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Evolving Urban Water and Residuals Management Paradigms: Water Reclamation and Reuse, Decentralization, and Resource Recovery

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Population growth and improving standards of living, coupled with dramatically increased urbanization, are placing increased pressures on available water resources, necessitating new approaches to urban water management. The tradition linear “take, make, waste” approach to managing water increasingly is proving to be unsustainable, as it is leading to water stress (insufficient water supplies), unsustainable resource (energy and chemicals) consumption, the dispersion of nutrients into the aquatic environment (especially phosphorus), and financially unstable utilities. Different approaches are needed to achieve economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Fortunately, a toolkit consisting of stormwater management/rainwater harvesting, water conservation, water reclamation and reuse, energy management, nutrient recovery, and source separation is available to allow more closed-loop urban water and resource management systems to be developed and implemented. Water conservation and water reclamation and reuse (multiple uses) are becoming commonplace in numerous water-short locations. Decentralization, enabled by new, high-performance treatment technologies and distributed stormwater management/rainwater harvesting, is furthering this transition. Likewise, traditional approaches to residuals management are evolving, as higher levels of energy recovery are desired, and nutrient recovery and reuse is to be enhanced. A variety of factors affect selection of the optimum approach for a particular urban area, including local hydrology, available water supplies, water demands, local energy and nutrient-management situations, existing infrastructure, and utility governance structure. A proper approach to economic analysis is critical to determine the most sustainable solutions. Stove piping (i.e., separate management of drinking, storm, and waste water) within the urban water and resource management profession must be eliminated. Adoption of these new approaches to urban water and resource management can lead to more sustainable solutions, defined as financially stable, using locally sustainable water supplies, energy-neutral, providing responsible nutrient management, and with access to clean water and appropriate sanitation for all.

Keywords: decentralization; resource recovery; urban water management; water reclamation and reuse

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: CH2M HILL, Englewood, Colorado

Publication date: 2009-08-01

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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