What is the potential for Arizona’s water? Expert weighs in

Aug 9, 2023, 4:15 AM | Updated: 5:34 am

Arizona water...

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved a water conservation ordinance on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — Water is precious, especially in Arizona. To get the most out of that water, one local expert said understanding how to utilize water from different sources and of different qualities is essential.

Paul Westerhoff is a Regents Professor and the Fulton Chair of Environmental Engineering at Arizona State University.

He explained it’s all about knowing what water you’re dealing with – and how you want to use it.

“Matching the right quality of water to the right application will get us a long way to a sustainable water future,” he said. “How you use the water really depends on what’s in the water.”

He used wastewater as an example. There’s a spectrum when it comes to wastewater, and in some cases, it’s better suited for cases where it doesn’t have to be purified as much.

“A lot of places have used it for non-human-consumptive agriculture, like alfalfa,” Westerhoff said. “Then people started using it to irrigate golf courses and parks.”

Wastewater can be treated and made safe for humans, but it isn’t easy.

“What does it take to take that water to a level where you can drink it?” Westerhoff asked. “You want it to be super safe… so that takes a higher level of purification. More cost, more technical expertise, and more monitoring.”

Being able to reuse all wastewater on a personal level is very difficult, and Westerhoff said the technology simply isn’t available at this time. There are efforts to make re-using some specific types of wastewater in the home a possibility, though.

“What you are seeing is taking the water from your shower or your washing machine, which is called greywater,” he said. “[You can] use that type of water for things like flushing toilets.”

Then, there are specialized uses for water, like building microchips.

“They have to take tap water and remove everything, literally everything,” Westerhoff stressed. “They’re just left with H2O.”

That process, just like turning wastewater into something drinkable, is difficult. However, Westerhoff explained innovative new methods of capturing water could eliminate some of those steps.

“One is atmospheric water capture, even in Phoenix we can take water out of the atmosphere,” he said. “The water is really high quality; we can almost take water out of the atmosphere to make computer chips cheaper [than the current purification process].”

It’s a revolutionary idea, and Westerhoff said it won’t be viable immediately. However, he cites it as another example of getting the most out of our water supply by getting the right water for the job.

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What is the potential for Arizona’s water? Expert weighs in