The Right Water for the Right Purpose. That's the Watchword for the Nation's Leading Reuse Association.

The WateReuse Association looks back on major progress in managing water and ahead to a wide range of growth opportunities.

The Right Water for the Right Purpose. That's the Watchword for the Nation's Leading Reuse Association.

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Water recycling is seeing growth in familiar places and expansion into new areas. Helping to push it along is the WateReuse Association, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

WateReuse is the only trade association in the U.S. dedicated solely to advancing laws, policy, funding and public acceptance of recycled water. The association represents a coalition of utilities that recycle water, businesses that support the development of recycled water projects and recycled water consumers.

The fundamental principle is “using the right water for the right purpose, everywhere and all the time,” according to the association’s website. “That means aiding and accelerating the natural process of cleaning the water to make it suitable for its intended purpose, from irrigation to industrial uses to drinking.”

WateReuse advocates for policies, laws and funding to increase the practice of recycling water. Its national office leads the advocacy efforts with the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Reclamation and EPA.

Among the association’s initiatives is working with the EPA’s Water Workforce Initiative on training for operators of water recycling systems. Patricia Sinicropi, executive director, talked about the state of the recycled water industry in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

What is the history of the WateReuse Association?

Sinicropi: It was founded in 1990 by California utilities and businesses that were beginning to focus more closely on water recycling approaches, given supply issues in that state. It became a national association in 2000. We have some 500 members; about half are water, wastewater and water recycling utilities, and the other half are businesses. 

In the big picture, what has driven the progress on water recycling and reuse?

Sinicropi: During the last 30 years, water reuse has become a more feasible and practical alternative for communities struggling with supply. Membrane technologies have come down in cost. And the nearly 10-year drought in California and Texas placed a focus on recycling over the past decade and a half. That has accelerated the growth of the practice and membership in our association.

Do you see water reuse becoming more mainstream even in areas where historically there have been no serious droughts or other supply issues?

Sinicropi: Yes. Water recycling, especially with decentralized systems, can help communities facing all sorts of challenges, not only on the supply side, but also on the water-quality side and the wet-weather side. Beyond that, the stewardship culture in corporate America will drive more communities and businesses toward water recycling approaches.

What impacts can recycling have on the water-quality side?

Sinicropi: In regions where water quality is a limiting factor for build-out and development, such as in the Chesapeake Bay region where they are struggling with high nutrient levels in the watershed, recycling the effluent from municipal wastewater systems is an effective mitigation strategy to reduce nutrient loading and impairment of surface waters.

How can recycling help with wet-weather issues?

Sinicropi: If a community has a large and old centralized wastewater treatment system that tends to be leaky and has sanitary sewer overflow issues and combined sewer overflow issues, reducing the load through decentralized water recycling can help build efficiencies in that centralized asset.

What do decentralized water recycling systems look like?

Sinicropi: They come in many sizes. There are building-specific water recycling systems. A well-known example is The Solaire building complex in New York City. That on-site recycling system serves five residential facilities. The membranes are in a building’s basement. The treated water is used as a nonpotable supply. It’s quite effective and has reduced the effluent from the building going to the centralized plant by 60%.

What is your association doing to support operators of water recycling facilities?

Sinicropi: We participate in the EPA Water Workforce Initiative, which is developing new tools to help train plant operators in managing water recycling systems. We’re especially interested in a certification program for operators of decentralized recycling systems. We hope that will give operators a new skill and enhance their excitement in the work they do.

The U.S. EPA has drafted a Water Reuse Action Plan. Where do you see it having an impact?

Sinicropi: The plan is mainly focused on some basic, but important policy and research support systems and on facilitating greater adoption of water recycling. One item is doing an inventory and compiling all the various state rules related to water recycling and then developing a model state regulation. The plan also envisions a library of research and the development of a coordinated national research program. That initiative would identify what research is needed during the next five to 10 years and make a plan to move forward with it.

Where do you see the real growth areas in water reuse and recycling?

Sinicropi: We expect a lot of growth focused on creating resiliency. Along the Eastern Seaboard, I believe we will see more communities using recycling to help address the overpumping of aquifers and the sea level rise and saltwater intrusion in those aquifers. The best-known model for that is around Hampton Roads, Virginia, where they are using injection of recycled effluent into the aquifer to push out the intrusion of saltwater.

What other growth areas do you envision?

Sinicropi: I believe there will be greater interest in decentralized approaches, especially in cities that see rapid population growth and want to continue to attract development. This is especially true in older cities with large legacy centralized systems that don’t lend themselves easily to building more capacity. Decentralized recycling is a way to grow without putting too much pressure on the central system. In the West, reuse will continue to grow significantly. California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona are going all-in on water recycling.

How would you assess the future of direct potable water reuse?

Sinicropi: It is going to be part of the mix. As people realize that treatment technology has reached the point of providing very pure water, removing every possible constituent that could cause public health concerns, more and more people will be comfortable with direct potable reuse. We believe it will see significant adoption over the next 20 years or so.

What is the role of the association’s Recycled Water User Network?

Sinicropi: It’s a way for commercial businesses and farmers to become members of our association at a fraction of the normal fee and gain access to our network of experts, information and professional development opportunities. In addition, when they become members, they receive a Water Star label to use on their marketing materials and in community and customer relations to demonstrate that they are good stewards of water resources.

What are the greatest barriers holding back growth in water reuse and recycling?

Sinicropi: Public perception is becoming less of a barrier, and I don’t think there are barriers to reuse where water scarcity is an issue. One barrier is cheap water. If a community doesn’t have a water supply issue and the water is relatively affordable, then they ask, “Why do recycling?” The challenge in those regions is getting people to think differently about how to manage water resources and to adopt an ethic of greater efficiency in managing water.

What is the focus of September’s 35th Annual WateReuse Symposium?

Sinicropi: Because of the coronavirus, it will be a virtual conference. Last year we had more than 1,000 people join us in San Diego, and we hope we’ll have 1,000-plus people join us this time on a virtual platform. The theme is Reaching New Heights in Water Reuse. The keynote speaker is Pete Kageyama, who talks about emotional engagement with places — cities, towns, villages, schools and neighborhoods. His book, The Emotional Infrastructure of Places, explores how we create connections to our places and to each other. That in turn helps us take on the biggest and most complex problems facing our societies.  


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