Amidst growing water scarcity and concern about the future availability and quality of water, a new GE consumer survey indicates that Americans strongly support reusing water to help the US drive economic competitiveness and protect the environment.
Despite the ‘ick factor’ often associated with recycled water, two thirds of Americans (66 per cent) feel positive about water reuse, according to the survey of 3,000 consumers in the US, China and Singapore. The survey reports that Americans also think that industry and government should play a stronger role in making water reuse a priority.
This is a significant finding, considering that 36 U.S. states face water shortages in the coming year and by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population – or 5.3 billion people – will be vulnerable to water shortages.
“Population growth, rapid industrialization and accelerated urbanization are driving the need for water reuse,” said Heiner Markhoff, president and CEO—water and process technologies for GE Power & Water. “The survey, which we developed to get a better understanding of the awareness and barriers to adoption of water reuse, revealed stronger support for water recycling than we expected. It shows that the vast majority of Americans understand the value of water reuse.”
While the majority of Americans hesitate at the concept of “toilet-to-tap” recycling, more than 80 per cent of Americans surveyed indicated that they support using recycled water for many “toilet-to-turf” uses—activities that require significant amounts of non-potable water, such as agricultural irrigation, power generation, landscaping, industrial processing and manufacturing, toilet flushing and car washing.
Nearly 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources are used for industrial purposes and nearly 70 per cent for agriculture3. The survey showed that Americans feel that the largest water users are most responsible for contributing to water scarcity. Large industries (74 per cent), agriculture (69 per cent) and utilities and power companies (67 per cent) were seen as most responsible for contributing an ‘extreme amount’ or ‘quite a bit’ to water scarcity.
Americans also see the connection between energy and water — 86% understand that you need energy to deliver water and 74% are aware that you need water to create energy. Americans expect energy industry leaders to demonstrate water stewardship by using recycled water to produce electricity—and believe this can positively impact cost and efficiency. Around 84% said smart water management can help the US more efficiently create and use energy and 87% of Americans are in favor of using recycled water for power generation, more than any other application.
“There is an inextricable tie between energy and water,” said Markhoff.
Despite having positive perceptions of water reuse and a good grasp on the country’s largest water users, Americans’ understanding of the water lifecycle and solutions lags behind that of those surveyed in China and Singapore. For example, 31% of Americans don’t know where their water comes from, compared to only 14% of those in China and 15% of those in Singapore.
Additionally, Americans are looking to national government to take the lead to advance water reuse. 84% of Americans believe protection of water resources should be a national priority. However, Americans are willing to do more than just call on the national government; they will open their pocketbooks as well. Nearly half would immediately pay more — 12% on average — to ensure that future generations will be less vulnerable.
Water reuse as a critical solution to help reverse the trend of growing water scarcity in the US and around the world, and the technology needed to move toward that reality is available today. There is advanced technology to efficiently treat, recycle and reuse water. The adoption of technology, combined with forward-thinking government policy and education, will be the key to overcoming barriers to water reuse.