Ajani Jacobs | Wastewater – an underutilised resource
Population growth and increased urbanisation have driven up the demand for freshwater supplies, resulting in a burden on water resources. These resources are further stressed by climate change and global warming, resulting in climate variability. Here in Jamaica this is evident as reduced rainfall with extended drought periods and increasing temperatures have caused reduced availability of water in some areas.
To combat and reduce these impacts, more sustainable approaches to water management is needed as water is fundamental to meeting the basic needs of living things and offers additional societal values. One solution that is underutilised in Jamaica is the reuse of treated water. The use of reclaimed water for specific functions such as irrigation can significantly reduce freshwater consumption as the agriculture sector has a water withdrawal rate of approximately 56 per cent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations aquastats. This will be a more sustainable approach to crop irrigation as it reutilises wastewater, creating a circular pattern and moves away from the extract-use-discharge water management pattern. This extractive pattern is short-sighted and has no long-term sustainability and, coupled with the impacts of climate change and increased demand, will push the nation further into water scarcity. The circular pattern enabled by reusing reclaimed water would reduce the natural resources needed to manage water systems and replacing scarcity with abundance.
It must be acknowledged that there are challenges to implementing this solution as there are considerations and standards that must be met to safely reuse reclaimed water. One such is that there is a public-health risk to using wastewater to irrigate crops as any potentially dangerous bacteria can be transferred to the crops. Thankfully, this can be remedied by incorporating a disinfection unit within already existing treatment processes. The disinfection process is usually the final stage of treatment where any remaining bacteria and pathogens which may be harmful to health are removed. The quality of the treated water can also be improved by increasing the dosage of the disinfectant if necessary. Along with adding these units, the existing checks and balances done by environmental agencies such as National Environment and Planning Agency, using established standards can ensure the safety and proper use of treated water. Another obstacle that must be overcome for this solution to be effective is public awareness and perception as this will impact the uptake and usage. As such, the implementation of this approach must involve educational and awareness campaigns to address the usage and stigma surrounding reclaimed/treated water. This will increase the likelihood of the uptake of the solution and proper usage, resulting in the desired outcomes.
Countries like Israel and United Kingdom have already implemented strategies to reuse treated water and have become more resilient with increased water availability. In light of the increase demand on freshwater sources and the global impacts of climate change, Jamaica, too, must move towards implementing sustainable solutions to preserve natural resources while meeting the demand of the people.
Ajani Jacobs is a 2019/2020 Chevening Scholar who recently completed his MSc in Water Engineering at Brunel University London. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org