It is estimated that by 2050 the UK will be suffering from serious water shortages alongside sea level rise, causing widespread ecosystem destruction. Eliza Collin has developed a regenerative system which allows households to reduce their fresh water intake by more than 80% of the 143 litres we use per person daily in the UK. The project Aqua Dentro looks at re-evaluating our perceptions of waste and challenges the way waste water is perceived to help curb the impending water crisis.
We often believe that there is excess water in the UK, and when this water begins to cause damage we often respond by blocking it. But now it is more evident that we are beginning to face a water crisis, with governments beginning to look further into the impending issue, and as a result expensive and energy-intensive desalination plants are being built to meet the urgent need for reliable fresh water. The worry is that there is a lack of water due to urbanisation, climate change and groundwater extraction, which impacts rising sea levels. The majority of our water came from Jupiter 4 billion years ago when it pulled back from the inner to outer solar system, liberating a series of ice and mineral rich asteroids, (Cox and Cohen, 2019). The rest of Earth’s water was already here. But this volume of water on Earth never increases. Water is continuously changing state and mixing with many contaminants. But all water has been recycled multiple times, this process is called the hydraulic cycle. Many people have the perception that “freshwater” is in fact virgin. In fact we have now become preconditioned that the cleanest water comes from treated sources. The domestication of water can be traced back to around 2500BCE when Egyptians, Palestinians, and Europeans used well digging. But previous to that all water came from rivers and ponds. There are however some filtration techniques that could allow us to reuse our own water that could in fact be safer for us and help to preserve water.
Collin began her research in Sicily in 2019 where she was examining ways to measure how plants react to drought through scent and growth. But while interviewing farmers on their perceptions of nature, water was mentioned most frequently. Once back in the UK she then began analysing attitudes towards water. It is widely understood that the UK is wet and rainy, but current predictions show that we could have serious water by 2050 (Bevan, 2020). Regardless of the consistent rain, water is increasingly less likely to be sequestered in the ground, largely due to deforestation and expanding cities. Climate change and our overuse of freshwater further fuels this. But by reusing our water we may be able to stop this from happening. The NASA International Space Station captures Astronaut wastewater, such as urine, sweat, or even the moisture from their breath, and the impurities and contaminants are filtered out of the water. The final water is said to be cleaner than what most people drink on Earth, and can be used to rehydrate food, bathe, or drink.
Aqua Dentro suggests a not-so-distant future where incorporating domestic water recycling allows for regulated consumption, disposal and reclamation of this finite resource. Eliza Collin’s project proposes that we make our homes more like the landscape, with its ability to capture, filter and sequester water for the benefit of more than human worlds. The greywater filtration system uses localised production, materials and plants to reimagine the future of our domestic spaces. Greywater enters the system and is channelled through a range of biological filters which use naturally occurring microorganisms to degrade wastewater contaminants. The final result is water that is purified to drinking water standards. Plants are used to filter the water which also have other applications including cooking, cleaning and air purification.
The disgust and fear associated with wastewater, combined with an unwillingness to reuse it, is extremely damaging. Due to this fear infrastructure has been designed. But this water is grey water, and it is the majority of wastewater emitted from our homes and doesn’t come into contact with faecal matter. In fact, it is said that fresh water could be more contaminated than recycled grey water. Therefore this suggests that our water education needs to be improved due to common misconceptions based on misleading information. Many pollutants that are entering the environment come from water treatment works. It is true that dirty water can be very dangerous when left to stagnate due to the rapid increase in pathogens such as escherichia coli. But if water is not left to stagnate, then it can be safely filtered using relatively basic technologies, and it can be reused as long as it is kept moving or sanitised with UV or heat.
Many natural materials have historically been used as filters, and some such as carbon, sand and clay are all still widely used today. One of the most impressive filtering networks is the Bheri Wastewater Aquaculture in Kalkuta, where the city’s wastewater is directed through wetlands dominantly filled with fish and Water Hyacinth, a plant well known for its ability to filter waste water. The simple systems optimise the amount of water stored, limit flooding and maintain a reliable supply.
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