Waste or Resource: A Policy Perspective on the Environmental Uses of Recycled Water
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Amidst emerging water shortages and conflicts in the United States, the advancement of technology and the redevelopment of resource management policies are changing the way that we look at water resources. Water use efficiency and recycling are becoming essential parts of water quality protection and water use allocation at the federal and state levels. However, major barriers to the use of recycled water still exist in many forms. Policy and regulation of recycled water vary tremendously between regions, states, and municipalities. One theme that stands out is the management of recycled water as a waste. With dwindling freshwater supplies resulting from quantity and quality issues, recycled water viewed as a resource may become a more viable and widely used option, allowing for broader uses. Major federal regulations including the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act govern water quality, pollutant discharge, and source water protection and have important implications for the regulation of recycled water. By examining pertinent federal statutes, this paper identifies policy barriers to the environmental uses of recycled water, and proposes solutions to several of these issues based on relevant state case studies. California, Florida, and Washington have made great strides in creating regulatory frameworks for water recycling. Specifically, these states have produced effective regulation for environmental uses of recycled water including stream and wetland augmentation and groundwater recharge. Finally, this paper provides a set of broad recommendations that may serve as steps to consider recycled water as a resource. These recommendations include using language and definitions of terms to make important distinctions, and considering exemptions and alternate permitting processes to avoid conflicting or duplicative regulatory practices.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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