Of all water available on the planet, 97.5% is salt water and only 2.5% is fresh water. Of these 2.5%, 99.7% is in the polar caps and hard to access, deep groundwater, while only 0.3% is in rivers or shallow groundwater. Of this percentage of fresh water available for consumption, 14% is found in Brazil. However, 73% of this percentage is in the Amazon region, inhabited by less than 5% of the population. And the Southeast region, inhabited by 43% of the population, can count on only 6% of Brazil’s fresh water.
The world faces today an alarming situation: 2.5 billion people do not have basic sanitation and 780 million people have no access to drinking water (UN, 2014). The UN also predicts global water demand can surpass available resources by 44% in 2050.
Diseases caused by ingesting contaminated water – such as diarrhea, cholera, meningitis, hepatitis A and E, typhoid, and dysentery – kill five million people per year, ten times more than wars. It is estimated that 60% of all child mortality is due to this.
Therefore, Brazil and the planet face water scarcity, especially the Southeast region of Brazil, as it has been facing an alarming supply crisis since 2014 that can lead to severe consequences for the population.
What has been done?
The first water management actions can be dated prior to 1500 BC in Knossos, Crete, where archaeological sites show a piping system for water distribution. The Roman empire built during its time vast aqueducts to ensure supply. In London, England, the first piped water supply system dates back to 1237 AC.
Concerns with water availability for consumption has always been present in the evolution of human kind and its technologies. However, the first actions directly concerned with water conservation and sustainable management – and not only distribution – date back only to the 1980s, with academic studies across the globe. In Brazil, this led to the implementation of the National Program for Water Waste Combat (PNCDA) in 1997. This program defined several strategies to fight water waste in different levels: macro (hydrographic basins), meso (supply systems), and micro (buildings systems).
At the same time that the PNCDA was being developed, the Rational Water Use Program (PURA) was created in 1995 through a partnership between the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP), the Building Systems Lab of the Department of Civil Construction (LSP/PCC), the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), and the Institute for Technological Research (IPT).
The program aimed to develop technical documentation, labs, new technologies, quality programs, and case studies in different kinds of buildings (offices, schools, hospitals, and kitchens, for instance). Implementations that took place in 1997 due to studies conducted by the Rational Water Use Program (PURA-USP) helped the university save over R$ 153 million.
Society’s concern with preserving water resources has increased significantly. As a result, all over the country laws were passed that enforced, among other things, the implementation of PURAs in public buildings and the individualization of water consumption measurement in residential buildings.
In January 5, 2007, law N. 11.445 was approved, setting national guidelines for basic sanitation and leads to, among other things, the publication of the National Basic Sanitation Plan (PNSB) in 2013. The PNSB establishes short-, medium-, and long-term goals for guaranteeing universal access to basic sanitation services. It also aims to reach 99% coverage for water supply and 92% coverage for sewage collection in the next 20 years.
Do your part
Society is ever more conscious of the need to use water responsibly, and there are several sources of information to guide companies and citizens in using water resources rationally.
Domestic use represents only 8% of all water consumption, while industry and agriculture consume 22% and 70% respectively, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Therefore, aside from reducing consumption in domestic use, it is also extremely important to reduce consumption in the industry and agriculture.
Managing water resources in any kind of enterprise can be divided in four basic stages: supply sources, management and monitoring of consumption, rational use, and adequate effluent disposal.
An enterprises’ supply sources are important factors when discussing sustainable water use, as different uses need different water qualities. Water utilities supply drinking water ready for human consumption, but only a part of the global consumption requires this quality standard. In several instances we could use non-drinking water, such as in flushing, washing floors, cooling towers for A/C, irrigation, and several industrial processes, among others. This means we could use alternative sources, such as rainwater and treatment and reuse of sewage, grey water, or effluents in general.
For drinking purposes, water from a water utility can be replaced with groundwater – with proper authorization from competent authorities and after going through treatment, groundwater can have the same, or even higher, quality as water supplied by the water utility.
The use of alternative sources not only reduces costs with water, but also increase availability and water safety in times of supply crisis, reducing dependency on the water utility.
Managing and monitoring consumption allow continuous control of water use in an enterprise, including quick diagnosis and correction of problems and anomalies in the hydraulic network, such as leaks, and identification and control of places or processes that require greater water consumption, resulting in not only saving water, but also lowering operational costs.
Rational use consists in using only the necessary amount of water in every activity, be it through water-saving devices, such as aerators and toilets with close coupled cisterns, be it through a change in water use procedures, such as closing the faucet while brushing one’s teeth, avoiding long showers, washing cars with buckets, and cleaning floors with a broom and not the hose.
It is also fundamental to adequate effluent disposal, since effluents can be aggressive to the environment. Current legislation is broad and restrictive, fixating quality requisites for effluent disposal in water bodies according to their classification based on kind of use. However, some enterprises, being uneducated or careless, do not follow legislation, dumping effluents in the environment without any treatment or with insufficient treatment.