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Quest for non-conventional water resources

By Hana Namrouqa - Oct 29,2019 - Last updated at Oct 29,2019

WASHINGTON — Dropping water supply, growing urban populations and the impact of climate change on water availability and accessibility, particularly in arid areas, is making the quest for non-conventional water resources an ever challenging, yet , existential, task. Nonetheless, advancing technologies are offering new means to produce reliable and sustainable water amounts that are gaining traction around the globe nowadays, such as direct potable reuse (DPR).

DPR, first applied in the early 1960s in Montebello Forebay, Los Angeles County, California, can represent a feasible and viable source of drinking water, especially in areas suffering from water scarcity.

 DPR, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), represents the introduction of treated wastewater (with or without retention in an engineered storage) into a drinking water supply without prior discharge to an environmental buffer. 

The treated wastewater may be blended with raw water from a river, lake, reservoir or aquifer immediately before a drinking-water treatment plant; blended with treated water downstream of a conventional drinking-water treatment plant; or introduced directly into a drinking-water distribution system.

 

‘DPR is being 

done safely’

 

Water experts and researchers believe that direct potable reuse can be a sustainable and reliable source for drinking water if done appropriately, indicating that it is already being applied.

 “What I can tell you both from my past experience as a regulator and also my experience now leading the research foundation [is that] direct potable reuse can be done safely, and is being done safely now,” said Peter Grevatt, the chief executive officer of the Water Research Foundation that researches in the technology, operation and management of water, wastewater, reuse and stormwater collection, treatment and supply systems.

“The proper controls need to be in place,” Grevatt said, indicating that water operators planning to apply the direct potable reuse technology need to make sure they have the right engineering steps assembled in their treatment plants to make sure that there is no chance of having any kind of error happening.

 “What we have seen as we travelled around the world is that there is really no country that is doing more than the US is doing right now on potable reuse. There are other countries that are doing lots of work in agriculture reuse, industrial reuse, irrigation of golf courses or parks… but when it comes to treating water effluent to put it into a drinking water supply, the US is the lead, and within the US, California is doing more work than anyone else,” Grevatt told a group of journalists participating in a tour on water, organised by the State Department’s Foreign Press Centre.

 Grevatt highlighted that while in addition to California, Texas and Florida are leading the way in applying direct potable reuse technologies to generate drinking water, water scarcity is an ever increasing crisis in many countries.

“These challenges around water availability are going to move across the globe… this problem is going to get larger over time, and so we are excited to be involved now, right at the beginning, in laying the ground work to make sure this is done safely and can be done safely over time… our role at the research foundation is to lay the scientific ground work to prove that this can be managed properly,” Grevatt noted.

 Potable reuse can produce large volumes of drinking-water from wastewater available from established collection systems in both coastal and inland locations. In addition, it can reduce negative impacts of microbial hazards and in some cases nutrients from wastewater discharges on marine and freshwater environments, according to the WHO.

The number of potable reuse schemes is increasing, the report says, indicating that the the majority of potable reuse schemes have been developed in the 21st century and it is expected that potable reuse will increase as populations and pressure on finite water resources continue to grow.

 

‘Understanding what technology can do for us’

 

Grevatt underscored the importance of “understanding technology; understanding its limits and understanding what it can do for us”.

 “The space stations are currently operating with direct potable reuse systems and that is how the astronauts have their water on the space station; they are treating wastewater, so [this is] just another example [that] this can be and is being done safely now… and sustainably,” Grevatt said.

It is not cheap, the water expert said, however, he believes that when operating in a place like California or other really arid areas, the other choices for water supplies can also be quite expensive.

Meanwhile, Executive of the WateReuse Association Patricia Sinicropi highlighted that water reuse is becoming really essential to local economies.

“The technology has gotten to the point where it is so advanced it is helping to bring down the costs, but it is also producing quality water in a predictable and reliable way,” Sinicropi said.

She pointed out one of the projects where recycled effluent has created a whole sustained local industry in South Carolina, Helton Head, where there is a huge golfing industry. She noted that all the golf courses are irrigated with recycled effluent, thus sustaining a $600-million local industry each year.

“It is in a part of the country where if there is no water, there are no businesses, there are no jobs; the community starts to fail and disappear. So, this is really becoming an essential part of how communities can maintain their growth into the future,” Sinicropi underscored.

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