Recycled Wastewater Is Crucial
By: Melissa Meeker
Melissa Meeker is the executive director of the WateReuse Association and Research Foundation.
From New York Times – UPDATED JUNE 30, 2014, 1:34 PM
In the face of global water supply shortages, recycled water has the potential to help us be more climate-independent. And even though it seems novel, reused water is already cycled back into the supply. If you live in a community downstream of another one, chances are, you are reusing its water.
Recycled or reclaimed water is water that is used more than one time before it passes back into the natural water cycle. Treated wastewater, including sewage and water used for industrial processing, can be cleanly recycled for agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, replenishing a groundwater basin and even for drinking water.
Scientifically proven advances in water technology — including reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection, and oxidation — allow communities to reuse water for many different purposes, treating the water differently depending on the intended use.
And the best part is: there is huge potential for growth in using recycled water. Thirty-two billion gallons of municipal wastewater are produced everyday in the United States but less than 10 percent of that is intentionally reused.
One key reason that water reuse is not a bigger part of the nation’s water supply is that it is still characterized as a waste product in most places. In a progressive move, California recently enacted legislation that reclassifies recycled water as a water resource. The state government also recently streamlined the permitting process for using recycled water for irrigation and allocated $200 million in grants to encourage related projects.
There are success stories in other parts of the country as well. Communities in dry west Texas have used state-of-the-art technology to augment their drinking water supply with reused water; the governor of Oklahoma just signed a law to encourage water reuse; and Florida’s most recent water reuse report indicated that 719 million gallons of water is beneficially reused each day in 2013 — the largest amount in the country.
But the amount of water intentionally reused in America is still quite low and it will stay that way as long as the public regards reuse as an emergency measure. Americans have embraced “sustainability” in so many aspects of modern life, but not when it comes to water resources.
Conservation cannot meet future water demands alone and other measures that create new sources of water, like desalination, are still more expensive. Water reuse is the easiest and most economical fix. It should be included in the water supply portfolio of every community.