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Water Reuse USA - Case Study

Assessing Public Health Impacts of
Decentralised Water Reuse as a Non-potable Water Supply
Michael Hoover, Ph. D. and Sushama Pradhan, Ph. D., Soil Science
Dept., NC State University, April, 2010

Water is a globally scarce natural resource. Water crises are projected to become progressively worse as a result of climate change induced drought, population growth, expedited urbanisation, changes in human lifestyles, industrial development etc. Highly treated, energy intensive and high cost drinking water is currently used throughout the U.S. for many purposes including drinking water, food preparation, washing and bathing, toilet flushing, laundry, irrigation, water cooling towers etc. Potable water is that water considered satisfactory for domestic human consumption.

Does the water we flush our toilets with and irrigate our lawns with really need to be treated to high-level drinking water standards? Or can non-potable waters work just as well and just as safely for some of these uses? This is particularly an important question as “high-end” drinking water becomes more and more scarce, as is expected to occur as global climate change occurs. So, we need to ask ourselves if there are other options that would allow use of clean, but non-potable water for certain uses in homes, businesses, and communities. Treating and reusing water for provision of non-potable water supply can be an excellent strategy to overcome the life threatening water scare situation many communities need to deal with today and that more communities will be facing tomorrow.

But, most of the water reuse technology currently developed and used in the United States occurs at very large regionalised “centralised” wastewater treatment plants (often called water reclamation facilities). This exclusively occurs at the large community-scale, in major cities. On the other hand, there is the need to expand this water reuse effort to also include the communities large and small, businesses and households that (1) either are not served by these large regional centralised wastewater treatment plants or (2) are located in sewer areas that do not have centralised reclaimed non-potable water reuse supplies. Thus the focus here is upon decentralised water reuse technology distributed throughout communities, in neighbourhoods, at businesses and commercial facilities and even, in some cases, at individual homes. In addition to the apparently proven reuse approach at the large “centralised” treatment plant scale, decentralised wastewater treatment with reuse occurring nearer the point of wastewater generation may be a beneficial water reuse paradigm shift, both economically and environmentally. However, there is a lack of information about the contribution that the “decentralised reuse systems” can make in world water management. Hence, the National Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (i.e. the CDC in Atlanta) has developed a 2-year project, in conjunction with NC State University to assess more fully the likely benefits and risks due to decentralised water and wastewater reuse.