Wastewater: Tapping a Potential Source for Drinking Water

It’s a brave new world as water and wastewater industry experts explore the feasibility of “direct potable reuse,” a future in which highly treated wastewater can be plumbed directly into homes as a new drinking water supply.

Believe it or not, recycling wastewater for irrigation and other non-drinkable uses is already an everyday occurrence. It relies on the very same technology used to treat drinking water supplies that have become contaminated — and it’s been around for years. The impact of drought and growing populations is now causing numerous cities to recycle wastewater into the water supply, something that may become a necessity for a sustainable water future.

Around the world, nations and cities have begun the process of converting wastewater to drinking water. Singapore, Belgium, Windhoek, Namibia and Wichita Falls, Texas are a few of the earliest successful wastewater recycling test programs in the news.

The processes involved are not new. The first step is to filter out all the solids and impurities that exist in the water. Then, using the process of reverse osmosis, the tiniest of particulate matter is filtered out. The water is then flashed with ultraviolet light to sterilize pathogenic microbes, which thereby creates water that’s arguably as pure as that being taken from most reservoirs and rivers.

Californians Move to Implement Regulations for Wastewater Recycling

Currently, the state of California is poised to become the nation’s leader in “direct potable reuse,” as state water officials have announced plans to start regulating direct potable wastewater recycling. California is the first state in the nation to embrace this process as a new resource to provide sustainable drinking water to the state’s ever-expanding population.

The first major hurdle to success in California has already been met –  achieving overall public acceptance of the concept. In a 2016 poll conducted by the Xylem Corporation, researchers discovered that 76% of respondents believe recycled water should be used as a long-term solution for managing water resources, regardless of whether or not a water shortage continues.

The next step lies in actually developing, passing and implementing new regulations that will allow the state of California to proceed. These must take into consideration things like how to remove opioids from the water, a growing concern, and how to ensure all water operators are trained in the new handling and monitoring methods that will result from direct potable reuse.

Officials cannot currently offer a time frame in which those regulations will be completed. It’s a long and involved process, with numerous California-based water agencies waiting eagerly for the results. Still, the matter is of the utmost import: Californians have experienced life under intense drought conditions and know the consequences of shortages and limited usage. Finding a reliable source of potable water for human consumption is paramount to the citizens of the state.

Will We See a Movement to Direct Potable Reuse in the Midwest?

Not in the near future. But, the fact that California is providing a model and standards that could be replicated by other states should be reassuring. The city of Daytona Beach, Florida recently began to explore the potential of “direct potable reuse” noting that astronauts manning the International Space Station had been recycling wastewater into drinking water for years. A news story featured on NPR’s Marketplace, highlighted an Oregon water provider that has been holding an annual “wastewater into craft beer” competition since 2015 to raise awareness about the potential benefits of “direct potable reuse.” Given proper time, the state of California should be able to perfect treatment and delivery methods to an extent that could bring down costs and provide a blueprint for the future of “direct potable reuse” for the entire nation.

Trends that begin on either coast tend to make their way into the Heartland soon enough. PeopleService monitors all forms of innovation regarding water and wastewater, from advancements in treatment to the newest applications available in increasing potential sources of clean drinking water. It’s our job to keep clients informed of all current developments involving the water and wastewater industry and how they can best be applied to their cities and systems.  If it’s in the news, we are paying attention.