Water – it's essential to life but it's not a cheap resource to manage and provide to populations. There are still many parts of the world without access to safe, clean drinking water and those with the necessary infrastructure in place often struggle to maintain their systems and have costly mechanisms in place.
Centralized water systems dominate in economically advanced nations. However, alternative models are now emerging that may save substantial amounts of money and help alleviate pressure on water supplies across the globe.
Centralized water systems are publicly-run infrastructures that are in place in many nations across the world. They treat and supply water across large areas – nationally or regionally – using extensive piping networks and large-scale treatment plants.
These systems are costly to install and maintain. Research has highlighted that centralized infrastructure spending will total around $41 trillion globally between 2005 and 2030. Costs can be broken down into the following key areas:
These costs are passed onto the consumer, resulting in higher water bills. On top of this are the costs associated with the private bottled water industry that runs alongside centralized public water supplies. Water is often shipped across the world at great financial and environmental cost.
Examples of centralized infrastructure costs include:
An alternative to the centralized method is to produce water in a more localized and decentralized way. This is done in some developing countries that lack the infrastructure for centralized infrastructure, but technology is now becoming available to enable economically advanced nations to utilize water provided through a decentralized supply.
Decentralized systems use smaller-scale and more environmentally sustainable methods of sourcing, purifying and distributing water among more local populations. They can use advanced technology to treat any water supply (wastewater, rainwater, water sourced from local lakes and rivers) and turn it into premium drinking water.
Although there is an initial outlay to install systems, money can be saved in all of the above-mentioned areas:
These savings can be passed onto households and businesses. For example, the Q-Drop project -which offers new ways for drinking water to be produced and consumed at a local level – now successfully runs in places such as Gust'eaux, Belgium, enabling businesses to provide a sustainable water supply at reduced costs.
Because of more efficient methods that vastly cut down on waste, savings can be made that are passed onto the consumer. This means that the final cost for one bottle of drinking water (1L) can be lowered to less than €1. The savings to our beleaguered environment will be far greater.