As drought conditions settle in across much of the United States, some communities are beginning to look at the concept of “water reuse,” which sounds very conservationist. Generally it means so-called “grey water” reuse where water that’s been used once (such as for laundry or car washes) is reused for other non-potable purposes. It also means the capture of rainwater for irrigation (think the barrels that some people have at the end of their downspouts).
In extreme cases, it can mean treating wastewater and putting it right back into the drinking water system rather than piping it long distances, treating it in a large plant and then discharging it into a river, lake or ocean. This recent story shows how one community in Texas is working on this to avoid running out of water. Locally, the Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s rates take into account how far away a community is from the Detroit River – the closer you are, the lower the rate because water doesn’t have to be pumped as far. It can be cheaper to reuse – particularly the further you are from the source.
I recently blogged about the thought that each community on a waterway discharges its (treated) waste into the water upstream of the next community’s drinking supply. Think Port Huron, Detroit and Monroe, for example. That’s something that no one really wants to think about but it’s out there.
Now, the federal government and some states are beginning to look at this issue. The U.S. government does not yet have any regulations relating to water reuse but it does have guidance. Many states, particularly those in the South and West have developed rules as they are in greater need of reuse. Michigan has guidance, but it’s pretty thin and limited to so-called “grey water” reuses. This is something that our parents never worried about but, given the droughts of the 1930’s – perhaps it’s an option our grandparents would’ve liked to have.