In an era of dwindling water supplies and rising global temperatures, the biggest challenge to building a water-efficient water-collection system may be money.
The U.S. government and other energy-efficient nations are increasingly looking to water recycling as a way to address water shortages.
But as with any new technology, there’s a lot of money at stake and little evidence to back up the claims.
“Water recycling is very expensive,” said Paul Gee, an environmental engineer at the University of Maryland.
“The total cost of water recycling in the U.K. is about $100 billion per year, so it’s not going to be a free lunch.”
Water-saving systems could help cut costs and increase efficiency in a wide variety of industries, including heating and cooling, industrial production, and power generation, Gee said.
Water-efficient systems also could help ease pressure on utilities to conserve water for consumers and businesses, because the more water they use, the more expensive it is to store.
But water-recycling programs are notoriously hard to implement in most cases, Gees said, because of the wide range of technologies used and the fact that people generally don’t want to spend money on things that they may not need.
And while some of these water-reduction technologies are currently being used in the residential market, many are not.
“We’re seeing a lot more water-efficiency systems in cities, where the residents are very water-saturated,” Gee told NBC News.
“So they’re getting rid of a lot, so we have a lot less to recycle.
Water-recyclers are not available for people who live in suburban or rural areas, or people who don’t live in large cities.”
Water recycling has been around for decades.
It involves using water to make chemicals to filter out waterborne contaminants like lead, arsenic, and fluoride.
But it’s also used in homes and commercial buildings to clean, disinfect, and treat water.
For some people, water recycling can be a lot cheaper than replacing old or corroded pipes and fixtures.
“You can get it in your neighborhood, in your local community,” said Michael Korn, a certified water-filtration engineer at L&R Associates in Washington, D.C. “But it can be expensive, and it’s probably not a great deal.”
But Gee believes the trend is changing.
In the last decade, water-reuse technologies have become more efficient, he said.
“The average cost per liter of water-synthetic filtration is now about one-third less than that of the average system,” he said, noting that it’s about a fifth as expensive to install a water system as it was in the 1980s.
“It’s a small price to pay for a small reduction in the amount of water you use.”
The cost savings come from water being collected, treated, and then sent back to the source.
But the amount people are paying for that water can be significant.
“If you look at people who spend a lot on their water, they’ll pay a lot,” Korn said.
“If you’re paying $50 a month for water, that’s probably going to change the amount you use over the course of the year.”
The biggest problem with water-based water recycling systems is the fact the system often requires expensive and potentially unreliable equipment.
“It’s very expensive, because you have to have an equipment that’s reliable, that has enough capacity to do the job,” Gees told NBC.
“You also have to use a lot water.”
For the average homeowner, the cost of a new water system typically ranges from $5,000 to $30,000.
But Korn says it’s actually more expensive to run a new system than to replace an existing one.
“That’s why we’ve found water-management systems are actually cheaper,” he told NBC, pointing out that a new boiler can be installed in a few days, while a water treatment system can take about a year to complete.
Korn, who has built more than 40 systems over the years, said he’s seen water-cycle rates drop dramatically in the past decade.
“When you have a water management system, you’re not replacing water-related costs,” he explained.
“What you’re doing is actually lowering water use over time.
And that’s very good.”
As the price of water drops, so too do the number of people using it.
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Water Research and Policy, Americans consumed roughly 1.2 billion gallons of water per day in 2013.
That amount of excess water is equivalent to drinking three times as much water as the average American consumes in a year.
For many people, Korn estimates that they spend more than half of their water use on their own water system, and that’s a major problem.”A lot