All of the water on Earth has been here for all of human history. Water molecules are very strongly bonded and do not change easily. Earth’s water cycle has been using and cleaning the water naturally for its entire existence so it’s only logical that we should start taking the same approach to how we treat water, recycling our used water to get a great benefit out of every turn of the faucet tap. The process of water recycling is simply using water for more than one task before it’s returned to the local water table. That being said, there are simple and complicated ways to recycle water.
Earth’s Water Cycle
The natural cycle of water is complex but can be explained simply. Water is evaporated into the atmosphere to form clouds. It eventually becomes rain, which gives water to plants, lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Once returned, it evaporates again. As the water moves to different areas it becomes filtered. Water that ventures underground is filtered through the earth before depositing in underground wells and aquifers. River water leaves behind silt as it flows downstream. Lake water allows larger contaminants to settle. The final contaminants are lost as the water itself evaporates and returns to the air, allowing clean water to rain down once again.
City Water Cycles
The water you use in the city is similar in function. Water is collected in reservoirs and piped out to homes. Once the water is used, whether it’s for doing dishes or taking a shower, it flows back to the city’s reclamation facilities. These water plants clean up the water, remove contaminants, and then return the water to open water sources, for it to be renewed by the Earth’s water cycle before being reintroduced the reservoir. It’s a fairly simple system with a lot of moving parts to make sure that only clean non-potable water is returned to our lakes and rivers.
But here is where water recycling comes into play. All of that water, much of it still usable even if it isn’t fit for drinking, is used only once before being sent back to the water table. This wastes energy and resources. While we don’t face water restrictions that are as harsh as California or Texas, it doesn’t make sense to waste water each month that can be put to good use.
Fortunately for us, many cities are now incorporating recycled water systems, where cleaned water is used a second time before being returned to the water table. The process for cleaning up this water is more involved than traditional water returns, but it returns clean water for use by homes and the city. A simpler method of water recycling is to simply connect a grey water line for use outside.
Grey water is non-potable (non-drinkable) that isn’t contaminated with waste or harsh chemicals. This water, while not fit for drinking, cooking, or further cleaning, is perfect for outdoor uses. Consider using grey water as a source for watering your lawn during the summer. Or, if you really want to conserve water, have a rain barrel installed and give yourself access to free, clean water.
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