Recycling wastewater and food waste, courtesy of King County, Washington, MEDA, and GAIN

Humans generate vast quantities of wastewater through inefficiencies and poor management of water systems, according to a recent study published in Science. As droughts become more prominent due to climate change, ways to improve our recycling of wastewater and food waste become more important. Some of the world’s biggest corporations such as Pepsi, Nestle, and Statekraft are becoming more serious about the risks, but also the opportunities, that climate change will bring to business. This week’s blog highlights wastewater treatment as well as food biodigesters and dehydrators.

Reclaimed water

Many urban areas have a high water demand and are being affected by climate change. For instance, in King County, Washington, snowpack in the Cascade Mountains has already decreased 15-35 percent since the 1950s and climate change will very likely result in additional large declines in mountain snowpack as well as increasingly hot, dry summers. In fact, in September 2012, Seattle just ended its second longest dry period on record – 49 days with no rain. These types of changing conditions can have significant impacts on the water supply available to the surrounding populations and ecosystems.

To prepare for these climate change impacts, King County is implementing a broad range of strategies including reuse of previously wasted resources, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One strategy involves King County’s new Brightwater Wastewater Treatment Plant, which began operations in 2011. With the use of membrane treatment technology, the plant will treat up to 21 million gallons of waste water to a level seven to ten times cleaner than water from conventional treatment processes. This highly treated water and installation of a “purple pipe” distribution system has positioned the county to implement an extensive Reclaimed Water Program to support recreation, businesses, agriculture, and enhance the environment during times of water shortage. In addition to the reclaimed water system the county has implemented state-of-the-art landscaping, design, and odor control technology at the plant. It has been noted of the Brightwater Facility that a “visitor would be forgiven if he imagined himself entering a county park or a sculpture garden.” Power and transportation infrastructure in many locations similarly benefits from “Asking the Climate Question.”

Converting food waste to water and fertilizer

In the future, more frequent and severe droughts will likely have a negative impact on crop yields. Potential adaptation techniques include recycling food waste through biodigesters or dehydrators.

Our biodigester description and photo are courtesy of the Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) and Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). Small farmers in Nicaragua use small-scale biodigesters called Biobolsas purchased from the renewable energy company Tecnosol. Biobolsas convert organic waste from animals to renewable energy and organic fertilizer. In addition to economic benefits such savings on energy and chemical fertilizers, Biobolsas allow small farmers to contribute to a reduction in the impacts of climate change. The production of biogas eliminates the use of firewood, thereby reducing deforestation rates and the amount of carbon released into the environment. The organic fertilizer produced is an economical solution to improve the fertility of soil that has been negatively affected by drought conditions. Finally, the emissions of methane gas, which otherwise would be released into the atmosphere, are captured in the biodigester. This initiative is part of Techno-Links, a project implemented by MEDA with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency, which is increasing the ability of agriculture technology providers to improve their reach to small farmers. Over the course of three years, the project will directly benefit over 20,000 small farmer households and agribusinesses in Peru and Nicaragua.

Our dehydrator description is courtesy of Freeman Allen of Sustainable Claremont. At Claremont College, the dining halls have two “Somat eCorect” dehydrators so one can be filled as the other is working through the 18-hour cycle. The products are water and a fluffy tan dry solid that is an effective slow-release fertilizer that the college mixes with compost in its gardens. The dehydrators run on 220V and each cost about $13,000.

This post is part of CCAP’s blog series, “What Does Climate Resilience Look Like,” which highlights adaptation images from around the world addressing a variety of climate impacts and resilience solutions. Have a climate resilience image to share? Please send us the photo by Twitter, Facebook, or email. (Please include the Who What Where: Who took the photo? What is the adaptation technique? Where is it located?) We are especially interested in examples that advance multiple goals such as GHG emission reductions and sustainable economic development.

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