We Recycle Plastic, Why Not Water?

Chris Callahan

Note: This is part two in a series. Read part one here.

When we think of recycling, we tend to think about materials: plastics, cardboard, glass and metals, but not water. Materials recycling is successful for a multitude of reasons, but one of the primary drivers of recycling is securing reliable long-term resources. That same reasoning can (and should) be applied to our water resources. 

While water recycling (also called reuse or reclamation) may not currently have the public exposure materials recycling does, water has been actively recycled in the United States since 1926. Major cities across the U.S. have had success in reusing their water resources, such as St. Petersburg, Florida , where non-potable water satisfies 40 percent of the city’s total water demand, or the Phoenix, Arizona,  which reuses almost all its wastewater for a variety of purposes, from irrigation, agricultural, and industrial uses to aquifer recharge. 

There are a multitude of applications for water recycling but in general, it can be split into potable (i.e. drinking water) or non-potable applications. 

Non-potable water reclamation systems are generally utilized when there are large single-point uses on the water system where potable water is not necessary. These uses can include agriculture, irrigation (parks, schools, golf courses, etc.), toilet flushing    in large commercial structures, heating/cooling water for power plants or industrial process water. Non-potable water doesn’t need to meet as stringent of treatment standards as potable reuse but requires a separate infrastructure and piping system. This is why non-potable reuse applications make sense for shifting large single-point users off the potable water system (the highest return on infrastructure investment). This approach can help extend the life of existing water treatment and distribution infrastructure and delay requirement for other new sources.

Treatment and disinfection standards for recycled water are typically more stringent than most discharge limits imposed on water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs); however, many WRRFs can meet Type I and II standards with the addition of cloth or sand media filters and increased disinfection.  Additionally, there are several funding opportunities at the federal (Clean Water State Revolving Fund, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, etc.) or state (Texas Water Development Board, Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, etc.) level which can provide low interest loans or loan forgiveness for these projects.

Contact Mark Graves or David Sloan to see how we can help you select the right water-reuse application for your system. Freese and Nichols has experience designing reuse treatment and distribution systems as well as planning strategies and coordinating with regulatory agencies to get these systems permitted.