Innovative Sustainable Water Reuse in the Northeast

Innovative Sustainable Water Reuse in the Northeast

Here are some quick wastewater and water reuse facts. According to a United Nations study, North America generates 85 cubic kilometers of wastewater each year. To put that figure in perspective, one cubic kilometer equals about 220 billion gallons, which is just about the annual flow over Niagara Falls. Most of that wastewater (75%) is treated; however, only 2.3 cubic kilometers (3.8%) of that treated wastewater is reused. In terms of total volume, the United States leads the world in treated wastewater reused. Still, less than 1 percent of the 32 billion gallons of treated wastewater discharged nationwide each day is directly reused. There is ample opportunity to increase safe water reuse in this country and globally.

Most water reclamation projects in the U.S. have been in southwestern states and Florida where competing interests for water resources require extraordinary measures. In 1918, the State of California established the first standards for water reuse in the world. Since that time, a majority of states have established criteria or guidelines for the beneficial use of recycled water. However, Connecticut has no statewide water policy or reuse guidelines. Because of the rarity of reuse projects in Connecticut, unique permitting challenges exist, but the University of Connecticut (UConn) is working with Woodard & Curran to change that situation.

UConn is protecting its water supplies by utilizing a Reclaimed Water Facility (RWF) at its Storrs, Connecticut campus, which has been operating since 2013. Woodard & Curran operates and manages the University’s RWF. At that time, the UConn RWF was one of only a few such facilities in New England and the first industrial reuse facility of its kind in Connecticut. The success of the University’s reclaimed water facility will help shape regulatory guidelines for future reclamation projects in Connecticut and the Northeast.

I recently published an article describing our work at UConn’s RWF in the February 2016 issue of Water Environment & Technology (WE&T) magazine. I co-authored the article, "The University of Connecticut Deploys an Innovative Reclaimed Water Facility: Setting the Standard for Sustainable Water Reuse in the Northeast," with Robert Scott, the plant manager for Woodard & Curran at the RWF and Jay Sheehan, Woodard & Curran’s Business Development Leader for municipal and institutional clients. The full article can be read online (requires subscription).

As the only public water supply within a 5-mile radius, the University not only provides water for the Storrs campus but also for more than 100 users in Mansfield. The RWF enables UConn to direct its groundwater resources to the drinking water system, which significantly eases demand on source waters. Discharge from the University’s Water Pollution Control Facility is pumped to the RWF to be treated through an advanced process for reuse as non-potable water. The non-potable reclaimed water is primarily used at the Storrs campus CUP/CoGen facility, which previously used between 250,000 and 450,000 gallons of potable water daily. Reclaimed water replaces most of that demand. (Read more about the RWF and its processes in detail in the WE&T article, on our website, and a previous blog post.)

A number of organizations have recognized the University and the RWF facility staff for its success. Recently, Sierra Magazine published a list of the most environmentally responsible universities, and the University of Connecticut ranked eighth. In January, the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) presented our UConn RWF staff with the 2015 NEWEA Asset Management Award. NEWEA gives this award to an organization or an individual within an agency who demonstrates initiative and leadership in the area of asset management. The University also received the 2011 WateReuse Institution of the Year award for its innovation in establishing the first industrial water reuse project in Connecticut and providing a tangible lesson to students on living sustainably.

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