‘Bathroom to faucet’? Because the local weather retains altering, extra municipalities intention to recycle our most valuable useful resource


“When the well is dry, we know the value of the water,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Franklin probably meant it metaphorically, but it can literally be felt in much of the western United States, now again suffering from “extreme drought” conditions. As wells remain dry and the climate continues to change in ways that turn our lives and expectations upside down, American communities increasingly seek ways to recycle our most precious asset.

Read: California’s “atmospheric rivers” bring limited rain relief – a look at the western drought in numbers

Data from water market smart company Bluefield Research shows there are 635 planned water reuse projects across the country and an estimated 300 are in operation. This is true not only in places hit by the drought or in the desert in the southwest, but also in Hawaii, Florida, Iowa and beyond. Gaining just a little more certainty about access to water seems to offset people’s “ick factor” in a process that is sometimes referred to as “toilet to tap”.

“We look at factors that are increasingly important beyond drought and scarcity, such as storm and flood resilience and redundancy for critical infrastructure,” said Greg Goodwin, research consultant at Bluefield.

“When the 100 year storm turns into a 5 or 10 year storm, and the infrastructure doesn’t withstand Hurricane Sandy every few years, many places will think about it. Each region will have a certain degree of climatic disturbance. “

See: The climate risk strikes for state and local governments

“Reuse” and “recycle” are broad terms that can mean many different approaches to recycling water. Salt water can be desalinated to make it usable, and wastewater can be purified to make it usable – even potable – for humans.

Most experts in the field emphasize that a community or utility company’s decisions are very location-based. Is there a natural source of water nearby, such as an aquifer, into which mostly purified water can be returned? Is the community near salt water for desalination? Is it part of a larger watershed that could reimburse him for the up-front costs of building a reuse system if that helps reduce regional use in the future?

Right now, that means most of the guidelines are being developed at the state level, Goodwin told MarketWatch, with not much national leadership on the matter. Still, the federal government is investing heavily in funding such projects, noted Peter Grevatt, CEO of the Water Research Foundation, a Denver-based research collaboration.

Much of this funding comes in the form of grants and loans from the Environmental Protection Agency, including a relatively new program called WIFIA for the Water Infrastructure Funding and Innovation Act and government revolving loan funds. Some additional funding is being considered in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal, Grevatt said, marking what he calls “an ongoing commitment to water reuse” at the federal level.

Related: Climate change means public utilities will need billions in upgrades over the next decade, the report said

The city of Oceanside, California launched a drinking water reuse project called Pure Water in early 2020. Construction is slated to be completed by the end of 2021 and will cost around $ 82 million, but it will bring huge benefits.

After the recent drought, Oceanside City Council asked its water supply department to source 50% of the city’s water locally, said Lindsay Leahy, the utility’s chief engineer. At the time, 90% of the city’s water was imported while 10% came from a local aquifer.

Oceanside is “at the bottom of California,” Leahy said in an interview, “at the end of the pipeline. Whenever water protection measures come into force, it has a major impact on us. “

The project is funded by a hodgepodge of sources, including a WIFIA loan from the EPA of $ 30 million in borrowings from the San Diego County Water Board for a period of 15 years.

“The main benefit is reliability,” said Leahy, not only in terms of being able to tap the tap and draw water, but also being able to count on more consistent rates than would be the case with mostly imported water. A plus point: more water reuse means less discharge into the sea.

Pure Water Oceanside also benefited from another, less tangible, but experts say critical source of support: community approval.

“I think we can acknowledge that the source of the treated water is sewage, which can be a problem for some people,” Grevatt said. “It is so important to make sure that local communities participate in conversations and that a city that is considering a project like this takes careful steps to talk about why it is safe and secure. Where projects have really encountered problems, it is primarily due to the lack of effective public communication. “

As Bluefield Research noted in a presentation in August 2020, the COVID pandemic is “an additional barrier to the ‘Iittrigen factor'”.

Opinion: Drought is one of the greatest threats to the US New water technology is spreading across the country

Oceanside has worked hard to engage the community, Leahy said, but believes public adoption has come a long way. “To be honest, the city and the community have fully accepted the project. It was overwhelming support from everyone. “

There is another caveat with water reuse that could be of particular concern to communities aware of climate change. Some recycling processes can be huge energy hogs. As Bluefield’s Goodwin put it, “There is likely to be a degree of compromise. They will definitely increase the cost of ownership and energy is a component. The overall calculation is that the value of the balanced water is greater than the concern about the carbon footprint. “

Still, as Oceanside’s Leahy told MarketWatch, the “recent drought” experience has convinced residents of the need for an unorthodox form of water supply. As the effects of climate change continue to increase, communities across the country will likely have to consider compromises they never expected.

Read next: Cities and states at the forefront of climate change are not always open to risks. Is the municipal bond market interested?

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