By Christina Burchette
Recycling isn’t just for paper and plastic—did you know that there are ways to recycle resources like water too? This practice is especially relevant and useful in places that have a long history of water scarcity.
From the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to the present, the United States has experienced significant periods of drought, so finding ways to conserve the available water supply and safely recycle it has already been a regional priority. However, the continued threat of water scarcity has consequences ranging from locally mandated water conservation and use restrictions, to increased food prices, to more severe wildfires—making new solutions and strategies all the more important to the health of local communities, ecosystems, and economies.
That’s why EPA is helping drought-prone areas achieve water supply resiliency by researching new ways to recycle and conserve water while also understanding how these conservation and reuse efforts affect ecological and human health.
Recently, EPA awarded Science to Achieve Results grants to five institutions that are researching the human and ecological health impacts associated with water reuse, reclaimed water applications, and conservation practices. Each institution is investigating different aspects of water reuse and their effects on the environment and public health. Researchers will measure and evaluate the impact of water conservation strategies, such as
- direct potable reuse, which is the process of reusing treated wastewater as drinking water without an environmental buffer;
- indirect potable reuse, where recycled water is blended with a natural water source to be treated for use as drinking water;
- aquifer recharge, where sites are constructed to collect stormwater so that it can infiltrate back into the ground; and
- agricultural water reuse, which is when treated wastewater is used to fertilize and irrigate crops.
The frequency, intensity, and duration of drought events only continues to increase as we see the impacts of climate change. This pattern is expected to continue and shift outside of historical trends, making forecasting our water supply and quality more difficult.
This STAR grant research will help us better understand the potential impacts of water recycling and conservation. The results will also help inform water utilities, communities, agricultural producers, and policy makers, and others with the information and solutions they need to make informed water management decisions, thereby helping drought impacted communities create healthy and sustainable water supplies.
About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.