Help for States Considering Direct Potable Reuse

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Framework provides guidance on program development and costs, federal regulations, and public outreach

By Justin Mattingly


As interest in direct potable reuse (DPR) has grown, so has the need to ensure water quality and safety. State regulators and local government and water utility decision-makers must make water supply decisions, but without specific criteria or guidelines, excessive treatment redundancies may result that impede or slow down projects, causing high costs, project delays, and public distrust.

As a result, a framework is being developed that outlines the most important issues that states will need to address as they develop DPR guidelines. This framework, which will be released in the fall, will focus on two forms of DPR, the first of which is defined as introducing highly treated wastewater effluent — with or without an engineered storage buffer — into the intake water supply upstream of a drinking water treatment facility. Another form introduces highly treated wastewater effluent directly into a drinking water distribution system. The framework is the culmination of a DPR framework project being developed by the WateReuse Research Foundation (Alexandria, Virginia) in coordination with the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) and the American Water Works Association (Denver).


What the framework will include

DPR projects are not necessarily new; Windhoek, Namibia, has been operating one since 1967 that introduces water directly into the drinking water distribution system. In the United States, permitted operational DPR projects add highly treated wastewater ahead of a water treatment facility. Currently, only Wichita Falls and Big Spring in Texas have operational DPR facilities, but DPR is currently under consideration in California, New Mexico, and several other states.

The framework will summarize Texas’ experience in implementing DPR and California’s creation of regulations for groundwater recharge indirect potable reuse projects. This framework also will cover a broad spectrum of issues in DPR implementation, including

  • a background on DPR as well as the cost of implementing a DPR program compared to other water resource options;
  • public health protection and how DPR may be affected by existing federal statutes such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act;
  • source water control programs, wastewater treatment, advanced wastewater treatment, residuals management, and monitoring and control strategies; and
  • system operation to ensure that utilities have sufficient staff training and resources to properly operate these systems, which in many cases are more advanced than traditional wastewater or drinking water treatment facilities.


Managing public perception

Water treatment technology and operations are an ever-evolving process, and technology and regulatory needs for DPR may require future development. In addition, public perception is important in any statewide or local discussion of implementing a DPR program. Community organizations need to be engaged early to ensure that the public understands the DPR concept to dispel fears about using recycled water as a source of drinking water. The framework will include information on public outreach including the key factors that should be included in a communication plan, communication tools, as well as examples of successful DPR outreach programs.

The framework effort is part of a WateReuse Research Foundation Direct Potable Reuse initiative that has already allocated $5.8 million to fund 34 research projects. The National Water Research Institute (Fountain Valley, California) expert panel developing this framework is chaired by George Tchobanoglous of the University of California-Davis along with Joseph Cotruvo of Joseph Cotruvo & Associates, Jim Crook, Ellen McDonald of Alan Plummer Associates, Adam Olivieri of EOA Inc., Andrew Salveson of Carollo Engineers, and R. Shane Trussell of Trussell Technologies Inc.

The framework directly addresses a key theme of found in EPA’s Water Technology Innovation Blueprint. The Blueprint outlines the business case for investment in new tools in the 10 most promising market opportunities in the water quality sector, one of which is “Conserving and Eventually Reusing Water.”  Intended to be released by WEFTEC 2015 (September 26–30, 2015) in Chicago, the framework will be featured at the WEFTEC Innovation Pavilion discussion “Overcoming Barriers to Water Reuse.”

Justin Mattingly

Justin Mattingly is a research manager at the WateReuse Research Foundation. He can be reached at

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