By Sam Wright
Across the world, there continues to be huge volumes of wastewater pumped directly into rivers, streams and the ocean itself. The impact of this is severe – aside from the damage to the marine environment and to fisheries it can cause, it does little to preserve water at a time when many are predicting that a global shortage is just around the corner.
As it stands this method of disposing of wastewater – any form of water that has been contaminated by a commercial or domestic process, including sewage and byproducts of manufacturing and mining – is largely an issue in developing nations, particularly across Asia and South America.
A massive part of this is sewage, says Graham Heaton, marketing manager of waste management specialists Enviroco. Earlier this month, a report issued by the World Bank estimated that Vietnam will need an investment of $8.3 billion by 2025 in order to provide the necessary wastewater services to its 36 million urban residents, while China is also facing similar challenges at vast swathes of its population continue down the path of industrialization.
Elsewhere Uruguay – one of South America’s more developed economies – announced that its state water firm will spend US$100 million on new treatment plants over the coming months, while Australia has said that it will partner with Jakarta in a bid to resolve the water management issues that have blighted Indonesia in recent years.
However, there remains much progress to be made. Heaton went on to say that even developed nations should be looking to improving their treatment operations wherever possible.
“The better the treatment process, the higher the percentage of wastewater that is reclaimed and reused before it is released into the ocean,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of firms out there that are just doing the bare minimum in order to meet the regulations in place. That’s not the right approach – water is a valuable resource, not something that can just be thrown away.”
Intriguingly, Heaton pointed to the shale gas boom that has transformed North America’s energy industry as promoting the cause for improvements in water treatment. Recently, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of complaints over water contamination due to oil and gas drilling have been filed in four key shale gas producing regions. While few of these were upheld, of which it is unclear if any were caused by shale drilling itself, Heaton said that it shows that the issue is something that the public cares deeply about.
“There’s a lack of understanding about fracking and wastewater. A lot of this is down to the oil companies themselves – better transparency and clearer reporting would help massively. But public pressure in this case may be a good thing. The more scrutiny wastewater treatment undergoes, the better. It means the legislative bar will be raised.”
“As the world’s population grows and develops, it’s important that the right measures are taken to make sure contaminated water is treated properly and recycled wherever possible,” he added. “This is going take pressure from all sides.”
Sam Wright is an energy journalist based in Norwich, Norfolk.
Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.