Water reuse market is all set for dramatic expansion

"Water reuse market is all set for dramatic expansion" - a review by Sahana Singh, Editor, Asian Water, February 2010

From a probable solution to a low-value proposition and finally to the current avatar of high-value application, water reuse is all set to revolutionise the urban world. Driven by water scarcity, revulsion for big dam projects and a progressive breakdown of the ‘yuck factor’, water reuse is clearly about to explode in the coming decade.

Capturing the trends in the growth of this market is the recently-released Municipal Water Reuse Markets 2010 published by Global Water Intelligence. Produced in collaboration with one of the leaders of water reuse – PUB Singapore, the report argues that governments are beginning to realise the financial value of treated wastewater.

Instead of investing in wastewater infrastructure only for the sake of returning water to the environment and meeting regulations, the possibility of creating a revenue stream from treated wastewater is strengthening the case for reusing wastewater. Even though the practice of reusing wastewater for irrigation has been around for a long time, this is not leading to an actual reduction in the total amount of water used. In fact, the demand for agricultural water could well be called unlimited.

On the other hand, in urban scenarios, it is possible to reduce freshwater demand by increasing the reuse of wastewater. The report predicts that the three-step process of pre-treatment with membranes, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation will soon become the standard form of urban water reuse. Between 2009 and 2016, capital expenditure on advanced water reuse is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 19.5% while the global installed capacity of high quality water reuse plants will grow from 28 million m3/day to 79 million m3/day.

Only planned reuse of wastewater treated to tertiary or better levels has been considered in the statistics compiled by the report. Unplanned or untreated reuse of wastewater, which is widely practised in developing countries has been disregarded for valid reasons. The most prominent reuse projects so far have been Singapore’s NEWater, California’s Orange County Groundwater Replenishment and Australia’s Western Corridor Recycled Water. However, as the report illustrates in its graphs, it is Kuwait which is leading with 91% reuse of its wastewater, followed by Israel with 85%, Singapore with 35% and Egypt with 32%. Australia, USA and China are all recycling less than 20%.

A global inventory of water reuse projects prepared by the GWI report includes 3,000 facilities around the world (provided in a CD-ROM). It has been forecast that China will install additional capacity of 10.7 million m3/day between 2009 and 2016 while USA will install 5.9 million m3/day making them the top markets for water reuse. Saudi Arabia, Australia, Spain and other countries are also planning to invest in additional capacity. The country sections of the GWI report include a description of the regulatory and financing environment in the water sectors of 22 countries. The developments in water reuse are outlined in all these countries along with case studies and proposed or upcoming projects. A chapter is devoted to a basic description of the different technologies available for water reuse along with good illustrations.

However, some figures have got mixed up in the executive summary, which therefore do not tally with the corresponding graphs inside the report. This needs to be urgently corrected in the next edition. Also, some case studies of treatment plants are sketchy and incomplete, probably due to a paucity of information. Municipal Water Reuse Markets 2010 offers a unique perspective of the past, present and future of water reuse markets. Despite the glitches, the effort to assemble and analyse such a vast collection of data is commendable.