Clean Ocean Action

Clean Ocean Advocate, December 2004

Reuse or Bust

Our nation is one of consumption.  Many of us consume in excess.  Water use is no different.  In fact, federal estimates indicate that one person uses approximately 120 gallons of water per day.  Although the supply may seem endless, effective conservation and management of our water resources is quickly rising to the top of the Nation’s environmental priority list due to water supply and pollution problems.


One way to conserve high-quality water and extend the life of current water resources is a technique called “water reuse.”  Water reuse derives maximum resource benefits from reclaimed water while protecting the environment and public health.  The technique, also known as water recycling or water reclamation, is the use of treated wastewater effluent for beneficial purposes.  Beneficial purposes include irrigation of parks and golf courses, toilet flushing, fire protection, power plant cooling water, wetland restoration, stream augmentation, aquifer recharge, and more.


While the idea of water reuse may rouse fears of contaminated drinking water, these fears will likely remain unrealized.  First, the majority of the listed beneficial purposes do not require water purity.  For example, reused water can safely be used to flush toilets.  Each of us, on average, flush 27 gallons of water per day - the largest daily indoor use.  In many states, toilet water undergoes stringent treatment.  Using reused water instead conserves potable water and saves money.  Second, reused water will only contact potable water after passing through a treatment facility and the natural hydrological cycle, thus removing any impurities that might cause adverse health effects.


Currently, Florida, California, and Washington lead the nation in water reuse.  States with young and unstructured water reuse programs, like New Jersey, can implement aspects of their programs.  For instance, Florida has adopted a statutory objective to encourage and promote water conservation and the reuse of reclaimed water.  Consequently, Florida enacted various regulations and rules that, among other things, grant districts the authority to mandate the reuse of reclaimed water in areas with water supply problems.  By doing so, Florida reclaims 38% of the domestic water available for reuse.


A handful of New Jersey dischargers participate in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Beneficial Reuse program, and have reused over one billion gallons, an applaudable amount.  However, New Jersey’s program operates under mere guidelines rather than regulatory authority, and does not have a staff person solely designated to direct the program.  With so much potential, New Jersey desperately needs a comprehensive program for water reuse.


Clean Ocean Action (COA) is evaluating other states’ water reuse programs, as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most recent “Guidelines for Water Reuse” (see and scroll to title) in order to select the most progressive, responsible, and environmentally protective plan on which to base New Jersey’s formal program.  With the outcome of our analysis, New Jersey can take the lead in water reuse.


Waves of thanks to Lauren Koch, COA’s Marine Science and Policy summer intern, for her extensive research and great insight on this subject.   Her comparative analysis provides valuable information to advocate for the establishment of a responsible reuse program in New Jersey.


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