A new direct potable reuse framework

The WateReuse Association has been at the forefront of advocating for changes in direct potable water reuse and has been collaborating with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).

The WateReuse Association has been at the forefront of advocating for changes in direct potable water reuse and has been collaborating with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).

History was made at the end of last year when California passed regulations allowing ‘direct potable reuse.’ Direct potable reuse, also known as DPR, is the catch-all phrase for purified recycled water provided directly into the community’s drinking water pipes and distribution systems.

“Today heralds a new era of water reuse, making it possible for more communities across California to benefit from an abundant, safe, resilient, and local water supply, and serving as an example to other states,” said Patricia Sinicropi, Executive Director of the WateReuse Association.

The change means that DPR doesn’t start its life in an environmental buffer such as an aquifer or reservoir. The purified recycled water can be added before the conventional water treatment plant or directly into the distribution system.

California’s regulations made headlines worldwide but are not even the first such framework in the United States. Colorado already has its own regulatory framework. Texas has permitted DPR projects on a case-by-case basis, with schemes operating in Big Spring and Wichita Falls for several years. El Paso is building a DPR facility for the future. Utah and Arizona also have such regulations in development.

Behind this work in the United States is the work of the WateReuse Association. It’s the only trade association in the United States dedicated to advancing laws, policy, funding, and public acceptance of recycled water. WateReuse was established in California in 1990. It now has members in 38 states, the District of Columbia, and 11 countries.

“Potable reuse is a proven process used across the United States,” said Sinicropi. “Indirect potable reuse projects exist in California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. Projects in these states operate in various ways, adding advanced purified water into drinking water sources via groundwater aquifers, rivers, and reservoirs.”

Global involvement

Trailblazers in water reuse include Namibia and Singapore, with recent advances including agricultural reuse in Europe and new plans for potable water reuse in South Africa. The WateReuse Association works closely with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA). The two organisations are partnering to develop an international map of potable recycled water.

“WateReuse Association has worked with partners to advance water reuse for many years, said Sinicropi. “The WateReuse Association and the International Desalination and Reuse Association have recently partnered on a Global Dialogue on Water Reuse. The first part of the dialogue took place at the 2024 WateReuse Symposium, March 11-14, 2024, in Denver, Colorado. The second will be the International Desalination and Reuse Association (IDRA) 2024 World Congress in December 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Benefits of reusing water

Water reuse is a safe, reliable, and local solution for communities of all shapes and sizes to incorporate into their water management strategies. Most communities pair water reuse programs with other water supply solutions, such as incentivising water conservation and diversifying its water sources from rivers, aquifers, and regional partnerships. When communities look beyond their conventional water supplies, the cost of water reuse often compares favourably to other new supplies and technologies.

According to a study in npj clean water, the benefits include providing reliable, additional sources of clean water and reducing water pollution discharges. It also consists of the preservation of aquatic life and biodiversity through the reduction of water pollution and the advancement of scientific knowledge and technology. The study by Cecilia Tortajada from the National University of Singapore focused on how recycled wastewater contributes to clean water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Following years of research, collaboration, and public engagement, California’s State Water Resources Control Board voted in December 2023 to adopt new regulations allowing for direct potable reuse. Direct potable reuse is a practice that uses multiple phases of proven advanced water treatment technology to transform recycled water into safe, reliable purified water for blending directly into a community’s existing drinking water system.

California pioneers

California is a pioneer in purifying recycled water for use in drinking systems. In the 1960s, the Montebello Forebay Ground Water Recharge Project in Los Angeles made history by recharging a drinking water aquifer with purified recycled water. Today, communities across the state use purified water to recharge groundwater, reservoirs, and rivers in a practice known as indirect potable reuse. The new regulations create additional flexibility by allowing advanced purified water to be added directly into drinking water systems where it isn’t feasible to blend into a larger body.

The regulations herald a new era of water reuse, making It possible for more communities across California to benefit from an abundant, safe, resilient, and local water supply. It is hoped that this will serve as an example to other states and countries.

Events and the future

The Annual WateReuse Symposium is a conference dedicated to water recycling — attracting water professionals and water reuse practitioners globally for knowledge-sharing, networking, and collaboration. The 40th annual WateReuse Symposium will take place March 16-19, 2025, in Tampa, Florida.

“The WateReuse Association also offers regular webcasts, networking events, educational resources, and an online community for members to exchange ideas and solutions,” said Sinicropi. “WateReuse membership is a great way for utilities and businesses to join the conversation on the future of water.”

Given the current water challenges, water reuse is an essential ingredient in a sustainable and reliable water future. Investment in water reuse builds modern, sustainable, and stable communities – ready for families to flourish and businesses to grow. In some communities, recycled water can create a resilient, drought-proof water supply. Water recycling protects sensitive waterways and alleviates over-burdened centralised treatment facilities in other communities.

Across the country, communities and businesses investing in water reuse ensure that residents have safe drinking water supplies, industries have water to expand and create jobs, farmers have water to grow food, the environment is protected, and the economic future remains strong and secure.

For more information, visit https://watereuse.org/

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