The Low Down on the EPA’s National Water Reuse Action Plan
In a time when many people in the world are inside their houses to stop the spread of covid-19, it is easy to forget that good news still exists. The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Water Reuse Action Plan is a bit of good news. The Plan, announced on February 27, 2020, by EPA Administration Andrew Wheeler, prioritizes the use of recycled water.
The Plan identifies 37 actions to be led by federal, state, local, and private sector interests. The actions will occur across 11 themes. The themes include coordinating and integrating federal, state, tribal, and local water reuse programs and policies, improving the availability of water information, and promoting both the development and deployment of technology.
Water reuse is badly needed in some areas of the U.S. Forty states anticipate freshwater shortages over the next decade, according to the EPA. Wheeler said that a water reuse program provides alternatives to existing water supplies. “By launching this phase of the National Water Reuse Action Plan, federal agencies are driving progress on this national priority and delivering on President Trump’s commitment to ensuring a reliable supply of water for our nation.”
Water reuse basics and benefits
Water reuse is more commonly known as water recycling or water reclamation. It is simply reclaiming wastewater and treating and reusing it. There are a variety of reuses for reclaimed water including agriculture, irrigation for landscaping, potable water supplies, groundwater replenishment, industrial processes, and environmental restoration.
Water reuse has a variety of benefits. One of the biggest benefits is preventing a water shortage. Water scarcity is a problem in parts of the U.S., namely in the west. The Colorado River is starting to run dry in places and Lake Mead in Arizona may become dry by 2021. Lake Mead supplies water to 22 million people. Parts of the U.S. currently experience drought conditions, with areas in Texas experiencing extreme drought. Most of California is either experiencing moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions, as is parts of the state of Washington. The entire state of Oregon is experiencing moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions.
Water recycling also helps ensure that enough water is available for agriculture. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of the water use in the U.S. and over 90 percent in some western states. Irrigated farms accounted for about half of the total value of crop sales on 28 percent of U.S. harvested cropland in 2012. Sea Mist Farms in California’s Salinas Valley is an example of a farm using recycled water. Since 1998, the farm has used recycled water to irrigate about 80 percent of its 11,000 acres of artichokes, spinach, lettuce, and a variety of other crops. The recycled water comes from the Monterey County Water Recycling Projects which receives recycled water from the Salinas Valley Reclamation Plant and the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP).
Water recycling helps to prevent pollution. There are several machines and appliances producing wastewater that carries some pollutants. If polluted water ends up in the environment without treatment, the pollutants can spread and kill plants and animals. It can end up in groundwater. About 115 Americans rely on groundwater for their drinking water. The EPA has designated 53 percent of river and stream miles, 71 percent of lake acres, 80 percent of estuarine square miles, and 98 percent of Great Lakes shoreline miles as impaired.