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Scarce Water: Innovative Ways to Quench

Awaiting the monthly package of bottled water, the 100 residents of Sand Branch, who don’t have the luxury of city water, barely get along. Water from a few wells and tanks in the neighborhood is used for flushing toilets or, if boiled, cleaning for the residents. However, the tanks have algae on the top of the water, and the wells come through pipelines with sand in them.

The most common image for people suffering from water shortages wouldn’t be Sand Branch. Libya, Yemen, and other African or Middle Eastern countries would top the list. Indeed, these countries are in dire need of help. Libya’s troubles are twofold in that it is undergoing a period of political upheaval while also suffering from lack of water and other resources. Often described as the “Disputed Territory of Western Sahara,” the colony is home to thousands of Sahrawi refugees who suffer constant food and water shortages due to a decades-long struggle for control between Morocco and the Sahrawi tribal group known as the Polis Ario Front. [1]

Also suffering from a water shortage, Yemen is in a conflict and a waypoint for terrorists traveling through the Middle East. They are struggling to receive aid, including fresh water. This poor country has long been helped by UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), but the effort was not enough to help out the parched country. Djibouti’s legacy as a refugee corridor and strategic military position has always made it a stress point for adequate water supply. Jordan is another country in the position of being in the parched and politically divided Middle East while lacking access to valuable natural resources that its equally waterless neighbors are gifted upon. [2]

Such as Sand Branch, as shocking as it may be, the US has places all over the country that lack running water or potable water. Almost half a million American households lack basic indoor plumbing. New research reveals with renters and people of color in some of the country’s wealthiest and fastest growing cities most are living without running water or flushing toilets. [3] In addition, 2 million Native American tribes in reservations lack running water. [4] For example, the Navajo Nation already lacked running water when COVID-19 first hit. While most people struggled to keep themselves regularly sanitized, it was nearly impossible for the tribe with no running water to do so; as a consequence, they suffered a 21% higher infection rate than New York City [5].

Researchers claim that there is a strong link between race and poverty rate with this fundamental human right. According to Texas Monthly, Sand Branch is predominantly black with most of the community having an average income of $721 a month [6]. It’s not just a poor community in Dallas County, Texas. It’s the poorest. So, for this town in poverty, solution to the water shortage can be almost cost-prohibitive. KERA NEWS says that the residents are trying to have a contract with Dallas Water Utilities. Since there is a water service half a mile up Belt Line Road, where the Sand Branch town is located, a main line extension down the road and then a conveyance of smaller pipes to go around and in the city are needed. However simple it may seem, this plan costs around $6.5 million. If the Texas Water Development Board awards a 25% grant, the rest should be funded by the Department of Agriculture [7]. But for the rundown town and the destitute residents, this seems an impossible goal.

For running water to be available to every state, city, and providence in the US, many organizations, bills, and projects have been created. The Appalachia water project, where donations help go build water pipeline systems for people with no running water, have helped many families and continue to do so. There are groups, like “Support Sand branch – Poorest in Community in Dallas County.” The founder of the group, Nancy Thomas, had heard about this town 24 years ago when she decided to ask, find, and help the town in Dallas who needed it the most. The group of East Dallas neighbors, who have come to love the Sand Branch residents, don’t care at all about the politics and have one purpose only: to provide basic needs and rights for their fellow human beings [8].

To get the running water to these waterless regions, a pipeline system is needed. However, there are issues and problems with the pipelines. Water Shed Council says that the environment can be affected and result in property damage or fatalities. [9] Although the new pipelines won’t have this problem, there are aging pipelines that rust, which can also have sand in the pipelines as in the Sand Branch. Michigan is another region with well-publicized pipeline issues. Michigan has lead pipes that feed lead into the tap and running water. This caused children under 7 years old to start developing learning and behavioral problems. [10] This began in 2014, when the water source was switched to save money. Michigan is now working to replace the pipes, 5% at a time, until they’re all gone.

Another expensive solution, desalinization, although it works well from ocean water, it releases chemicals back into the ocean as well as the cost being very high. This solution was very effective at first without considering the setbacks of this system. The Middle East heavily depends on desalinization plants, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. [11] Half of the water becomes freshwater, drinkable and clean with no taste. However, the other half of the seawater collected, a high concentration of brine and other highly toxic chemicals are present. Desalinization plants produce 141.5 million cubic meters of brine compared to the 95 million cubic meters of freshwater produced each day, rendering this process rather detrimental to the environment. [12]

Another innovative and unorthodox solution to water shortage problem was attempted by drought-stricken Orange County, California in the form of reusing toilet water. According to National Geographic, Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) is a three-stage purification process. The GWRS first removes any solids in the liquid while getting rid of bacteria that can harm humans. It then uses a process called the reverse osmosis, which pushes the water through plastic sheets to separate any unwanted material from the water. The final step is using UV light that kills any of the remaining viruses from the water. The GWRS reduces the amount of treated wastewater released to the Pacific Ocean as well. [13] Despite these benefits, the public is still hesitant to embrace this water due to their perception of using sewage water for drinking.

Still in its early development stages and not widely available in the market is WEDEW. It was made by SkySource, a company dedicated to make water from air and help cities with droughts. Laura Doss-Hertz is a cofounder, the Chief Impact Officer of SkySource, and an environmentalist who wanted to help the countries without the basic right of water. The company’s goal is to create a machine that makes water from air by condensing water vapor into purified and drinkable water. WEDEW heats wood chips in a low oxygen environment to power an engine, which then extracts more than 2,000 liters of water a day from the atmosphere. The cost for this process is less than 2 cents per liter of water. The potential for this invention is promising, but as acknowledged by the founders of the company, they do not want the invention to die as a press release and they believe they need more time for the prototype to be able to work reliably and consistently in the real world.[14]

To ease the pain of not having running water, a sweeping fundamental change is needed. Whether it’s inserting a pipeline system, buying and implementing WEDEW, purifying toilet water, or desalinizing ocean water, a collective effort to reverse this course should be made. The grassroots movement for the basic human right of water is needed in the form of raising awareness, donations, and petitions. A fundamental change is impossible without the help of the movement and the people who are willing to initiate the events.


© 2021 Written by JoonWon Lee for Scholastics Arts and Writing. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED-

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