Emphasize reused water as a sustainable solution to future demand.

It's not easy to overcome the barrier of public acceptance when reuse isn't a necessity. You need to shift the perception of reused water as being prudent or a way of getting rid of wastewater to being a critical component in achieving a fully integrated water management portfolio that will meet future demand in areas of scarcity.

To be good stewards, we need to have the mindset that there is no wastewater, only wasted water.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to convince some communities to make a decision a decade or more in advance, especially if the data aren't always available.

Use robust scenario planning to demonstrate the variability and unpredictability of factors that influence the long-term picture. Consumers need to know how limited the supply really is and how changes in behavior today are necessary to make a difference tomorrow. They also must understand and accept that solutions to current challenges should be flexible enough to address a problem that could arise tomorrow.

Work with stakeholders to determine where and when consumers would be willing to accept reused water. People may be more open to alternatives such as industrial uses like cooling towers, agricultural irrigation, or recreational purposes such as irrigating parks and golf courses.

Take the lead in promoting supply management at the local and regional levels.

Reuse should be viewed as a vital component of comprehensive water supply planning. Try not to view options as mutually exclusive; instead of desalination vs. reuse, for example, think desalination and reuse.

As an industry, we need to present a united front about reused water. That's difficult to do when separate agencies are responsible for different elements of the treatment process; departments within the same government body have competing missions and objectives; and when separately governed, special-purpose entities focus on only one aspect of water. We need a holistic approach to dealing with flood management, water supply, and wastewater rather than separate agencies dealing with them.

Partner with other local, regional, state, and federal agencies to develop appropriate guidelines for local reuse. In Australia, drinking water and wastewater are combined into a single utility, which neatly overcomes many potential obstacles.

Demand more streamlined regulations and clearer guidelines around standards to facilitate industrywide knowledge and acceptance. As technological advances enable micro-constituents to be detected at increasingly lower levels, utility leaders must decide what level of “zero” is acceptable and affordable.

The available body of research isn't mature or fully peer reviewed. Elected officials, regulators, and public and private providers should work together to build a bank of credible data to demonstrate that reused water is safe and acceptable for public use. Consider making more of your operation's information available.

Because producing highly treated reused water is usually more expensive than traditional alternatives, there's a huge disconnect among price, cost, and value. A more robust database also would help objectively assess where reuse fits vis-à-vis other alternatives in an operation's portfolio. To be meaningful, a comprehensive analysis of all viable alternatives should include the environmental costs of identifying another water source if reuse is deemed not to be an option.

Finally, if reused water is to be taken seriously, it needs to be priced realistically. When integrated correctly, it's a cost-effective alternative that shouldn't be overlooked.

If all else fails, call it something else. To the untrained ear, “reused” implies water is returned to the ecosystem without first being treated.

Consider renaming this resource — “refreshed” or “renewed,” for instance — to suggest that the water must meet federal, state, and local safety standards before being discharged.

In the end, everybody's looking at, “How much do I pay?” They don't really care whether it's reused, recycled, desalted, native water, or whatever.

— McCarthy is president and CEO of the Global Water Business of engineering consulting firm Black & Veatch, in the Kansas City, Mo., office.


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Special Report: 2011 Outlook: The year ahead

Check out our January issue to read Public Works’ sixth annual national and region-by-region analyses of maintenance and capital-improvement budgets, based on our exclusive reader survey. Our 2011 installment includes special emphasis on how budget deficits are affecting the role (and security) of the director position.