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Meagan Mauter: How freshwater supply is becoming more circular

An expert in freshwater systems says the world’s pending water crisis is only just beginning, but it’s not too late to make the course correction necessary to right the ship.

low level water and dry earth ground from extreme drought in the Entrepenas reservoir, in Guadalajara, Castile, Spain

Treasure every drop. | Adobe Stock/Q

The world’s once linear — take it, treat it, use it, dispose it — model of freshwater usage is changing fast.

Despite two-thirds of Earth being covered in water, just 2.5% of it is fit for human consumption. And that share is dwindling by the day, says civil and environmental engineer and expert in water treatment and distribution systems Meagan Mauter. With a rapidly increasing population and climate change disrupting traditional weather and distribution patterns, access to freshwater is headed for, if not already amid, a worldwide crisis.

Avoiding calamity will require industrial scale desalination and other technologies that can separate precious freshwater from other less desirable substances in the water, but also a shift to a more circular model where every drop of water is treasured and reused.

Doing that, Mauter says, will demand doing away with not only inefficient practices but also the very notion of “waste” water, as she tells us in this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast with host bioengineer Russ Altman. Listen and subscribe here.