It’s Water Week in Washington, shining a spotlight on all things water — including the national movement toward water reuse.
Increasingly, communities are turning to water reuse as a proven method for ensuring a safe, reliable, locally controlled water supply that is essential for livable communities with healthy environments, robust economies, and a high quality of life.
Water reuse, also known as water recycling, is the process of intentionally capturing wastewater, stormwater, saltwater, or graywater and cleaning it as needed for a beneficial freshwater purpose such as drinking, industrial processes, surface or ground water replenishment, or environmental restoration and enhancement.
Investment in water reuse builds communities that are modern, sustainable and stable —ready for families to flourish and businesses to grow. In some communities, recycled water can create a resilient and drought-proof water supply. In other communities, water recycling protects sensitive waterways and alleviates over-burdened centralized treatment facilities. Communities and businesses that invest in water reuse ensure that residents have safe drinking water supplies, industries have water to expand and create jobs, farmers have water to grow food, our environment is protected, and our economic future remains strong and secure.
Examples of how water reuse is at work sustaining and growing local economies include:
- The Orange County Water District in California purifies enough wastewater each day to meet the drinking water needs of 850,000 local residents.
- Recycled water cools Loudoun County, Virginia’s “Data Center Alley” which processes more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet traffic.
- A planned 13-mile pipeline will provide 1.3 billion gallons of recycled water annually to Nevada’s Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, home of Tesla, Switch, and Google — and 20,000 new jobs.
- Hilton Head, South Carolina recycles water to irrigate eleven destination golf courses — sustaining $600 million annually in recreational tourism.
By 2027, the volume of recycled water produced in the United States is projected to increase by 37 percent from 4.8 billion gallons per day to 6.6 billion gallons per day, according to a recent survey by Bluefield Research. The versatility of recycled water as a resource creates great opportunity.
Recycled water allows communities to address water supply resiliency, population growth, environmental enhancement and habitat creation, extreme wet weather events and combined sewer overflow, and saltwater intrusion, among other issues. We have seen tremendous growth in water recycling in our traditional recycling centers of the arid west and south. This has largely been attributed to water supply challenges and the need for drought-resilient, sustainable supplies such as recycled water.
However, there is new and exciting growth in more water-rich areas in the Pacific Northwest, and in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, New York and others that are now looking toward water recycling to help manage stormwater and receiving water quality challenges. In addition, other areas on the eastern seaboard such as Hampton Roads, Virginia are incorporating water reuse strategies to support their region’s resiliency and sustainability goals.
The concept of wastewater is quickly becoming obsolete. Instead of using water just once and discharging it back into the environment, more and more communities are cleaning the water so that it can be used safely and effectively for many other beneficial purposes. What we once thought of as wastewater is simply water that we are wasting — the good news is that we no longer have to.
Paul D. Jones II, P.E., is president of the WateReuse Association and general manager of the Eastern Municipal Water District, which is one of the largest producers of recycled water in California. jones has more than 20 years’ experience managing water utilities.
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.
The WateReuse Association is the nation’s only trade association solely dedicated to advancing laws, policy, funding, and public acceptance of recycled water. WateReuse represents a coalition of utilities that recycle water, businesses that support the development of recycled water projects, and consumers of recycled water.