A look at the National Research Council Report: Water Reuse Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply

Is it possible to meet our future water supply needs through the reuse of municipal wastewater? This is a question the National Research Council (NRC) had in mind when the Assessment of Water Reuse Committee was formed by the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board. Since wastewater is discharged into the environment in significantly large quantities—approximately 12 billion gallons of municipal wastewater is discharged to an ocean or estuary each day—the committee critically assessed the practicality of reusing water to meet future supply needs by analyzing technical, economical, institutional and social issues associated with water reuse.

This isn’t a new idea, as water reuse is a very common practice within the United States for irrigation and non-potable applications; however, as the NRC’s report states, using reclaimed water to augment potable supplies has significant potential for helping meet future needs. The EPA previously estimated the extent of water reuse in the United States; as of 2002 Florida was reusing the largest quantities followed by California, Texas and Arizona.  Over 50% of the reclaimed water in Florida and California was used for irrigation. 

So then the question is begged, how will people react to drinking recycled wastewater?  Although it sounds unsanitary, with the right wastewater reclamation technology and monitoring systems, the potable reuse of highly treated reclaimed water becomes worthy of consideration.  The committee found that the current technology is very advanced with room for improvements but no real limitations. To help address public concerns about safety of reuse and the effects on human health and the environment, the committee proposed 14 priority research areas within two categories: health, social and environmental issues; and performance and quality assurance.

Several advanced treatment facilities in California and throughout the world provide examples of successfully managed systems that are expanding local water supplies.  In Southern California, Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System recycles wastewater using advance treatment processes.  Half of the treated wastewater (about 35 million gallons a day) is used to recharge the local groundwater basin which supplies potable water to the county.  Elsewhere, Singapore’s NEWater system recycles wastewater that subsequently meets 30% of the nation’s water demand.  Currently only a small percentage of NEWater is being used to augment potable supplies.

As the world’s water supply decreases and as population increases, the need for water reuse becomes even more vital—especially for water-limited regions.  Although reuse alone will not address the nation’s water challenges, municipal wastewater reuse has the ability to significantly increase the world’s water resources.

Find out more by reading the full report here