Are You Prepared For The Future Of Wastewater Treatment Regulations?

Wastewater treatment regulations

If you had a pair of binoculars that could see into the future, how would you predict the future of municipal wastewater treatment?

One reliable way to do so is to look at early-stage trends and developments that are just getting underway around the world and make assumptions about how quickly they may spread to your area. It’s not hard to see, for example, that water conservation and re-use will be a big factor. Advances in water treatment technology will continue to play a growing role. Finally, reframing wastewater treatment as resource recovery can also provide some important insights.

An often-overlooked trend in treatment regulations are the regulations themselves. With a new infrastructure bill waiting in the wings, many requirements being proposed will enable our infrastructure needs to be addressed more efficiently and effectively. These include water-reuse and the water-energy nexus – how to treat water with less energy.

This proposed bill promises to eliminate burdensome regulations affecting individuals, businesses, landowners, and state and local governments. It also aims to transfer more responsibility from the Federal government to the states. This means desperately-needed projects will be able to be processed more quickly, on time and on budget.

Our needs as well as those of the world are many. Recognizing that the process for addressing them must be streamlined is a giant step in the right direction.

So let’s grab our future-focused binoculars and see what’s coming over the horizon.

Water re-use

As the scarcity of water becomes a more pressing issue worldwide, the drive for municipalities to reclaim and reuse wastewater grows more important.

Most treated effluent is discharged into a local receiving stream, such as a river, lake or other body of water. In most cases, it has been treated to a level of quality that’s suitable for non-potable usage. These applications include:

  • Agricultural needs,
  • Cooling water for power plants and oil refineries,
  • Industrial process water for facilities such as paper mills,
  • Toilet flushing,
  • Dust control,
  • Construction activities,
  • Concrete mixing, and
  • Artificial lakes.

In other cases, water is treated to the point where it’s potable. Applications include the recharging of ground water aquifers to prevent salt water intrusion in coastal areas and to augment ground water supplies farther inland.

In addition, gray water re-use is growing at decentralized wastewater treatment plants. Their proximity to local homes and businesses makes it easier to distribute gray water for flushing toilets and landscape irrigation. Such systems are already in use in the arid western U.S. It’s easy to see how their use will spread in the years ahead. As new planned communities are built, they can include gray water plumbing for irrigation and toilet flushing.

In all cases, water re-use saves water, energy and money. It also reduces the volume of wastewater going to septic systems and wastewater treatment plants, and it increases infrastructure capacity for new users of fresh water.

Other benefits of water re-use touted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) include:

  • Reducing diversion of water from sensitive ecosystems,
  • Recycled water can also be used to create or enhance wetlands and wildfowl habitats,
  • Decreasing effluent discharges to sensitive water bodies, and
  • Providing an additional source of nutrients for agriculture and landscaping, reducing the need to apply synthetic fertilizers.

Micro pollutants

Micro pollutants include more than 10,000 substances with various chemical properties that are not completely biodegradable and cannot be removed with conventional wastewater treatment technologies. They include pharmaceutical residues, personal care products, household chemicals, pesticides, hormones and industrial chemicals.

Sources of micro pollutants include industrial discharge, storm water runoff from cities, and surface run-off from agricultural areas. These substances are bioactive and accumulate in our water supplies. They may even be combining in the wild to form harmful new substances and may become embedded in groundwater.

In 2015, the European Union (EU) took legislative action to control micro contaminants. It published a prioritized list of substances that are seen as a threat to surface and ground water. To live up to the environmental standards laid out by EU, member countries need to monitor the prevalence of these substances and take action to remove them – either via “green” chemistry that eliminates them or “end-of-pipe” solutions at wastewater treatment plants.

Watch for this regulatory trend to expand to North America in the years ahead.

An expanded view of wastewater treatment

The wastewater treatment industry needs to take a broader view of its infrastructure.

These municipal and industrial plants aren’t just waste disposal facilities, but rather resource recovery facilities that have the potential to produce clean water, recover nutrients and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels through the production of renewable energy.

This expanded view of wastewater treatment intertwines the essential elements of water and energy. Energy is needed to produce fresh water, while water is needed to produce electricity. The need for both is expected to grow in the years ahead, according to the EPA, which predicts that near-future-demand for electricity at water and wastewater plants will increase by approximately 20 percent. In addition, as electricity rates increase, energy conservation and efficiency will become increasingly important issues for municipalities.

Through a combination of emerging technological innovations and operational efficiencies, wastewater treatment facilities should start preparing now for the regulatory environment that’s likely to emerge in the years ahead.



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