What are the benefits of reusing wastewater?

Consequences of wastewater

In conventional municipal water supply systems, water from a river, lake or aquifer is treated to meet drinking water standards before it is distributed for all uses.  Once the water is used, it becomes wastewater. Wastewater is conveyed to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) where it is treated in different stages before being discharged back into the environment.

The treatment of domestic wastewater is necessary to protect health and the environment, as it contains pollutants such as microorganisms, pathogens, nutrients, chemicals and organic matter.

Industrial wastewater, although very varied depending on the industry and the use it has had, may contain toxic substances of organic and inorganic nature, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other toxic compounds.  Industrial wastewater is often treated at the industrial facilities themselves. However, it can also be treated at WWTPs.  In the latter case it is usual that its composition requires prior treatment at the industrial facility before it is sent to the treatment plant.

Effects of Wastewater on Human Health

Wastewater treatment can be adapted to meet water quality requirements for planned reuse. Water recycled for landscape irrigation requires less treatment than water used for drinking water. Water recycling is the reuse of water to provide certain benefits of treating wastewater, such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, and replenishment of a groundwater supply.

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The benefits of treating wastewater should ensure the proper quality of wastewater as it is used, as well as meet most water demands, as long as it is treated properly. When there is a greater possibility of exposure of people to water, a more intense and specific treatment is required, since any water source that is not properly treated can bring health problems since it contains many pathogenic microorganisms and other contaminants that affect the organism.

Advantages and disadvantages of wastewater treatment

Despite the lack of knowledge about wastewater, its collection and treatment have had a very positive impact on preventing the occurrence of infectious outbreaks and the risk it poses to society.

Intrinsically, water bodies have a natural limit of organic debris and pathogens that they can inactivate and reduce.  However, this limit is currently exceeded by the population density of cities, requiring wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to process these wastes and prevent disease in communities.

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The urgency for better water management has made it necessary to reuse treated water mainly where the greatest use is made of this resource: agricultural irrigation and domestic demand.  This practice has become common in places such as California and Australia as it is a safe source, independent of climatic variations.

That is why, in 2018, the European Commission issued a proposal to regulate the minimum requirements for the reuse of water for agricultural irrigation due to the health risk that this use could entail on the population. In this document, the Commission details the minimum quality requirements and the biochemical and microbiological parameters that purified water must meet.

Importance of wastewater treatment

In 2010, the National Policy for Integrated Water Resource Management (Pngirh) was published, which established the objectives for the country in terms of efficient use, quality, risk, institutional strengthening and governance to ensure water sustainability in the country. National, regional and local impact on the aforementioned aspects is the challenge to which the government, sectors and citizens in general must respond if we want water to continue to be a factor of wellbeing and development.

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Within the framework of the implementation of the Pngirh, a strategy is being implemented aimed at strengthening the execution of processes and technologies for saving and efficient and sustainable use among the main water consumers.

With the issuance of Resolution 1207 of 2014, viable alternatives are presented that if properly implemented could achieve efficient water use; reduction of pollution; reduction of water demand in areas with limited supply and to some extent the transformation of water conflicts.