The population in Florida is expected to grow by 27% from 2015 to 2035, and require an additional 1.1 billion gallons of water per day, a 17% increase over 2015 levels. Also, different areas of the state face a range of water resource issues. Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water, but withdrawals are having an impact on natural systems across the state. New strategies are needed to protect the environment, maintain the water supply, and support agriculture.
Florida has been using reclaimed water for irrigation and industrial uses since the early 1970s. The state leads water reuse in the U.S. with 48% of total domestic wastewater applied to nonpotable uses. Now the state is looking into potable reuse as an alternative to augment drinking water supplies. Recognizing the need for a framework for the implementation of potable reuse in Florida, after a two-year consensus-based effort by water professionals and a diverse stakeholder group, Florida’s Potable Reuse Commission (PRC) has completed a report, now available for review.
Potable reuse can be indirect (IPR), when reclaimed water is discharged to ground or surface water to develop or supplement the potable water supply, or direct (DPR), when reclaimed water is introduced into a raw water supply immediately upstream of a drinking water treatment plant, or directly into the potable water distribution system. Potable reuse has been used to meet drinking water needs in water scarce regions around the world for as long as 50 years (Windhoek, Namibia). Although Florida currently has water regulations for IPR for augmenting surface water, they do not address IPR for groundwater replenishment, nor DPR.
The report proposes regulatory changes that ensure the protection of public health and the environment, while ensuring regulatory and financial surety to utilities. They include: place potable reuse requirements in drinking water regulations and revise them to specify reclaimed water as a water source; require potable reuse to meet drinking water standards; require industrial pretreatment and source control, and address pathogen treatment and emerging constituents, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, in potable reuse.
The PCR acknowledges reclaimed water as an alternative water supply that requires appropriate treatment and water quality assurances, using a multi-barrier approach with a combination of treatment processes to provide reliability and redundancy. Potable reuse should be seen as one more source contributing to a diversified, resilient, and sustainable water supply, together with conservation, nonpotable reuse, desalination, stormwater and traditional groundwater and surface water supplies.