The world's escalating population growth and the rapid urbanization of the planet has placed a considerable demand on the existing infrastructure to provide fresh water and manage the wastewater and storm water resources. …
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The Role of Decentralisation in Sustainable Urban Water Systems
Ideally, an urban water system would provide ample freshwater to meet the increasing demand, and have a minimal ecological impact from the transport and management of water resources. Urban areas will vary in regards to their access to fresh water supplies, land management options, and economic practicalities.
In addition, the urban planner may need to consider the existing infrastructure, as well as the possibility of future expansion. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role that decentralisation will play in the future of urban water supplies, and the ecologically orientated technologies that are available and may be utilised within the urban water system.
The urban water system is comprised of the clean water system for drinking and distribution, the wastewater from sewerage and treatment plants, and the storm water system that manages and directs drainage and overflow. In addition, it includes solid waste management, household sanitation, and wastewater disposal (Campos2 2009, p. 20). Clean fresh water needs to be free of toxins and harmful bacteria. In an effort to accomplish this, water is routed to a large centralised treatment plant to process and clean the water to make it acceptable for drinking and home use. A system of coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, and filtration is used to treat water and remove the harmful components (Campos2 2009, p. 7). Chlorine is the most widely used disinfectant currently used to combat bacteria due to its low cost, ease of use, and relatively low toxicity (Hua, West, Barker & Forster 1999, p. 2735). However, chlorine is unpleasant and odorous and is ineffective at controlling the numerous pathogens in the water supply, whose discoveries have outstripped our ability to eliminate them (Hua et al. 1999 p. 2375; Campos2 2009, pp. 19-21). The large scale system of centralised collection, storage, and treatment is expensive and places the entire water supply at risk of contamination. Water stored at these facilities has come into contact with myriad toxins and poisons as it progresses through the water cycle. As more chemicals are introduced into the environment, it becomes ever more expensive and impractical to produce safe potable water.
Centralised systems are large, expensive, and must often treat the water as if it is the worst case contamination scenario. Wastewater will require treatment, and the major concerns for waste water management are the levels of dissolved elements, nutrients, and toxins. A water quality model that considers the complexity of the wastewater discharge is instrumental in predicting the short and long-term environmental impact of wastewater discharges, but is expensive and difficult to sustain (World Bank Group 1998, p. 1). However, decentralising the system allows the water to be treated on a local basis, and only requires the treatment that is necessary for a small amount of water, such as local runoff or rainwater collection. In many cases this results in only minimal treatment requirements. A new technology that utilises solar cells produces sodium hypochlorite from a salt-water solution, which makes the small scale production of a disinfectant on a local level economically practical (Moya). Sanitizing the water, distribution, contamination, and storage are some of the difficulties that are inherent in a large centralised water supply that can be overcome by decentralisation. Research has indicated that "decentralised systems for water, wastewater and stormwater are not only more
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