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OK! a,b: WSA index for all pipe leak scenarios in the simulation period for current system (a) and hybrid system (b). c,d: Total population affected (population with WSA Nature Water (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44221-023-00166-6
a,b: WSA index for all pipe leak scenarios in the simulation period for current system (a) and hybrid system (b). c,d: Total population affected (population with WSA Nature Water (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44221-023-00166-6
Houston’s water and wastewater system could become more resilient by developing hybrid urban water systems that combine traditional, centralized water sources with treated wastewater, according to a study by Rice University engineers now published in Nature Water.
“Such a system will save energy and help reduce the consumption of fresh water, a raw material that is becoming increasingly important worldwide,” said Qilin Li, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water treatment (NEW) at Rice.
“Our research shows that such a system is also more resilient to disruptive events such as hurricanes and floods. It has a lower severity, a lower level of impact and a shorter duration of substandard performance when disruptions occur.”
Leonardo Dueñas-Osorio, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University and co-author of the study, said hybrid water delivery systems are more resilient than traditional centralized systems.
“Using Houston’s municipal water system as a case study, we are examining the impacts of various disruptions, including pumping station failures, pipe leaks and spring water contamination,” Dueñas-Osorio said.
Li and her colleagues have identified at-risk components in Houston’s existing water and wastewater system and suggested mitigation strategies. The urgency is compounded by the city’s aging infrastructure.
Nationwide, the typical age of failed water mains is about 50 years, while the average age of the 1.6 million miles of water and wastewater pipes in the U.S. is 45 years, according to the study. Every day, about 6 billion gallons of treated water – about 15% of the daily public water supply in the U.S. – are lost through leaky pipes.
In addition, major cities around the world are facing unprecedented challenges as global climate change, population growth and ongoing urbanization contribute to rapid increases in water demand, leading to water access issues and growing financial burdens due to the need for maintenance and modernization of water systems .
On a small scale, cities around the world, including El Paso, have already enabled the recovery and reuse of municipal wastewater for both drinking and non-potable uses such as irrigation.
“Reducing dependence on already-stressed surface and groundwater resources is becoming increasingly important,” said Li. “A key challenge is figuring out how best to implement wastewater recovery measures. The aim is to improve the sustainability and resilience of major cities’ water infrastructure. Our current research shows the benefits of decentralized wastewater treatment and reuse.”
Lu Liu et al., Hybrid wastewater treatment and reuse improve urban water system resilience to disruptive incidents, Nature Water (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44221-023-00166-6