Water is at the center of economic and social development; it is vital to every human being, health and safety, grow food, manage the environment, and economic vitality. Water links with nearly every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), and indeed, it has an SDG goal dedicated solely to its promotion. And yet, as the effects of climate change are already felt now, water is becoming a scarcer and less predictably available resource in many regions of the world.
It is in this context that Project Ô demonstrates how local, small loops of water management can be beneficial in alleviating the pressures over a water management system while allowing for a circular economy vision of the resource “water”. The project provides the stakeholders with technical tools and approaches that allow for reuse and recycle of “alternative” sources of water (from brackish/salty waters, collected rainwater, own or someone else’s “waste” water) or a better treatment of difficult wastewater locally, while at the same time assessing social acceptability and the effect over the whole system and the local community.
The project delivers:
- innovative water treatment technologies and control systems, which can be deployed flexibly to process difficult pollutants (dyes, pesticides, pharmaceuticals) as and when needed because of modularity, mobility and low operational costs.
- interfacing decision making platforms that allow regulators and adopters to achieve consensus over the introduction of a certain localised water management loop, considering both circular economy drivers and protection of the interests of a territory and its population.
- an overall consultative and participatory approach to the decision making over the water management choices, from technology to water resource use planning, to manage stakeholders expectations, achieve acceptance and buy in.
Lasting four years, the project demonstrates the above on four different sites, of which two water utility-driven (Puglia region – Italy and Almendralejo – Spain), and two business-driven (a textile site in Omis, Croatia and an inland, salt water aquaculture facility in Eilat, Israel).
While demonstrating technologies and platforms, the project interfaces water resource and spatial planning and fosters social innovation for achieving co-creation and public ownership of the innovative approaches and technologies proposed.
The new concept of Distributed Water Network by Project Ô represents:
- a disruptive approach whereby several small distributed plants (novel Distributed Water Network) alleviate the pressures of a single large one (state of the art), and specifically in this case, whereby groups of users can organise themselves in terms of sourcing and treating water independently from large infrastructures.
- a reduction of the abstraction (which will not be larger, but if possible even smaller than current situation because of the circular use) and the pollution of the water system.
- an improvement of the quality of used water, which can be easily controlled so that it is exactly right for the process it is needed for, without over-engineering (typically: drinking standards even for process waters not entering in contact with foodstuff or not for human consumption).
- a separation of the wastewater fluxes at source, which means that contamination is likely to be well known in type, concentration and timing by the producers. This is particularly advantageous as potential difficult to treat substances do not get dispersed, enabling an easy recovery for reuse or for appropriate disposal, and in any case limiting the entry into – and the burden over- the water system.
- independency of treatment (and of sourcing and disposal), which opens several opportunities in terms of sources of water: from the same process/the same plant (reuse/recycling), from nearby plants or houses (recycling), from collected rainwater (alternative sources), hence limiting the abstraction from water courses/the aquifer or the mains and therefore releasing the pressure over those water sources already stressed by other competing users.
In sum, this novel approach by Project Ô has many advantages over collection and treatment of water at a centralised water processing infrastructure, and it is expected to revolutionise water management.