There's a New National Plan to Promote Reuse of Water and Wastewater

Entities of all kinds are recognizing water as a resource to be conserved, nurtured and recycled, not just used and discharged downstream.

Water has always been a vital resource. Only recently are businesses and government entities treating it as such.

The latest evidence of this evolution is the draft National Water Reuse Action Plan released last fall by the U.S. EPA. The plan proposes a wide range of actions covering government policy, technology, public outreach and communication, and workforce development.

“Addressing future water resource challenges will require more holistic thinking that embraces the ‘convergence of water’ through more integrated action,” the plan document states in one of its less bureaucratese-sounding passages.

Early adoption

One could argue that the EPA is a little late to the party in creating a federal recycling and reuse initiative. Be that as it may, it’s a welcome project that aligns with efforts underway in major sectors of government and business.

Industries were early adopters of water reuse for the simple reason that most often they have to pay for the water they use in their processes. It makes a great deal more sense to recycle and reuse that water on site than to send it to the wastewater treatment plant, pay for it again and then buy some more. Owners of industrial facilities pride themselves on achieving zero liquid discharge through intensive recycling.

Municipal utilities, meanwhile, jumped on the recycling train as water demand started to outstrip supply, especially in the dry climates of the West and Southwestern U.S. First came water reuse for landscaping and some industrial processes. Now attention is turning to indirect potable reuse of wastewater — sending highly treated effluent into a reservoir or other drinking water source.

A number of utilities are looking deeper, at direct potable reuse — sending even more highly treated wastewater effluent straight into the drinking water supply. The communication challenge can be daunting, but the rewards justify the effort.

Bigger picture

The EPA plan envisions a broad approach to water reuse, representing “a major opportunity” to ensure the quality of the water supply and supplement existing supplies through recycling of water from agriculture, municipalities, industrial processes, stormwater, and produced water from oil and gas operations. Among many potential components of the plan are:

  • Supporting and encouraging water reuse on a watershed scale
  • Preparing case studies on successful water reuse projects
  • Enhancing collaboration on water reuse among states
  • Incorporating water reuse considerations in civil works projects
  • Enhancing combined and sanitary sewer overflow abatement
  • Promoting technology development, deployment and validation
  • Facilitating financial support for water reuse
  • Integrating and coordinating reuse research
  • Supporting development of a talented and dynamic workforce for reuse applications

The public comment period on the EPA reuse plan closed last December. The EPA intends to issue a final plan with clear commitments for actions that will advance water reuse and help ensure the sustainability, security and resiliency of the nation’s water resources. For details about the plan and to review the draft, visit 

Another voice

Meanwhile, Wharton University of Pennsylvania has issued a paper called The End of Wasted Water: A Revolution in Reuse is Underway. Sponsored by SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions and the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership, the paper advocates water reuse on a global scale. It states:

“The technology needed for water reuse is at hand and the costs of deploying it are dropping. Yet 80% of the world’s wastewater is still being discharged into rivers and oceans without being treated. Financial, bureaucratic and cultural challenges are significant, and while progress is being made globally and nationally, much more remains to be done.”

The paper cites a 2017 report, Wastewater: The Reuse Opportunity, published by the International Water Association and the OPEC Fund for International Development. “Recovering water, energy, nutrients and other precious materials embedded in wastewater is an opportunity for cities to transition to the circular economy and contribute to improved water security.” You can read the report at

Clearly there’s a movement afoot here. Progressive communities and clean-water and drinking water utilities have every reason to explore the full potential for reuse in their operations.


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