Water is our most precious resource. We drink on average around four litres a day, and it is an irreplaceable element of our industry and our agriculture. Indeed it is at the very heart of our existence.
The importance of water management has dominated human history. The Romans thrived with the help of their aqueducts, the Khmer Empire flourished over five centuries thanks to their advanced water management systems. The story of Ancient Egypt is intrinsically linked to the fertile banks of the Nile River. It is rare even today to find a major urban centre far from a river or body of water.
Yet we live in difficult times. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that ever year around 3.4 million people die of water-related illnesses. And it is not simply the quality of our supply, but the quantity which faces future challenges. By the year 2020, water demand will exceed supply by 470 trillion gallons and the United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas facing moderate to severe water stress by 2025. In the face of this threat there is perhaps one symbol which most poignantly highlights these difficulties.
The Waters Of Life
Nowhere is our need for water more emotively displayed than in our rivers. If clean water is our lifeblood, then our rivers are the arteries through which it travels. Here in Malaysia those vital arteries are already under strain. A 2013 study by the Department of Environment indicated only 2% of water from our entire national river system would be considered clean enough to drink.
Pollution has already led to five rivers in Malaysia being declared biologically dead. This level of river pollution is so high that at times it can even lead to shutdown of water processing plants, with over 1,000 days of downtime recorded between 2008 and 2014 across Malaysia.
Yet there is hope for those rivers suffering under this strain. The River Thames in England is a thriving natural habitat today, fifty years after being declared biologically dead. Western Europe’s most important waterway, the River Rhine, was heavily polluted for years yet clawed its way back to health through tight regulation and better waste management.
Key to adapting to this challenge will not only be treating our water sources with more respect, but improving our ability to re-use water. Today global water reuse and recycling accounts for just 6% across the water lifecycle. This is expected to rise as high as 33% by 2025. Israel is a fine example, reusing an impressive 90% of its water. By increasing water reuse communities can become less dependent on groundwater and surface water, decreasing the stress on sensitive ecosystems.
A Shared Challenge
A truly global answer to this challenge will require governments, industry and individuals working together. It’s for this very reason that General Electric is so dedicated to the industry. With over 300,000 employees in 170 countries GE technology enables the reuse of 1 billion gallons of wastewater and purifies 2 billion gallons of drinking water every single day.
The GE portfolio includes a broad scope of filtration solutions that effectively remove suspended solids from water, ranging from large particles like silt all the way down to microscopic bacteria a thousand times smaller than a human hair. The cornerstone of this portfolio is GE’s ZeeWeed membrane technology.
It is this membrane technology which as part of GE’s LEAPmbr bioreactor advanced wastewater treatment system provided relief from water shortages in Abilene, Texas, USA. GE were able to complete major upgrades to the local waste water treatment plant in half the time of a typical project of its size, increasing the capacity to provide more than 7 million gallons of treated wastewater a day for the city. And using GE’s InSight software they are able to remotely monitor the water quality to ensure it continues to meet regulatory standards.
Equally being able to quickly respond to unforeseen shocks can be as important as long term supply. That’s why in 2009 GE introduced their ZeeWeed 1500 technology, a pressurised module with high solids tolerance which offers a cost-effective, rapidly deployed skid-mounted solution for water treatment, tertiary filtration and pretreatment of brackish and seawater desalination.
A Shared Solution
If water is our most precious resource, it is one we often take for granted. Addressing that is an important part of the struggle. It is why in Malaysia, education is such a key component of the public outreach to regenerate the Klang River, appropriately titled the River of Life project.
By the year 2050 it is projected that the world will demand 55% more water than it does today. That is a stark figure. Only through innovation and education can we meet this challenge. We innovate towards better solutions for tomorrow, and we educate towards reduced pollution and better water management today.
Water is a shared need. And the challenges we face in maintaining our supplies must be met together. Our water. Our community. Our solution.