The effects of global warming and climate change are continuously being felt on the earth. In fact, we are expected to experience a 2-5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures within the next 30 years. An effect of climate change that often gets overlooked is its impact felt on water treatment processes.
Climate change poses major challenges to the effective treatment of water. Some of these challenges include inundated water supplies that lead to higher levels of contaminants in the water, pressure on the operation of current water infrastructure, and the effect of inclement weather on water systems.
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Water Treatment Challenges
Inundated Water Supplies
As sea levels continue to rise, water treatment facilities located near large bodies of water face the risk of having their infrastructure inundated by the higher levels of sea water. Many coastal cities are expected to experience a 7-10” increase in sea levels by 2050, mainly due to snowmelt from higher global temperatures.
The inundation of water treatment facilities could lead to the depletion of infrastructure for water treatment and the pollution of clean treated water reservoirs. In addition, the warmer water going into the current water supply could impact the delicate ecosystems that are present in those bodies of water.
Pressure on current water Infrastructure
Global warming and climate change is putting pressure on current water treatment infrastructure.
Here are two ways that global warming is affecting wastewater treatment infrastructure:
The rising sea levels will make it necessary for treatment plants to be relocated to higher elevations, in order to avoid inundation of infrastructure.
Inclement weather such as hurricanes, floods, and other storms, will cause the need for more adaptive and resilient infrastructure.
The melting of snowpacks will also lead to fewer water resources that will be available for treatment and use. All these events will add costs to water treatment processes and exert pressure on current infrastructure.
Effect of Inclement Weather
Climate change has led to the rise of more frequent inclement weather such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes. These adverse weather conditions will not only damage infrastructure, but will also lead to more rain and runoff.
The increased precipitation can cause sewer overflows into bodies of water, especially if drainage infrastructure cannot keep up with the rapid overflows. Sewer overflows will lead to the contamination of water supplies and a more difficult process for wastewater treatment.
Biological Reactions in Water
Rising water temperatures lead to higher levels of activity in organisms present in the water (such as bacteria). In fact, minor temperature changes can spark widespread biological reactions in water, leading to the corrosion of pipes and other water treatment infrastructure.
Biological reactions of water microorganisms often lead to the release of oxygen. Oxygen causes rusting and corrosion of water pipes, making it necessary for infrastructure to be constantly replaced.
Biological reactions will also lead to higher water temperatures and increased evaporation. These conditions can cause incoming water into treatment facilities to become more dense and filled with sediments, than previous water supplies. As a result, increased sedimentation could make water more challenging to treat.
Membrane treatment has been an important element of drinking water treatment technology for many years and is also increasingly being used in wastewater plants. Membrane water treatment uses materials that are able to filter microorganisms, organic materials, bacteria, and other impurities that can make water unsafe or undesirable to drink.