Water has always been precious for Turkey’s arid and semi-arid regions but its importance elevated in the wake of the climate crisis, which manifested itself in lengthy droughts in the country.
Looking to save every drop, Turkey boosts water reuse efforts. Since 2002, the number of wastewater treatment plants was increased to 1,176 from 145, and they now serve 89% of the population. In the centenary of the Republic of Turkey, which will be marked next year, Turkey aspires to boost the rate of recycled water to 5% from the current 3.5% (as of late 2021), thanks to new investments by the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change.
Next year, water treatment services are expected to serve the entire population, while ministry funds local projects by other entities for infrastructure enabling better water treatment. So far, it has allocated some TL 250 million ($16.86 million) to 1,118 projects, while it paid about TL 793 million in 11 years for projects focusing on energy saving.
A highlight of efforts to save water is the success in recycling of water purification sludge. The rate of sludge recycled reached 46% last year. Water purification sludge collected in 2021 amounted to 2.3 million tons and about 913,000 tons of it was stored for disposal, while another 70,000 tons were transferred to biomethanization facilities for recycling. Recycled sludge is used as fuel, construction material and fertilizer.
According to a 2021 report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Turkey shows water per capita in the country has decreased by 18% in the last 20 years, with current measurements showing that it falls between 1,000 to 1,700 cubic meters. According to the Falkenmark Index, also called the “water stress index,” Turkey can be classified as a country experiencing water scarcity. To make matters worse, projections for 2030 say that this amount will fall further in line with the rise in population, which is expected to reach 100 million, with only 1,120 cubic meters of water being available per person. The current total water consumption in Turkey is 54 billion cubic meters per year, 73% of which is used by the agricultural sector, 16% by households and 11% for industrial processes. WWF recommends more efficient water management and incentives, such as popularizing drip irrigation in agriculture, as well as conservation of rainwater and wastewater recovery.
Along with wastewater, Turkey is considering more ways to use seawater. A group of scientists from Istanbul Technical University (ITÜ) is working on a low-cost solution for converting seawater to potable water. Through a hybrid thermal and purification technology, associate professor Derya Yüksel Imer and her team of researchers aim for a 40% less coast for conversion. The technology they work on is also more environmentally friendly.
Scientists work in collaboration with colleagues at Gebze Technical University and Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University for the project entitled “Development of Advanced Membrane Distillation for Treatment of High Salt Concentration and Seawater Desalination,” which received a $540,000 grant from a research program by Qatar.
Imer told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Wednesday that water scarcity is a main challenge for the world, which needs the development of new technology for alternative water resources. She points out that the increased levels of industrialization, population increase and climate change boosted pressure on water resources. “Access to clean water decreases day by day,” she said.
The project taps into the experience of Qatari researchers for thermal desalination technology and ITÜ’s work on nanofiber materials and highly efficient filters used in water treatment processes.
Imer says that converting seawater to clean water caused the discharge of high levels of salt back into the seas and this, in turn, affected the marine ecosystem. “Our project will help control this flow,” she added. “Extracting clean water is a costly job in which you have to use a high volume of energy. We managed to decrease the cost by 40% and aim to further decrease it,” she said.