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The right amount and quality of water - at the right place and time

Column: Do you know how much water you use every day? The answer is an average of 140 litres of water per person per day. This makes water the largest household provision by far. It is also the cheapest. Tap water is healthy, locally produced and costs only 4 Swedish öre per litre, with sewage treatment included in the price. It’s a good thing then that we have expanded a pipe-bound system that distributes water with such good availability! In Sweden, you can open any cold water tap and pour a glass of fresh, clean water that you can drink straight away.

Imagine the water supply system didn’t exist and you had to carry in 140 milk cartons worth of water every day! Per person! With four people in the home, it would be 560 milk cartons a day. You would not have much time for anything else other than carrying water all day, and that is precisely what a large part of the population of countries without a water supply does. It is often women and children who have to spend many hours every day carrying water from a well that is perhaps kilometres away, and for many children it is unfortunately a reality that you cannot go to school because you are busy fetching water for the home. 

We should be grateful for our pipe-bound drinking water system, but we don’t really need 140 litres of water a day to survive. In fact, we only use 25 litres a day for food, drinking and dishes. The rest is used for bathing and showering, washing clothes and flushing the toilet, which is of course vital, but the water required for these needs does not have to be of the same quality as drinking water.

Two billion people live in areas with acute water scarcity

Do we need to save water? From a global perspective, the answer is indubitably yes! Two billion people live in areas with acute water scarcity where accessing a few vital litres of water per person is a daily challenge. What about Sweden? The answer is yes here, too. Most of Sweden’s cities are supplied by abundant lakes, rivers and groundwater, but the shortage of water in some areas – such as south-eastern Sweden, along the coastline and on the islands of Öland and Gotland – means that water must rationed and transported in a tanker to meet needs in the summer. In other cases, infrastructure may be a limiting factor. If there is hot and dry weather in early summer, homeowners start watering their dry lawns and filling swimming pools, and then the capacity at waterworks and in water supply pipes is not always enough.

So what developments are taking place in this area? At present, we are seeing water suppliers starting to think anew. Instead of trying to prevent people from watering their lawns and filling pools with drinking water, they are planning to offer other types of water instead, such as recycled and treated wastewater or collected and stored rainwater. In this way, water with the apropriate quality for the purpose can be used and unnecessarily purified drinking water can be saved. This would be a step towards more sustainable and smarter water use. Looking even further ahead, we may see circular water management in households where water is purified and recirculated and perhaps supplemented with collected rainwater. This may mean that water supply pipes will become obsolete. For the meantime, this idea is somewhat of a utopia. However, on the way to achieving this we can make many improvements that will allow us to manage water more efficiently and more wisely. Instead of distributing 140 litres of drinking water to each person for all types of water needs, we need to aim to get the right amount of water of the right quality in the right place and at the right time.

– Erik Kärrman, unit manager at RISE

Published: 2020-07-13
Erik Kärrman

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