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Water Reuse 2030: Identifying Future Challenges and Opportunities

Project: 06-17
Year Released: 2012
Type: White Paper

Program: Principal
Funding Partner: Bureau of Reclamation
Total Investment: $13,762.13 (Cash), $50,000 (In-Kind)

Principal Investigators: Karl G. Linden, University of Colorado Boulder, Jorg E. Drewes, Colorado School of Mines, Stuart Kahn, University of New South Wales, Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting, Inc


An important environmental issue facing the world is the lack of sufficient freshwater resources due to population growth, climate change, and regional drought. Fresh surface and groundwater resources are finite in their ability to provide the clean water resources necessary to support the earth’s population. Water supply sources are being diminished and degraded as the disparity between supply and demand grows. It is becoming increasingly necessary to expand the use of nonconventional water resources such as reclaimed water in water-stressed areas.

For water reuse to grow as a feasible water supply option, a number of technical, environmental, institutional, and socioeconomical issues need to be addressed. This project identified the factors and complexities that have a significant effect on water reuse and developed scenarios at two expert workshops, one in the U.S. and one in Australia, where challenges that will influence water reuse in the next two decades were highlighted. Analysis of these challenges led to suggestions for adaptive strategies and research foci that will help to ensure that productive steps are taken to advance water reuse.

Goals and Objectives

The Water Reuse 2030 project explored the future of water reuse to identify how water reuse might help to narrow the gap between water supply and demand. The future of water reclamation and reuse depends on numerous complex issues and their interactions, and on how well future challenges can be addressed. The Water Reuse 2030 project was initiated to evaluate these issue and challenges to help develop a vision of water reuse in the year 2030, in order to highlight the scale and scope of challenges that will shape and influence water reuse in the industrialized world during the next two decades. The objectives of this study were as follows:

  • Document the current status of water reuse
  • Project the global status of planned water reuse in the year 2030
  • Describe the scale and scope of challenges that will shape and influence water reuse in the industrialized world over the intervening years.

Research Approach

To meet objectives, this project conducted a series of literature reviews, surveys, and expert workshops.

Findings and Conclusions

One of the key results obtained from the Water Reuse 2030 surveys and expert workshops was a set of recommended strategies and research categories. Eight key recommendations that recurred throughout the surveys and expert workshops are summarized as follows:

  • Expansion of the Perceived Role of Water Reuse: The supply source for water reuse needs to be redefined. Beyond treated wastewater effluents, there are many other sources of water that can be harvested for reuse. It would also be beneficial to reframe how water reuse is promoted and introduce it as a way to recover important resources such as water, energy, nutrients, and salts.
  • Public Perception: It is necessary to help the public recognize the value of water, which will spur them into participating in the decision-making processes that are implemented for water-related issues. To meet such goals, these efforts must go beyond currently used techniques for formally and informally educating and communicating with the public.
  • Regulatory and Legal: In many locations, regulations that are directly applicable and attuned to the practice of water reuse need to be developed. It would be beneficial to develop a set of standards that are widely applicable and can be streamlined into existing regulatory structures. In addition, uncertainties about bow to best allocate water rights to reclaimed water need to be addressed.
  • Integrated Water and Resources Management: It is essential that integrated water resource plans be employed at the local, regional, and national levels. More cooperation and discussion needs to occur between and among different sectors such as water, energy, air quality, earth systems, ecology, biology, and climate because each of these resources depends on the states of the other.
  • Economics: Economic research needs to expand to investigate the unique costs and benefits of reusing water that evolve over time. To maximize the economic benefit of water reuse. the efficiency of allocating wastewater for reuse also needs to be investigated, and the effects of subsidizing water reuse need to be analyzed to ensure the economic feasibility of water reuse.
  • Greenhouse Gas Policy: It is important to begin devising methods for improving the energy efficiency of water reuse plants and the technology used, with the goal of attaining an energy balance. It will also become necessary to minimize methane and nitrous oxide emissions from treatment plants.
  • Associations and Institutes: There is a need for institutions solely dedicated to water reuse, including professional associations, representatives and lobbyists, dedicated regulators, and research organizations. These institutions can serve as champions of water reuse, assist in government planning and policy, advocate rick-based regulations based on science, and assist in other industrial needs such as funding research, providing advocacy to governments, and instigating efforts at the grassroots level.
  • Continued Research: It is necessary to continue the advancement of science and innovative solutions. Many issues need to be investigated in order to continue the development of water reuse. These include researching the effects of contaminants of emerging concern, improving technology to reduce costs, enhancing production, increasing water quality, improving energy efficiency, and expanding water reuse practices to multiple types of source waters. In addition, these efforts need to be collaborative to enable effective establishment and sharing of a knowledge base.

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