drinking water would be desalinated water. The ocean is a huge body of water – why not use it to quench our thirsts?

Healthy crops also need clean, desalinated water, so proper irrigation would also play a part in the system. The water for irrigation would need to be monitored for contaminants, high salt levels, or anything that may disrupt crop production.

Treatment of wastewater provides another eco-friendly potential. We know it sounds gross, but it really is possible to remove microbes and recycle wastewater for water, as well as clean energy.

The engineers also include aquaponics in the picture. This combines acquacultue (raising fish) with hydroponics (raising plants in soil-free conditions).

Reuse of materials like greywater and biosolids top off the water cycle utopia imagined by the team. Greywater from baths, sinks, and washing machines could be reused for flushing toilets and irrigating lawns. Meanwhile, solid waste is ideal for fertilizer and creating clean energy.

This vision could change the way we interact with our water, treating it like the precious commodity it truly is.

By Dawn Henderson, Staff Writer

Source: National Science Foundation


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