The need to stop wasting water is a global issue

August 12, 2016


What’s the problem?

The United Nations has estimated that by 2100, the world’s population will have increased to 11.2 billion from today’s figure of 7.4 billion.  That presents challenges of gigantic proportions: there has to be sufficient and sustainable food, housing, energy and transport, not to mention healthcare. Technology will play a vital part of course, but underlining all of these needs is the requirement to deliver a supply of safe water.

Given the estimates of growth in the global population, there will be insufficient potable water in the world. This stark fact will impact everyone in the long term. Governments, NGOs, the UN, the World Bank and other financial institutions are all actively looking for solutions to this crisis.

The World Bank has estimated that by 2025, water demand will exceed supply by 40%. One of the Bank’s recent reports stated that water was the common currency that linked almost all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: it is a vital factor in the production of food, in ensuring a healthy population, in guaranteeing the means of production and in maintaining the planet’s eco-systems.

Water is being wasted

One reason for the shortage of water is the wastage due to a poorly maintained infrastructure, especially in major cities and the developing world. Leakage from pipes is widespread; for example, in Mumbai there is reportedly a 70% leakage rate. The International Water Association (IWA) has developed an approach that aims to introduce tried and tested methods to reduce losses and increase the quantity of available water from the existing infrastructure on a global basis.

But to overcome the problems of leakage, increasingly water authorities are turning to pipe replacement to stop the leaks for the long term. Nickel-containing stainless steel pipes offer water managers the confidence of a rugged, long life solution to fixing the leaks and providing safe water.

The Water Loss Specialist Group (WLSG) of the IWA has focused on the loss of treated water from leaks in supply networks such as water-mains and water service pipes. The WLSG has developed a method of accounting for the quantity of water entering a water supply system; this has led to the term Non-Revenue Water (NRW) being accepted as the amount of water lost from such a system via leaks, theft and errors in metering, and also points to the economic as well as sustainability implications of the losses.

Water loss is a major problem. It’s estimated that in Asia, many cities are haemorrhaging a third to a half of all treated water; that equates to 60 million cubic metres daily, sufficient water to supply 230 million people. And it is not only in Asia—half of the world’s water losses are in Europe and the USA. The cost of NRW to water utility companies worldwide is estimated at US$14 billion per year.

Treated, desalinated, water is an even more expensive commodity. Waste that and you lose the cost of the chemicals, energy and labour that was required to treat the water in the first place. The cost to the planet and to the water utility companies is enormous.

A solution for the leaks

Blogging on the IWA website, Belgian theorist and activist Michel Bauwens is quoted as saying, “We manage scarce resources as if they were abundant, and we put artificial scarcity on what is actually abundant: knowledge, creativity and innovation.”

Such an innovative approach to maintaining water integrity is seen in many projects that have made extensive use of stainless steel. Indeed, projects that aim to reduce water losses abound. There are strong technical and economic arguments for such projects. For example (see page six), in Tokyo, leakage rates have dropped from more than 15% to just over 2% saving US$200 million per annum; in Taipei, leakage rates have gone down from 27% to 17% after extensive implementation of stainless steel service pipes. And the Nickel Institute and the International Molybdenum Association are actively pursuing similar projects in other parts of the world.

This urgent need to deliver a sustainable supply of water underlines the necessity to stop any wastage in the current global infrastructure. That is the main thrust in the increased use of stainless steel in water pipes and water treatment plants in many countries. Stainless steel Types 304 (UNS S30400) and 316 (S31600) offer corrosion resistance, strength, ductility and durability. With leakage rates and wastage common in many developing cities and urban areas, the use of stainless steel is a long-term solution that provides cost savings as well as benefits for mankind.

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