Water: Recycling at its Finest

By Joshua Kirschner

There is a growing water crisis occurring on a vastly grand scale. Some places are going to be hit harder than others. The rich, wealthy persons won’t be affected as much. They will be able to just throw money at the problem and they won’t even notice. It’s the poor that will suffer the most.

Let’s go ahead and talk about this water crisis for a minute. The world’s not losing any water. If we are being nit-picky about it, there is a miniscule amount of water that may be lost as water vapor up in the upper atmosphere. It’s so negligible; we consider it a closed system, nothing is getting in or out. So. If the same amount of water is in the system, where is this water shortage coming from?

With climate change becoming in irrefutable fact, we need to consider what it is doing to the water cycle. I know, we are quickly glancing at a bunch of seemingly unconnected items, but we will tie it all together. We just need to set down a foundation.

The weather is going to become ever more variable as the climate continues to change. Climate change will become a positive feedback loop to itself creating a more volatile system. Climate change is mainly seen as global warming. The warming will cause the oceans to warm up, causing more water to be evaporated into the atmosphere when storms are passing over the ocean. The storms will carry more water in them and dump more water on the coastal towns that are sitting ducks. The climate change is not going to be even. Some areas are going to be hit harder than others. Where some areas see more water, others will see less.

The areas that see more water will have to deal with flooding and will have other issues not pertaining to a water shortage. That is for another blog. The main idea this blog is looking at is the areas receiving less rain fall than before. Everything that drops from the sky will need to be saved.

In most areas of the world, like those fancy game reserves we stayed at (nDzuti) and the rural villages of Ha’Makuya, water is used once and then sent on to a water treatment facility, washed out, trickled into ground water, or simply sits stagnate. Enter the idea of water recycling. Taking from the ideas of Mike Reynolds, the founder of Earthship Biotecture, water can be recycled up to four times, before getting released into the back yard.

The recycling system started in those Earthships uses the water four times before being released into a leech field in the back yard. It started with a rain catchment system on the roof of a dwelling. The system was designed in Taos, New Mexico, which is in a desert in the United States. They get an average nine inches, 175 mm, of rain a year. He has adapted his system to all fifty of the United States, and in twenty some odd countries. Some of the adaptions are the size of the cistern used and how big the water catchment system is.

Step one of the water recycling system is to have the water filtered. This can be done in several different ways. With more money, the filtration system is just purchased. In areas that money is more of an issue, like is most of sub-saharan Africa, there are more survivalist-adapted strategies of using varying sizes of sand and clay to filter out contaminants.

The next step is sending the water to the kitchen sink. This is the first step of the water use because you need the cleanest water to wash your hands and the food you are going to be eating. It is also there to wash the dishes so you can eat off clean plates. From the kitchen sink, the water is sent through a particle filter to catch any grubby items that come off the plates.

After the particle filter, the water is sent to a planter that is located inside, running along the spine of the house. This is a great adaption to the rural villages because the home I stayed at when I was in Ha- Makuya was growing most of their food in the backyard on a subsistence farming set-up. This planter gets water every time you use the kitchen sink to clean your plates or your hands. I have seen numerous vegetables growing in this planter that would not normally be able to grow in the environment right outside the house. Banana trees, avocados, cucumbers can easily grow inside the planter. There is a style that can grow food for up to a family of four, again on nine inches of rain a year.

From the planter the water goes to another filter and into the bathroom. The water is clean and has no smell in the bathroom. The water doesn’t need to be perfect in the bathroom, especially the toilet. Its toilet water… The shower is a sensitive subject for some developed countries citizens. They want the cleanest purest water to run over their body, but if you use soap, you don’t need crisp clean rocky mountain snow melt water to bathe in. The soap is there to get you clean, not the water. It’s all clean water that has been run through filters. My homestay family didn’t even really have a shower or bath tub, so being able to bathe would be phenomenal regardless. I even recall from my interview with one of the teenagers from the village, Rangie, that with more water she would wash more clothes and take a bath.

From the shower and toilet, the water goes to a septic tank in the back of the house, and ends in a leech field in the back of the house, or front, where ever you want to set up the tank. The way the tank is set up, you will never smell or see the water that is coming up. There is a garden set up to soak up the over flow from the septic tank. It has a natural fertilizer in it. In Taos, there is a willow tree growing in their back yard. A willow tree normally grows next to a river because it is a very thirsty plant. The water recycling system is so good at saving the water that the willow tree can grow in a desert. Every time a toilet is flushed, a shower is taken, the garden in the back is watered again.

Through the Earth Ship recycling system, every drop of water is used four times. There is almost no other form of architecture that is as efficient as the water recycling system. In these water-starved places of the future, every drop is going to need to be savored and cherished.

Natalie Miller