WASHINGTON With recent advances in technology and design, treating municipal wastewater and reusing it for drinking water, irrigation, industry, and other applications could significantly increase the nation's total available water resources, particularly in coastal areas facing water shortages, says a new report from the National Research Council. It adds that the reuse of treated wastewater, also known as reclaimed water, to augment drinking water supplies has significant potential for helping meet future needs. Moreover, new analyses suggest that the possible health risks of exposure to chemical contaminants and disease-causing microbes from wastewater reuse do not exceed, and in some cases may be significantly lower than, the risks of existing water supplies.
"Wastewater reuse is poised to become a legitimate part of the nation's water supply portfolio given recent improvements to treatment processes," said R. Rhodes Trussell, chair of the committee that wrote the report and president of Trussell Technologies, Pasadena, Calif. "Although reuse is not a panacea, wastewater discharged to the environment is of such quantity that it could measurably complement water from other sources and management strategies."
The report examines a wide range of reuse applications, including potable water, non-potable urban and industrial uses, irrigation, groundwater recharge, and ecological enhancement. The committee found that many communities have already implemented water reuse projects -- such as irrigating golf courses and parks or providing industrial cooling water in locations near wastewater reclamation plants -- that are well-established and generally accepted. Potable water reuse projects account for only a small fraction of the volume of water currently being reused. However, many drinking water treatment plants draw water from a source that contains wastewater discharged by a community located upstream; this practice is not officiall
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National Academy of Sciences