By E. Lynn Grayson, Partner, Jenner & Block
The Wall Street Journal has reported that about 60% of the U.S. is now living through drought conditions and half of all counties have been declared disaster areas. Drastic situations call for drastic measures BUT drinking our own wastewater?
The Wall Street Journal refers to a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) titled Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater published this year. Key report findings include:
• Approximately 12 billion gallons of municipal wastewater effluent is discharged each day to an ocean or estuary out of the 32 billion gallons per day discharged nationwide.
• Reusing these coastal discharges would directly augment available water resources (equivalent to 6 percent of the estimated total U.S. water use, or 27 percent of public supply).
• De facto reuse of treated wastewater to augment drinking water supplies-for example, when a drinking water system uses a water supply that receives upstream wastewater discharges-is common in many of the nation's water systems.
Expanding water reuse-the use of treated wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation-could significantly increase the nation's total available water resources according to this new report. A portfolio of treatment options is available to mitigate water quality issues in reclaimed water, and new analysis suggests the risk of exposure to certain microbial and chemical contaminants from drinking reclaimed water does not appear to be any higher than the risk experienced in at least some current drinking water treatment systems and may be orders of magnitude lower. Adjustments to the federal regulatory framework could enhance public health protection for both planned and unplanned (or de facto) reuse, and increase public confidence in water reuse.
This year's drought conditions are raising greater awareness about the sufficiency of existing potable water supplies and concerns about short term and long term water scarcity. Improved use and reuse of all water sources are critical components of an effective water management plan. For more insight into the NAS research and this new report, visit The National Academies.
E. Lynn Grayson is a partner in Jenner & Block's Chicago office and a member of the Firm's Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Law, Climate and Clean Technology Law, Defense & Aerospace and Environmental Litigation Practices. Ms. Grayson is AV Peer Review Rated, Martindale-Hubbell's highest peer recognition for ethical standards and legal ability. Ms. Grayson has been recognized as one of The Best Lawyers in America, an Illinois Super Lawyer and Lawdragon magazine named Ms. Grayson to its "New Stars, New Worlds" list of 500 attorneys who are "carving the path to the new heights of the legal profession." Chambers USA and Leading Lawyers Network have recognized Ms. Grayson as one of the country's leading environmental lawyers as recommended by a peer review process.
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