All About Water Recycling And Reuse - Recycled water and reclaimed water

All About Water Recycling And Reuse - Recycled water and reclaimed water

Human brains are stimulated with a powerful feeling of aversion. Even to the slightest suggestion of contamination, humans probably evolve to be easily disgusted because it somehow saved from eating unpleasant stuff foods through the snacks or food served to you is perfectly safe to eat. Disgust still makes humans' decisions, even the rational way of figuring out what’s safe.

The imagery is not enticing. Many people are disgusted by the idea, even knowing that the water, once treated, maybe cleaner than what comes out in most faucets.  However, countries like Singapore and Namibia, which have limited freshwater supplies, are being augmented by adding highly treated wastewater to their drinking water.

Due to climate change and increasing population, it strains freshwater resources, and such a strategy is likely to become more common around the world, even in the United States.

What Water Recycling is For

All About Water Recycling And Reuse - Recycled water and reclaimed water

Recycled water or reclaimed water (also called wastewater or sewage) has been used to sustain landscaping irrigation, commercial and industrial water needs, recharging groundwater aquifers, and drinking.

Recycled water is treated to remove impurities and other contaminants primarily for water conservation and sustainability, instead of discharging to surface waters to rivers and oceans.

It is a fact that all water on Earth is considered recycled water, but "recycled water" or "reclaimed water" typically means wastewater sent from a home or business through a pipeline system to a treatment facility.

It is treated to a level consistent with its intended use, and then the water is routed right away to a recycled water system. It is treated differently depending upon the source, water use, and how it gets delivered.

There are cases that recycled water is being used to increase stream flow by releasing storage water from tanks under normal conditions. This is mainly to benefit the ecosystem and improve aesthetics, for instance, along Calera Creek in the City of Pacifica, CA. 

In addition, there has been scientifically proven water technology that allows communities to reuse water for many possible and varied purposes intended for industrial cooling, irrigation, and drinking.

Here are a few lists of communities that have safely used recycled water for many years:

The Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) in California has received an unrestricted use permit for its recycled water, which means that water can be used for any purpose as long as not for drinking.
The Orange County Water District, where water is used indirectly for drinking and given more advanced treatments. 
Los Angeles County's sanitation districts since 1929 have treated wastewater for landscape irrigation in parks and golf courses.
The first recycled water facility in California was built at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1932.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) ensures that they maintained the recycled water projects meet state laws and water quality criteria. It also allows construction and operation permits for reclaimed water systems and inspects any recycled water used for indoor purposes, like toilet flushing and even decorative fountains.


Water recycling suggests and financial savings and utilized resources. This kind of implementation should integrally be connected with solutions, where it is most economical to attain the expected outcomes.

How is Recycled Water Produced?

Recycled water is a product of a wastewater treatment plant where the local wastewater is collected from schools, offices, households, hospitals, industrial and commercial facilities, then prepare the water for reuse or discharge into the environment as means of processes in several stages of treatment.

These treatment processes are intended to ensure that wastewater is safe and reliable for its projected use.

There is three basic treatment process that is required for treating the wastewater and these include: 

  1. Primary treatment—the wastewater is momentarily held in a sink so solid waste materials can settle to the bottom and be removed.
  2. Secondary treatment—when the solid waste materials are removed by primary treatment, the water left behind is treated further to remove or reduce the remaining wastes suspended in the water.
  3. Tertiary treatment—the final stage involves further removal of harmful chemicals and cleansing to kill disease-causing organisms.

The minimum requirement for treating reclaimed water is secondary treatment, albeit many treatment plants use tertiary treatment. Reclaimed or recycled water flows out of the wastewater treatment plant and is piped back to the community for its intended use.

Is Recycled Water Safe for Drinking?

All About Water Recycling And Reuse - Recycled water and reclaimed water

Even though there are concerns about how water recycling possibly hurts the environment, it has several significant benefits, and the most important is sustainability.

Is recycled water safe to use? Why bother to use recycled water? Some countries or parts in the world where wastewater that goes through the drain – toilet flushing, yes – are being filtered and treated now until it has become as pure as spring water.

It probably sounds appalling, but, yes, recycled water is safe and tastes just like any other, like the ordinary drinking water, bottled or tap.

Here are facts to know about the safety of recycled water:

  • Recycles water is subject to a series and array of quality testing to make sure that it is safe for use;
  • There is a minimal health risk associated with exposure to chemical contaminants. This has been reported by the National Research Council (NRC) wherein the reviewed current wastewater treatment have found;
  • Another NRC authors reported that the government could extend so much help to increase public confidence and trust in wastewater treatment programs for drinking – the potable water as well as provide consistent maximum level of protection across the nation;
  • As stated in the Clean Water Act, the treatment regulations could be updated to more aggressively track organic contaminants and pursue them, which has been tremendously advanced to reduce toxins in the nations’ wastewater.

Nonetheless, perhaps the people's greatest challenge before it is fully accepted as drinking recyclable wastewater is not legislative or technological, but it's psychological.

This is the biggest hurdle that must be conquered and defeated, the public's mindset and insight about recycled water.

The Benefits of Water Recycling and Reuse

 Recycled water has been gradually accepted by the public. Thus its tremendous impacts on the community increase as it can be used almost in any way, so long as it is treated to a certain level fit for its intended purpose. It has helped to ensure a diversified water supply that can be carried to the next generations.   
The use of recycled water has some benefits, which include:
  • Agricultural use such as irrigation of crops, forestry, pasture, flowers, viticulture, and sugar cane growing
  • Farming such as irrigation
  • Non-drinking uses in households like laundry, washing dishes, gardening, cleaning the garage, etc.
  • watering golf courses and recreational parks like zoos, parks, and trails
  • Industrial uses such as washing and cooling in power stations and factories
  • Fire Fighting water supply
  • Municipal landscapes and environmental flows
  • Recharging our groundwater aquifers
Water recycling can greatly help find alternatives, especially in decreasing water diversion in the ecosystem, and help sustain wildlife habitats by providing an additional water source.
Using recycled water extends the freshwater supplies and ensures the sustainability of natural resources. It also reduces landscape irrigation costs rather than potable water, which is practically costly for consumers.
Moreover, by providing an additional source of water, it can help decrease wastewater discharges.
Thus it would reduce perhaps, if not prevent, pollution, for instance, the number of cities that have been using wastewater recycling to solve water shortage caused by drought. The communities that have extracted freshwater from sewage could create a sustainable water supply that is more cost-effective rather than extracting salt from seawater or purchasing water supplies somewhere else.
Several farmers often use recycled water that otherwise is a waste to irrigate crops. With this, they do not need to rely on water from the environment. But, they must employ the prescribed farm techniques in maintaining soil integrity and mitigate the possible outcome of pathogens and chemicals on crops.

The downside of Water Recycling

Water recycling brings several advantages to the environment, industrial or technological, and even the ecosystem. Still, it adversely affects various factors such as the wildlife, threatens human health, and other risks are at stake.
Risk management is vital for water recycling and should help maintain public confidence in the process. It is imperative to those in charge of the water recycling program to protect wildlife and the public vigilantly.

The Wildlife and Ecosystem

Although recycled water provides welfare to some wildlife, it unpleasantly affects many other animals and habitats. According to a recycling proposal prepared by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, diverting previously discarded wastewater from the Sacramento River for water recycling would rob endangered salmon and other fish of the water needed to maintain their habitats.

Threatens Human Health

Recycled water, when used by humans, pays a high level of risk, most especially health. This water contains microbial pathogens, including bacteria, harmful viruses, and even helminths (basic parasites). Most people do not become easily become ill due to high exposure to pathogens, but some do.  Advocates affirm and strongly assert that as long as people are using recycled water to its rightful and intended purpose, then the chances for humans to contract the illness and other harmful infections is minimal. This is a genuine concern despite the risk of exposure to these pathogens.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) are present as well in recycled water. These chemicals have found a wide range found in medications, heavy metals, pesticides, and insecticides, which disrupt the proper flow of endocrine system function in animals. There is no concrete evidence.
However, that low amounts of exposure have great impacts on human health. The highest concentration of these contaminants is mostly found in untreated and unprocessed sewage or wastewater, yet a few remain in the recycled water even after treatment.

Environmental Risks

Another risk when wastewater is used for irrigation. In agricultural irrigation, for example, treated water can be disrupting the pH and salinity levels of soils.
This will lead to poor yielding and plant toxicity.
In connection with this dilemma, communities must adopt and follow strictly thorough monitoring procedures, that is, to effectively use recycled water while reducing any risk to the environment.
As pharmaceuticals or even researchers have gone into the water supply, their health should not be ignored too, as they present the same problems or risks to EDCs. While research shows the threat and risk of pharmaceuticals in water to be small, it may be too soon to understand its true bearing.

Upshots of Water Recycling

All About Water Recycling And Reuse - Recycled water and reclaimed water

Studies and research show that water recycling has proven to be effective and has successfully created a new and reliable water supply without compromising public health.

Non-potable reuse has been the widely accepted practice that hopefully will continue to grow and progress. There are several regions in the United States. However, the use of recycled water is increasing to accommodate the environment's needs and growing water supply demands.

Many predictions as the studies say that advances in wastewater treatment technology and health studies of not directly potable reuse will soon become more common and rampant. Water recycling and gray water require far less energy than treating salt water with the aid of the desalination system.

The treatment of wastewater for reuse and the installation of distribution systems with centralized facilities can be expensive initially compared to the water supply alternatives, which are imported water, groundwater, or even the usage of gray water onsite from homes. In contrast, water recycling is a sustainable approach and can be cost-effective in the long run.

Water recycling will play a greater role in human’s overall water supply as water energy demands and environmental needs grow. By working hand in hand, together, overcoming the obstacles, and water conservation and productivity, water recycling can help manage the vital water resources sustainably.

Emerging Contaminants: The Research Agenda of the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF)  

Special Issue "Water Recycling and Reuse"  

Water Recycling and Reuse Markets 

Learn more related stories about Water Recycling and Reuse

  1. People in Namibia have been recycling sewage into drinking water for 50 years now.
  3. Drinking sewage: solving Singapore's water problem 

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