Within the past few decades, planning for future potable water supplies has become an increasing concern nationwide. With the growth of communities and rapidly shrinking supplies of potable water, water professionals are looking to alternative sources of water to adequately plan for the future.

Water reuse has become a method employed to manage wastewater and provide a new water supply to supplement potable water for non-potable, and in some cases, potable purposes. In many areas of the United States, reclaimed water has become a key resource to provide sustainable water supplies to meet these future-planning requirements. However, the pricing and recovery of costs associated with reclaimed water has been an obstacle.

Growing communities, increasing regulations, and demands for limited water resources are just a few of the issues facing the water and wastewater industries today. These and other issues are forcing industry professionals to look to alternative solutions to increase supplies of water. Reclaimed water generally is more reliable than other water resources because it is produced in predictable quantities even during periods of drought or other water supply reduction.

Industry Trends

As water resources have become scarcer with increased demands on limited supplies, the water industry has employed methods to encourage the efficient use of water. Generally, these methods include some form of conservation programs and pricing. Conservation is a trend seen not only to help reduce the amount of potable water needed, it also shows that people are good stewards of the environment and its natural resources. Many communities are implementing extensive residential and commercial conservation programs that include the use of reclaimed water as a component of the overall program to reduce the demand for potable water. However, conservation is only one avenue to reducing potable water uses. With demand projected to outpace potable water resources in the future, new sources must be developed, and a shift toward providing appropriate quality of water for appropriate end uses needs to be made.

In the past several years, an emphasis has been placed on water reuse and its benefits. As technology has changed, reuse has become more socially acceptable and affordable. Therefore, reclaimed water increasingly is looked to as a source to satisfy demands, particularly demands that do not require potable-quality water.

Regulation Changes

National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits have strict requirements for the level of wastewater treatment and the discharge of treated wastewater to receiving waters, and are the primary mechanism used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. NPDES permits are not applicable to the practice of water reuse, unless the treated wastewater is considered “reclaimed,” and is discharged to a receiving water body in the context of planned augmentation. Most states included treated wastewater in their aquifer protection or land application regulations, and many states have or are developing regulations regarding the quality of reclaimed water for various applications. There is no nationwide regulation or standard for water reuse, although the EPA issued its “Guidelines for Water Reuse” in 2004.

Most states and local agencies nationwide are increasing the level of regulations related to treatment and disposal of wastewater and reuse of water. With limits to the amount of potable water and water resources available, regulators are passing increasingly stricter standards related to nutrients, temperature, pathogens and many other parameters. Increased monitoring and reporting of both influent and effluent wastewater now are required. Current transport, exposure and risk assessment research on a myriad of micro-constituents definitely will shape future regulations related to the reuse or discharge of wastewater.

These regulations are directly impacting the wastewater treatment industry by increasing the amount and type of wastewater treatment, and, in some cases, requiring the diversion of treated wastewater discharge. Facilities need to be upgraded in order to meet these stricter standards. With the upgraded facilities, higher-quality treated wastewater is being produced, and more ways to put the reclaimed water to beneficial use are being studied. This reclaimed water could be used to supplement potable water supplies for non-potable demands, and reduce the pollutant loading and concentration impacts to local water bodies.