Report: Recycling wastewater could increase cities’ drinking water
If cities used more treated wastewater, including as drinking water, it “could significantly increase the nation’s total available water resources,” according to a new report, “Water Reuse: Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater.” The report from the National Academy of Sciences said, for example, if coastal areas, which now pump the effluent out to sea, instead reused treated wastewater, they could increase municipal water supplies by as much as 27 percent.
“Wastewater reuse is poised to become a legitimate part of the nation’s water supply portfolio,” R. Rhodes Trussell, chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in a news release. The report said many communities already use recycled water on golf courses, lawns and parks, or for cooling industrial plants. Treated water also is dumped into rivers and other waterways from which many downstream communities draw their water supplies.
The report said advanced treatment procedures now make recycled water viable as a direct source of drinking water. The procedures run wastewater through multiple filters that render it safe to drink. Health risks from treated water “do not exceed, and in some cases may be significantly lower than, the risks of existing water supplies,” according to the news release.
Some cities and counties are using or considering using at least some recycled water in their drinking water, according to The New York Times. The diverse list includes Miami; Denver; El Paso and Big Springs, Texas; Cloudcroft, N.M.; and parts of Northern Virginia, according to the newspaper.
The largest effort is in Orange County, Calif., north of San Diego, where a $481 million plant uses a three-step process to recycle wastewater. A severe drought helped officials overcome initial public opposition to what critics called a “toilet to tap” plan for drinking water.
“If science is behind you and you can prove that, I think people are willing to listen,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told the Times. “The public is worried about scarcity.”