Jun 03, 2021

The Case for Water Reuse Consideration

A fit for purpose solution you can tailor to your local needs

Water reuse can take many forms and solve a variety of water resource management challenges.

When we look at images of Earth from space, it is clear that our planet is mostly water, and it may seem that we have all the water that we will ever need. The truth, however, is that the freshwater needed for human use is quite rare. Only about 3% of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and the rest is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use. This means that water is too precious of a resource to use just once.

Communities across the country are incorporating water reuse, also known as water recycling, into their water management strategies as a proven method for ensuring a safe, reliable, locally controlled water supply — essential for livable communities with healthy environments, robust economies and a high quality of life. The WateReuse Association represents utilities that recycle water, businesses that support the development of recycled water projects, and industries that use recycled water for operations in a national movement for safe and resilient water supplies.

Water reuse can take many forms and solve a variety of water resource management challenges. The process can involve intentionally capturing wastewater, stormwater, graywater or even saltwater and cleaning it as needed for a designated beneficial freshwater purpose such as drinking, industrial processes, surface or ground water replenishment, and watershed restoration. Water can be recycled through a traditional centralized treatment system, through distributed water infrastructure built near the point of use, or onsite within a building.  

Although water reuse first became popular as an irrigation tool in arid climates, it is now recognized as a national and international strategy to address a multitude of water management challenges and help communities and businesses build economic resilience, long-term affordability, and stable water management systems. The drivers and approaches to water recycling are as varied as our nation itself.

In the Pacific Northwest or Florida, for example, communities that rally to keep environmental treasures in pristine condition are concerned about treated effluent being discharged into fresh waterways. Treating and reusing water can dramatically reduce the return of nutrient-rich effluent to the environment. For Florida communities that want to protect Everglades National Park, water reuse could be the answer.  

In New York City, overflow issues related to a combined sewer system have been a driver for embracing water reuse. Sewer overflow into the Hudson River is so problematic that the city asks residents to wait until rain events pass to use water or flush toilets to help reduce the risk. The city’s Department of Environmental Quality offers grants to commercial, industrial, and multi-family residential properties to install onsite water reuse systems to reduce wastewater flows to centralized treatment systems which reduces the overall burden on the city’s collection and treatment systems.

This growing national interest in water reuse is why over 100 organizations are participating in the National Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP) collaborative. Developed by water sector partners and released by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency in February 2020, the WRAP identifies a series of actions that can help accelerate the adoption of water recycling across the nation. The WateReuse Association is leading or partnering on more than 20 of the actions.

The collaboration between federal agencies and water sector organizations on the WRAP is an important tool in helping communities and business understand how they can build resilience to drought, flooding, and weather events through water recycling. One of the biggest hurdles, however, is cost. Fees collected from ratepayers are often not enough to build water reuse infrastructure. Therefore, the WateReuse Association, our members, and others are urging Congress and the White House to include a significant investment in water reuse infrastructure as part the infrastructure legislation that is currently being negotiated. 

Some important examples of how communities and businesses are increasingly turning to water reuse to stabilize their water management systems and build a stronger economy include: 

  • By 2035, the City of Los Angeles expects to recycle 100% of its water supplies and reduce its reliance on costly imported water from the Colorado River.  
  • Truckee Meadows Water Authority in Reno is planning 13-mile pipeline to provide 1.3 billion gallons of recycled water annually to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, home to Tesla, Switch and Google, and ensure 20,000 jobs remain in Nevada.    
  • The Hampton Roads region of Virginia, home to the largest concentration of military and naval installations, plans to recycle 100% of its effluent through an aquifer recovery system to prevent rising sea levels from threatening the freshwater supply of the entire region. 

In the 21st century, there is no such thing as wastewater. If we are only using our water once, we are simply wasting water. We have the technology to clean virtually any source water to make it fit for any beneficial purpose. Why would we not take advantage of this renewable resource? Please join us in this national movement for safe and resilient water supplies!

Patricia Sinicropi
Patricia Sinicropi
Patricia Sinicropi is the Executive Director of the WateReuse Association and has nearly two decades of experience as a policy expert and advocate on water-related issues in Washington, DC. Sinicropi can be reached at [email protected]