• J.D. Solomon

Drinking Treated Wastewater Is Still A Few Years Away

Drinking treated wastewater is still a few years away because there is not enough demand for it. The technology exists that makes it possible. In some places, it is being done on a small scale. The bottom line is that it will not be commonplace for at least another decade or more.

USEPA defines water reuse as the practice of reclaiming water from a variety of sources, treating it, and reusing it for beneficial purposes. Reclaimed water can provide alternative supplies for drinking water and non-drinking water uses to enhance water security, sustainability, and resilience. Today, we use reclaimed water to water golf courses, irrigate yards, supply industrial power generation, and water non-human ingested crops. In the US, reclaimed water is transmitted in purple-colored pipes to distinguish it from drinking water for human consumption.

Scenario Planning is a technique risk analysts use to model an uncertain future. In infrastructure analysis, we normally use four futures - demand (population and economy as examples), supply (climate variability, as an added aspect in recent years), technology, and regulatory. Each of the four futures has sub-aspects so it is not hard to see the factorial number of scenarios that are generated. In practice, we usually narrow the analysis to 4 to 6 scenarios for developing alternatives. We use Monte Carlo simulation with probability distributions for each input to quantitatively model the possibilities and probabilities.

In the Southeast US, we have had an abundance of surface water and groundwater, strong population and economic growth, decreasing per capita use, balanced regulations, and technology that affordability kept pace with merging issues. Looking into an uncertain future, we will still have plenty of water supply, the growth rate will be different, emerging contaminants will create stricter regulations, and the technology will be more expensive.

I have been fortunate to have worked with regional water issues for more than a decade, with an emphasis in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The analysis of a complex and uncertain future yields two primary conclusions. The bad news is that water rates are going up. The good news is that we will not be drinking treated wastewater, at least for a decade or more.

JD Solomon Inc provides services at the nexus of the built and natural environments. Contact us for more information on forecasting an uncertain future, risk analysis, regionalization assessments, and infrastructure master plans.