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Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
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11

Research Needs

This report has examined key challenges and opportunities for water reuse as an approach to meet the nation’s future water needs, and research will be needed to address many of the challenges ahead. In this chapter, the committee identifies key research needs that are not currently being addressed in a major way. These research areas hold significant potential to advance the safe, reliable, and cost-effective reuse of municipal wastewater where traditional sources are inadequate. This chapter also includes a discussion of the current roles of federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in supporting reuse-related research, because these same entities could play a role in supporting the committee-identified research needs.

RESEARCH PRIORITIES

In the committee’s review of a wide range of issues affecting the application of nonpotable and potable reuse, the committee did not identify any technological hurdles that were holding back the application of reuse to address local water supply needs. In fact, in its review of water reclamation technologies (see Chapter 4), the committee found the state of technology to be quite advanced, with room for improvements but no major limitations to their use. However, additional research could enhance the performance and quality assurance of existing processes and help address public concerns over the safety of reuse to human health and the environment.

Overall, the committee organized the proposed 14 priority research areas within two broad categories:

1. Health, social, and environmental issues

2. Performance and quality assurance

The topics are identified in Box 11-1 and are described in more detail in this chapter. The issues are not listed in order of priority.

Human Health, Social, and Environmental Issues

1. Quantify the extent of de facto (or unplanned) potable reuse in the United States.

Although population density has increased substantially in parts of the country with limited water resources, a systematic analysis of the contribution of municipal wastewater effluent to potable water supplies has not been made in the United States for over 30 years. The lack of such data impedes efforts to identify the significance and potential health impacts of de facto water reuse. Because new water reuse projects could decrease the volume of wastewater discharged to water sources where de facto reuse is being practiced, the lack of understanding of the contribution of wastewater effluent to water supplies restricts our ability to assess the net impact of future water reuse on the nation’s water resource portfolio. Available hydrological modeling and monitoring tools would enable an accurate assessment of de facto water reuse. Ideally, these efforts would take advantage of existing monitoring networks (e.g., U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] streamflow gauging stations), data on wastewater effluent discharges submitted by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Sys-

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

BOX 11-1
Summary of Research Priorities

These research areas hold significant potential to advance the safe, reliable, and cost-effective reuse of municipal wastewater where traditional sources are inadequate. They are not prioritized here.

Health, Social, and Environmental Issues

1. Quantify the extent of de facto (or unplanned) potable reuse in the United States.

2. Address critical gaps in the understanding of health impacts of human exposure to constituents in reclaimed water.

3. Enhance methods for assessing the human health effects of chemical mixtures and unknowns.

4. Strengthen waterborne disease surveillance, investigation methods, governmental response infrastructure, and epidemiological research tools and capacity.

5. Assess the potential impacts of environmental applications of reclaimed water in sensitive ecological communities.

6. Quantify the nonmonetized costs and benefits of potable and nonpotable water reuse compared with other water supply sources to enhance water management decision making.

7. Examine the public acceptability of engineered multiple barriers compared with environmental buffers for potable reuse.

Treatment Efficiency and Quality Assurance

8. Develop a better understanding of contaminant attenuation in environmental buffers.

9. Develop a better understanding of the formation of hazardous transformation products during water treatment for reuse and ways to minimize or remove them.

10. Develop a better understanding of pathogen removal efficiencies and the variability of performance in various unit processes and multibarrier treatment and develop ways to optimize these processes.

11. Quantify the relationships between polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detections and viable organisms in samples at intermediate and final stages.

12. Develop improved techniques and data to consider hazardous events or system failures in risk assessment of water reuse.

13. Identify better indicators and surrogates that can be used to monitor process performance in reuse scenarios and develop online real-time or near real-time analytical monitoring techniques for their measurement.

14. Analyze the need for new reuse approaches and technology in future water management.

tem permit holders, and hydrological models developed to study watersheds with historical concerns about the impact of effluent discharges on water quality. These efforts could be updated periodically (e.g., every 5 to 10 years) to provide decision makers with an understanding of the role of de facto reuse in the nation’s potable water supply. Furthermore, an improved understanding of de facto potable reuse could spur the development and/or application of contaminant prediction tools or lead to enhanced monitoring programs that could increase public health protection.

2. Address critical gaps in the understanding of health impacts of human exposure to constituents in reclaimed water.

Potential health impacts resulting from long-term, low-level exposure to chemicals and mixtures of chemicals present in wastewater effluent have yet to be fully elucidated. It would be expensive and time-consuming to conduct batteries of in vitro and in vivo toxicity studies on all of the different chemicals in reclaimed water. However, a carefully planned research effort would be useful to inform future decisions about potable water reuse. In particular, there is a need to fill in data gaps in existing toxicological databases with respect to contaminants that are known to occur in wastewater and persist in the environment and are refractory in water reclamation and water treatment processes. The risk exemplar (Chapter 7) highlights several of these chemicals, including nitrosamines, disinfection byproducts, hormones, certain pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials, flame retardants, and perfluorochemicals. As noted in Chapter 6, there is also a need to assess the importance of indirect pathways of exposure to constituents in reclaimed water, such as bioaccumulation of trace organic chemicals in food crops.

3. Enhance methods for assessing the human health effects of chemical mixtures and unknowns.

Concerns about the health effects of unknown chemicals and contaminant mixtures remain a major challenge in public and political acceptance of water reuse. Additional research is needed to further develop in vivo and in vitro bioassay methods that can be used to rapidly and selectively screen the product water from

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

water reclamation facilities for possible physiological effects. Improved rapid bioassays could also help in the prioritization of those chemicals, or chemical mixtures, which may necessitate longer term in vivo testing.

4. Strengthen waterborne disease surveillance, investigation methods, governmental response infrastructure, and epidemiological research tools and capacity.

Despite the frequency of acute gastrointestinal infections (AGIs) worldwide and in the United States and public concern over chemical contamination of public and private water supplies, the ability of the public health sector and the research community to attribute disease to water consumption remains problematic. Attributing waterborne disease outbreaks to a source or treatment practice will only become more difficult with the growing complexity of drinking water sources, including reclaimed water. There is no national public health epidemiological research program dedicated to tracking endemic water-associated AGI community disease trends or comparative health impacts of differing water reuse patterns. There is little public health response capacity until disease reaches epidemic outbreak status, when generic public health outbreak investigation resources become available. As water reuse increases in scope and volume, methods and expertise to determine whether AGIs are waterborne or whether community chronic health disparities are related to water reuse will be important to maintaining public acceptance of reuse practices and should be the focus of research partnerships. Disease and exposure surveillance tools, investigation practices, and human health outcomes research need to be improved and strengthened.

5. Assess the potential impacts of environmental applications of reclaimed water in sensitive ecological communities.

Reclaimed water has many potential uses for habitat restoration, but a need exists to better understand the impact of wastewater-derived contaminants in purposeful ecological enhancement projects. Many scientific studies of surface water impacts associated with municipal effluent discharges have been undertaken, although few have focused solely on purposeful restoration projects. The location and site-specific attributes associated with the restoration project will determine the extent of the research needs, but only through several site-specific analyses can the range of potential issues be fully understood. Conventional (e.g., whole effluent toxicity) testing and risk paradigms are available, but a need exists to further develop rapid screening methodologies. Research related to purposeful ecological enhancement with reclaimed water might lead to more successful habitat restoration projects.

6. Quantify the nonmonetized costs and benefits of potable and nonpotable water reuse compared with other water supply sources to enhance water management decision making.

When making major water management decisions and weighing various competing water supply alternatives, communities and decision makers must evaluate many factors (e.g., life-cycle costs, environmental costs and benefits, public acceptance, supply reliability, water system independence) in addition to traditional financial costs. However, a full understanding of these costs and benefits is rarely available. Quantification of environmental costs and benefits, for example, should include impacts on surface water flows and ecosystems, nutrients, and greenhouse gas emissions. Although these costs and benefits are inherently site specific, a synthesis of such analyses across a number of facilities and conditions could inform broader discussions of water management alternatives. Additionally, an evaluation of existing tools that planners and water managers could use to integrate these various costs and benefits into overall project analysis would help support and better inform water management decisions.

7. Examine the public acceptability of engineered multiple barriers compared with environmental buffers for potable reuse.

As described previously in this report, environmental buffers have been an important aspect of almost all successful potable reuse projects because of particular functions they serve toward contaminant attenuation, retention, and/or blending (see Chapter 5) and because some buffers (e.g., groundwater injection) serve

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
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to disassociate reclaimed water from its source in the minds of the public (see Chapter 10). However, from a technical perspective, the public health protection that natural systems provide is often not well defined. Recent research has shown that engineered barriers can provide equivalent or superior levels of protection compared with some environmental buffers currently in use. Research is needed to understand the public acceptability of engineered buffers compared with environmental buffers used for potable reuse.

Treatment Efficiency and Quality Assurance

8. Develop a better understanding of contaminant attenuation in environmental buffers.

Research on how well different environmental buffers function under various conditions, their potential weaknesses, and their impacts on water quality is crucial to the optimization of potable reuse systems and future decisions about their design. Some researchers have examined the performance of soil aquifer treatment systems in the southwestern United States, but the performance of such systems under other hydrogeological conditions is poorly understood. Information on contaminant attenuation in wetlands, rivers, and reservoirs is also lacking.

9. Develop a better understanding of the formation of hazardous transformation products during water treatment for reuse and ways to minimize or remove them.

As described in Chapter 3, wastewater contains a rich mixture of organic constituents, and during disinfection and other treatment processes, some hazardous transformation products are formed. Continued research is needed to understand the precursors of hazardous transformation products and how precursor chemicals can be better managed to reduce the formation of hazardous chemicals. N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is a particularly challenging disinfection by-product that merits additional research, because it poses a risk for cancer at very low concentrations (0.7 ng/L) and potable reuse projects frequently require expensive and energy-intensive additional treatment to remove it. Research on transformation products is important for enhancing the safety of water reuse scenarios, including de facto reuse.

10. Develop a better understanding of pathogen removal efficiencies and the variability of performance in various unit processes and multibarrier treatment and develop ways to optimize these processes.

Because health effects can result from a single exposure to a pathogen, the variability in pathogen occurrence and removal during wastewater reclamation and distribution processes should be better understood to capture the overall variability in exposure and risk. Data developed from careful monitoring across processes in full-scale installations and showing the variations in pathogen densities over time would serve as an important database for project design. Because low levels of pathogens remain toward the end of treatment, indicator organism monitoring may be needed to assess the variability in pathogen removal. Research is needed to better understand how changes in process design and operation affect the removal of pathogens (and indicators) to develop more efficient ways to reduce risks from microorganisms in treatment systems.

11. Quantify the relationships between polymerase chain reaction detections and infectious organisms in samples at intermediate and final stages.

With the increasing use of molecular biological methods such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for pathogen enumeration in environmental samples, occurrence data are being obtained in terms of genome copies per unit water volume (e.g., gc/L). However, for risk assessment, dose-response relationships are generally based on number of viable pathogens (e.g., colony-forming units, plaque-forming units) in a dose. The percentage of genome copies that represent viable (or infectious) units is likely to degrade during treatment and exposure to the environment, especially during exposure to oxidizing disinfectants. Therefore, to use qPCR data with more confidence in risk assessments of pathogens and in the control of advanced treatment systems, reliable data on the ratio and variability in the ratio of genome copies/viable pathogens are needed for various types of waters (e.g., source, partially treated, completely treated). Alternatively,

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

another means is needed for quantifying infectious pathogens that cannot be grown in conventional media.

12. Develop improved techniques and data to consider hazardous events or system failures in risk assessment of water reuse.

The committee developed its risk exemplar to compare the relative risks of conventional and a de facto water reuse scenarios (see Chapter 7), but this analysis did not consider the impacts of hazardous events (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, disease outbreaks) or major equipment failures. Ideally, risk assessments would address these factors and include techniques for quantitative analysis of both the likelihood and consequences of specific hazardous events in order to quantify the risks. However, the data to support such an analysis are not widely available. Improved techniques and data could also facilitate increased incorporation of quality assurance strategies into treatment plant design and operation (see Chapter 5). Additionally, the level of quality assurance necessary for public health protection needs to be better defined so that potable reuse systems can be designed to provide it, with or without environmental buffers.

13. Identify better indicators and surrogates that can be used to monitor process performance in reuse scenarios and develop online real-time or near real-time monitoring techniques for their measurement.

It remains impractical to use direct measurements of most contaminants to assess actual performance of individual processes and process sequences. Therefore, development and application of surrogate and/or indicator measurements (see Chapter 5) are needed that could be used to assess the performance of individual water reclamation processes. Indicators are individual chemicals or microorganisms that represent the characteristics of other trace organic contaminants or microorganisms of concern, particularly their removal through the specific process(es) where they are measured. A surrogate is a quantifiable change of a bulk parameter that can be continuously monitored and that correlates with contaminant removal. Development of real-time or near-real time monitoring techniques, particularly for contaminants with acute effects, such as microorganisms, could reduce the post-treatment storage capacity needed to ensure quality in potable reuse projects and could reduce the extent of contamination and potentially the exposure duration in the event of process failures.

14. Analyze the need for new reuse approaches and technology in future water management.

A review of the history of wastewater management in the United States (see Chapter 2) reveals that water reuse began as a strategy to dispose of large volumes of liquid waste generated in densely populated areas. More recently, reuse also has evolved to address local water demands, but largely working within the framework of an existing wastewater infrastructure designed in the early to mid-20th century. These existing wastewater infrastructure designs constrain water reuse in a number of ways. The strategy of draining wastewater from urban areas by gravity and managing water quality at the point of discharge to a receiving stream has favored the establishment of large centralized wastewater treatment plants. The location of these treatment plants limits the options for water reuse because large dedicated conveyance systems are costly and difficult to implement in existing urban settings, particularly when potential users are not located close to water reclamation facilities. An additional constraint on reuse is that only one quality of effluent is typically produced from wastewater treatment plants, even though potential users may have widely ranging quality requirements. Considering existing treatment train designs and site constraints, many of these existing wastewater treatment plants are not easily adaptable to the production of high-quality reclaimed water for reuse. Meanwhile, core elements of the infrastructure that embeds both water and wastewater treatment, storage, and conveyance were developed and designed during a time of inexpensive energy, smaller urban populations, and little appreciation of the need for aquatic habitat protection and control of greenhouse gas emissions (Daigger, 2009). The interdependency of water and energy has been mostly neglected, and the existing water infrastructure is rather energy intensive (e.g., water conveyance systems, need for pumping, energy-intensive treatment processes).

Many of these water and wastewater systems are

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

now reaching the end of their design life, and EPA has estimated that between $320 billion and $450 billion will need to be invested in wastewater infrastructure between 2002 and 2020 in the United States. Estimates of capital needs for drinking water infrastructure range from $178 billion to $475 billion (EPA, 2002). Thus, questions arise as to whether the water and wastewater infrastructure of the future will be (or should be) vastly different from that of today, and if so, what is the role of water reuse? Although this question is beyond the scope of the committee’s charge, there are several important questions based on future population scenarios and future water and wastewater infrastructure designs, whose answers will affect research priorities and the generation of future technologies.

• What are the water quality implications of expanded reuse, including de facto reuse, under future population scenarios,1 considering that contributions of wastewater in receiving streams are likely to increase under current population projections and migration trends?

• What are the implications of increased water conservation on the potential contribution of water reuse, and how will the likely associated increase in salinity and other effects on water quality affect water reuse applications?

• What are the water budget implications of various types of reuse, considering growing urban centers?

• How can future water reclamation plants be designed (or existing plants upgraded) to better take advantage of potential opportunities for water reuse?

• What advances in technology are needed to support reuse to address future water needs?

• What is the role of distributed wastewater treatment and reuse in future water management?

• What technologies can be applied to water reclamation so that new plants can recover energy and use resources most efficiently?

Additional research is needed to address these questions so that water reuse facilities constructed during this decade can provide appropriate benefits in the decades to come, while contributing to efficient use of water and energy resources.

FEDERAL AND NONFEDERAL ROLES

As the nation seeks to meet its water needs through new water supply approaches, such as water reuse, Congress and the executive branch are increasingly asking what the federal government role should be (Cody and Carter, 2010). At present, as discussed in Chapter 10, the federal presence is primarily directed toward regulation of wastewater discharges, injection of reclaimed water, and regulation of drinking water. Various reuse projects have benefited from federal funding, perhaps through Title XVI (see Box 9-1), which is generally limited to the 17 western continental states, or as earmarks in congressional budgets. The federal EPA has administered programs for funding municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the past, and administers a revolving loan fund for these purposes. The question of the appropriateness of federal funding for water supply projects is currently being debated in Congress and the administration of the executive branch (Cody and Carter, 2010) and is not a question that this committee is appropriately constituted to resolve. Instead, the committee reviewed the research programs supported by both federal and nonfederal entities and discusses in this section appropriate roles to address the above research needs.

Federal Agency Reuse Research

There is no single lead federal agency on water reuse–related research. Seven federal agencies provide at least some research funding for water reuse: the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), USGS, EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

USBR

USBR is the only federal agency with a specific directive to address water reuse–related issues, and it provides the largest amount of funding for water reuse–related research via several programs. In particular,

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1 It is estimated that by 2030, 86% of the U.S. population will live in urban centers (U.S. Census, 2008).

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

between 2000 and 2011, the USBR provided $17 million in research funding to the WateReuse Research Foundation, through the Title XVI program (see Box 9-1), which was used to support research projects and workshops on microbial and trace organic contaminants, treatment technologies, salinity management, and social and institutional issues such as public perception, economics, and marketing. Additional programs, such as the Secure Water Act (Public Law [P.L.] 111-11, Subtitle F, enacted in 2009), which was intended to “accelerate the adoption and use of advanced water treatment technologies to increase water supply,” the Rural Water Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-451), and the Water Desalination Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-298), provide some support for reuse-related research. The USBR estimates that approximately 5 percent of the research projects funded under the Water Desalination Act were specifically targeted toward water reuse, although some of the desalination research has relevance to reuse applications (C. Brown, USBR, personal communication, 2009; Kevin Price, USBR, personal communication, 2011).

EPA

EPA has many ongoing efforts that are relevant to reuse, although like most of the federal agencies discussed in this section, the agency has no specific directive driving research in water reuse. Water reuse, however, is relevant to many of the agency’s cross-cutting interests—particularly at the nexus of water availability and water quality. EPA has an extensive research program on human health effects of chemicals (using screening and laboratory studies) and pathogens (using epidemiological data). Through the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) program described in Chapter 10, EPA supports research on analytical methods, monitoring, and treatment efficacy and conducts extensive data analysis on the occurrence of contaminants. It supports research to understand the human health and environmental effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals at environmentally relevant concentrations. Research is also under way on pathogen monitoring, sampling, and analysis (A. Levine, EPA, personal communication, 2010).

USGS

USGS maintains an extensive water research program although there is no specific water reuse–related directive within the agency. Three areas of ongoing research with relevance to water reuse include the Water Census, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), and wastewater-derived chemicals in the aquatic environment. The Water Census is an updated and expanded approach to prior efforts by USGS to account for water supplies and water use in the United States, including precipitation, evaporation, groundwater recharge, storage, water withdrawals, consumptive uses, return flows, and ecological needs. ASR research under way seeks to understand changing geochemistry associated with subsurface storage of water (which may or may not include reclaimed water). USGS has also conducted extensive research on the occurrence of human-use compounds in the nation’s surface waters and has the measurement capabilities to detect an extensive array of human-use compounds in water and sediment. Research is currently under way to better understand the occurrence, pathways, uptake, and effects of these human-derived contaminants (J. Bales, USGS, personal communication, 2010).

USDA

In recent years, USDA has developed a strong interest in water reuse as a means to provide reliable supplies of water for irrigation in areas where water is scarce. They have cosponsored two conferences (2007, 2008) with the WateReuse Research Foundation on Agricultural Water Reuse, and starting in 2007 began funding research on water reuse in agriculture. Through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA has distributed grants for research on minimizing food safety hazards, understanding pharmaceuticals and hormones in agricultural production, impacts of reclaimed water on plants and soils, treatment methods to prevent impacts to soils, and long-term effects of irrigating with reclaimed water. It is also collecting information on the extent of the use of reclaimed water in irrigation in an annual inventory of farms conducted by its National Agricultural Statistics Service (J. Dobrowolski, USDA, personal communication, 2010).

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

CDC

Although CDC has no specific directive in water reuse, the agency is interested in the issues from a number of perspectives, particularly in its National Center for Environmental Health and its Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services. CDC has supported two research efforts on the subject: an analysis of reuse as a means to protect human health during drought conditions and a research project to enhance capacity to investigate the link between wastewater, groundwater contamination, and human health (M. Zarate-Bermudez, CDC, personal communication, 2010).

DOE

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory is conducting research on ways to reduce water demand associated with energy production. Specific to municipal wastewater reuse, DOE is conducting research on the technical issues associated with using reclaimed wastewater for power plant cooling, on costs and benefits of various levels of reclaimed water treatment, and analyses of ongoing use of reclaimed water for this purpose.

NSF

NSF sponsors approximately 20 percent of the water resources research in the United States (NRC, 2004), although it has no specific funding emphasis on water reuse. However, water reuse-related research may be funded under related initiatives or under a new initiative on water sustainability and climate. For example, improved technology for water reuse is a focal area for an NSF-funded center on water treatment technology (the Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems [WaterCAMPWS]) (B. Hamilton, NSF, personal communication, 2010).2 NSF has also recently funded an engineering research center on reinventing the nation’s urban water infrastructure (ReNWUIt) that will bring together researchers from environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics, and law. The center is funded with $18.5M over the next 5 years.

Other Federal Interests in Reuse

Several federal agencies have interests in reuse, although they are not currently sponsoring research to support it. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has major interests in water management and in water and sanitation for health in developing countries. USAID has sponsored projects to implement nonpotable water reuse projects in Morocco and Jordon. It anticipates that water reuse will become an increasingly important part of water management in water-poor nations, particularly as part of efforts to enhance food security during droughts (J. Franckiewicz, USAID, personal communication, 2010). Large military installations of the Department of Defense may have their own wastewater treatment plants and may practice nonpotable reuse to maximize their available water resources.

NGO-Sponsored Research

WateReuse Research Foundation

The mission of the WateReuse Research Foundation is to conduct and promote applied research on the reuse, reclamation, recycling, and desalination of water. The foundation provides $2–$4 million per year to support research, with a significant portion coming from the USBR through the Title XVI program. Between 2000 and 2011, the WateReuse Research Foundation used the $17 million funding from USBR to leverage $41 million in research, through additional contributions from state and local agencies, the private sector, universities, and others (K. Price, USBR, personal communication, 2011). Supported research categories include policy and social sciences, microbiology and disinfection, chemistry and toxicology, and treatment technologies. They also conduct periodic analysis of research needs in the area of water reuse (W. Miller, WateReuse Research Foundation, personal communication, 2010).

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2 See http://www.watercampws.uiuc.edu/.

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

Water Research Foundation

The Water Research Foundation (formerly known as the American Water Works Association Research Foundation) is a member-supported NGO established to support applied research related to drinking water. Although reuse-specific projects represent a small fraction of their overall research portfolio, the Water Research Foundation has sponsored research on SAT in water reuse projects. The foundation has recently committed up to $1 million per year for at least 5 years to research on trace organic contaminants (e.g., pharmaceuticals, personal care products) in drinking water, including assessment of exposure, improvements in analytical methods, and improved frameworks for risk communication for utilities (S. Cline, Water Research Foundation, personal communication, 2009).

National Water Research Institute

The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) supports scientific research and outreach efforts related to ensuring clean and reliable water. NWRI has six member organizations, all based in Southern California, with strong interests and vast ongoing efforts in water reuse. Since its founding in 1991, NWRI has invested over $17 million in research. Funded research topics have included disinfection guidelines for water reuse, the fate and transport of trace organic contaminants, subsurface transport of bacteria and viruses, and use of bioassays and monitoring to assess trace contaminant removal in water reuse.3

Water Environment Research Foundation

The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) is a subscriber-based organization focused on wastewater- and stormwater-related research. In general, WERF applies only a small portion of its research funding to projects that are directly focused on the reuse of municipal wastewater, but it has funded studies on public perception of water reuse and attenuation of trace organic contaminants in landscape irrigation. The organization is also interested in research on the reuse of stormwater and greywater (D. Woltering, WERF, personal communication, 2010).

Coordination to Support Needed Research

The research needs identified in Box 11-1 cannot be addressed by a single organization or agency, because collectively, they rely on expertise that is distributed among agencies and universities. However, the agencies and NGOs with interest in reuse could collectively work to address these research needs, with improved coordination. As described in the previous sections, at least seven federal agencies and three NGOs are conducting or supporting research related to water reuse. Of these, two federal agencies (USBR and EPA) and the NGOs represent the lead contributors to water reuse–related research. This speaks to the need for improved coordination to see that these research needs are addressed.

Under the current research funding framework, the bulk of the water reuse research is focused on near-term research priorities, largely dominated by particular agency interests or issues of concern to the NGOs’ subscribers. The NGOs have limited resources with which to address long-term (~5-year) research efforts. In the past, the Joint Water Reuse and Desalination Task Force, an alliance of the USBR, Sandia National Laboratories, and research organizations with interests in desalination and water reuse, was used to pool research funding toward longer term research investments, improving coordination, and reducing redundancy, although the group is not as active as it once was. The Global Water Research Coalition (GWRC), a collaboration between 12 research organizations around the globe, including organizations from Singapore, Australia, France, and the United States (WERF and the Water Research Foundation), with partnership from EPA, serves a similar function from an international perspective. The GWRC aims to leverage funding and expertise toward water quality research of global interest. Both groups, if active, could assist with coordination and leveraging resources to accomplish the needed research.

Among federal agencies, water resources research is spread among numerous agencies, based on specific issues (e.g., quality [EPA], quantity [USBR], energy [DOE]) (NRC, 2004), but water scarcity concerns

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3 See http://www.nwri-usa.org/researchprogram.htm.

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×

call for a closer coordination of federal efforts. Thus, the intergovernmental Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ) was formed under the executive branch’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS).4 SWAQ is chartered to “facilitate communication and coordination among federal agencies and representatives from nonfederal sectors on issues of science, technology, and policy related to water availability and quality.” Additionally, SWAQ is charged to periodically assess “priorities for research and development of systems related to enhancement of water supplies,” advise the CENRS on additional research needs, and develop coordinated plans to provide the needed research (SWAQ charter provided in NRC, 2004). Thus far, SWAQ has not been used to coordinate federal efforts on reuse research, but federal leadership will be needed if the issues and obstacles to water reuse are to be addressed.

CONCLUSIONS

The committee identified 14 water reuse research priorities (see Box 11-1) that are not currently being addressed in a major way. These research priorities in the areas of human health, social, and environmental issues, and treatment efficiency and quality assurance hold significant potential to advance the safe, reliable, and cost-effective reuse of municipal wastewater where traditional sources are inadequate.

Improved coordination among federal and nonfederal entities is important for addressing the long-term research needs related to water reuse. Addressing the research needs identified in Box 11-1 will require the involvement of several federal agencies as well as support from nongovernmental research organizations. Several mechanisms could be used to enhance the coordination of reuse research, minimize duplication, and leverage limited resources. A past example that could be built upon is the Joint Water Reuse and Desalination Task Force. Additionally, the SWAQ, which is chartered to facilitate coordination among federal agencies, could be used to enhance coordination of federal water-reuse-related research.

If the federal government decides to develop national regulations for water reuse, a more robust research effort will be needed to support that initiative with enhanced coordination among federal and nonfederal entities. Such an effort would benefit from the leadership of a single federal agency, which could serve as the primary entity for coordination of research and for information dissemination.

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4 The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability reports to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s National Science and Technology Council.

Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
×
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Suggested Citation:"11 Research Needs." National Research Council. 2012. Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13303.
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Expanding water reuse--the use of treated wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation--could significantly increase the nation's total available water resources. Water Reuse presents a portfolio of treatment options available to mitigate water quality issues in reclaimed water along with new analysis suggesting that the risk of exposure to certain microbial and chemical contaminants from drinking reclaimed water does not appear to be any higher than the risk experienced in at least some current drinking water treatment systems, and may be orders of magnitude lower. This report recommends adjustments to the federal regulatory framework that could enhance public health protection for both planned and unplanned (or de facto) reuse and increase public confidence in water reuse.

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