Direct Potable Water Reuse—Has the Time Arrived?

Sept. 22, 2015

I just returned from the 30th WateReuse Symposium in Seattle, where there was a lot of buzz about indirect and direct potable reuse. While “unintentional” indirect potable reuse has existed since humans first appeared on earth, given the recent droughts in California and Texas, intentional planned indirect and even direct reuse for human consumption has taken on critical importance.

In July 2015, Heal the Ocean—a citizens’ action group based in Santa Barbara, Calif.—published a report titled Potable Reuse: A New Water Resource for California. The report notes that while California has for decades successfully navigated the limits of its water supply through targeted investments in efficiency and conservation programs, the current drought conditions and the antiquated water rights system is forcing the state to be more proactive in investing in local water infrastructure—particularly recycled water projects.

Heal the Ocean believes that greater production of recycled water must be a central plank of the state’s water supply planning efforts now and into the future. Rather than disposing of treated wastewater into the ocean, this resource should be used to combat water scarcity in California’s coastal cities. The report goes on to discuss both indirect potable reuse and direct potable reuse, of which indirect is the only permitted use in California. The feasibility of direct potable reuse (DPR) is currently undergoing review by an expert panel convened by the State Water Resources Control Board. The report goes on to discuss treatment for indirect potable reuse, health and safety criteria, reuse as an affordable supply alternative, energy demand and financing indirect potable reuse projects.

This theme was certainly evident at last week’s WateReuse Symposium, where communication and public perception/acceptance of reuse was a common theme. A major focus of several panel sessions was the Framework for Direct Potable Reuse, a report released on September 14 that was prepared jointly by the WateReuse Assn., the American Water Works Assn., the Water Environment Federation and the National Water Research Institute.

The Framework is designed to provide guidelines to help regulators and decision-makers as they consider developing future DPR programs. The 196-page report defines DPR; identifies key components of a successful/sustainable DPR program; discusses public health and regulatory aspects of DPR; discusses wastewater and water treatment trains and hazard control identification and mitigation; provides examples of public outreach strategies; and identifies future regulatory, technology and public outreach needs. 

It is clear that the time has finally come for a more focused discussion on water scarcity and reuse as a tool to meet human needs for food, sanitation and drinking water. In fact, on a fun public relations note, attendees were treated to various types of beers produced by the Oregon Brew Crew from 100% wastewater effluent—a tasty and refreshing drink that many had no problems lining up to taste and enjoy.

Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at [email protected].