Utility of the Future: Facing Historic Drought, California Focuses on Water Reuse

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In the face of California’s driest year in the state’s history, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared a State of Emergency in February. A $687 million drought relief bill signed by Gov. Brown on March 1, allocates funding and resources for the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) to develop water reuse projects reuse-signwhich would provide sustainable water sources for irrigation, industrial processes and aquifer recharge. As part of this effort, the State Board approved low-interest financing terms for water reuse projects that can be completed by January 2017. Funded via the State Board’s Division of Financial Assistance, $800 million in 1% loans are available for reuse projects. This funding is not only critical to address the drought, but also comes at a time when California utilities are transforming into Utilities of the Future that view water as a valuable, recyclable resource.

Additionally, Gov. Brown announced steps to plan for prolonged water shortages, asking Californians to reduce usage by 20 %, expanding a massive water conservation public awareness campaign, and emphasizing the need for the state to explore long-term water resource solutions such as water reuse. While California has faced serious droughts in the past, the historic lows in the state’s reservoirs and snow-pack from this year’s drought seem to be serving as a wake-up call for many western states.

President Obama also pledged $183 million in federal funds for drought relief programs in California to help the state cope with the effects of the drought, and included a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund in the Administration’s FY 2015 budget request to help “communities across the country become more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

Clean water utilities around the nation, not only California, are taking a serious look at the viability of water reuse in their communities. According to the results of a recent survey administered by NACWA and Reuse Coalition partners the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), Water Reuse Association, Western Recycled Water Coalition, and the Association  of California Water Agencies, utilities estimate almost $3 billion is needed, in addition to municipal funds, to finance planned water reuse projects over the next 10 years. Reuse projects are an essential  part of their comprehensive approach to meet water supply needs.

pumpsAs highlighted in a recent blog by the EPA and White House Council on Environmental Quality, federal agencies acknowledge the role water reuse plays in making municipal water supplies more resilient while simultaneously encouraging partnerships between water-intensive sectors like agriculture and industry. As populations grow, demand rises, and water scarcity becomes a more widespread reality, treated wastewater is being viewed as a valuable water resource that we can’t afford to squander.

As part of NACWA’s Utility of the Future initiative, the Association will work with key partners to remove regulatory barriers and maximize financial opportunities for water reuse projects nationwide.

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