AWWA Articles

Long-term water availability examined in AWWA survey

The challenge of meeting long-term water supply needs is leading some utilities to embrace newer, innovative strategies such as potable and non-potable reuse, desalination of brackish groundwater or seawater, and stormwater capture and reuse, according to the American Water Works Association’s 2019 State of the Water Industry Report.

One example is San Diego County Water Authority, which is developing drought-resilient water resources and a sustained emphasis on water-use efficiency in accordance with California wetlands, photo courtesy of USDA NRCSits 2015 Urban Water Management Plan. The Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 24 retail water providers, including cities, special districts and a military base.

The California Legislature requires every urban water supplier in the state that provides water to 3,000 or more customers or more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually to ensure a reliability level that meets customer needs during normal, dry and multiple dry years. (Photo of California wetlands courtesy of USDA NRCS)

Jim Madaffer“The San Diego County Water Authority has embraced smart, long-term water conservation and investment strategies such as seawater desalination that have greatly enhanced regional water supply reliability,” said Jim Madaffer (pictured at left), Board Chair, San Diego County Water Authority.

“Instead of being dependent on a single source for 95 percent of our water like we were 30 years ago, today the Water Authority has a diversified portfolio of water supplies from the national’s largest seawater desalination plant and the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water transfer – and we’re supporting emerging sources such as potable reuse,” he added.

Of the utility participants in the most recent State of the Water Industry survey, 14 percent indicated their systems were “not at all” or “slightly prepared” to meet long-term supply needs. This is an increase from the previous year, in which 6 percent of participants reported they weren’t prepared for long-term needs.

Survey participants identified a 2019 list of top issues facing the water industry, ranking “long-term water supply availability” as the third highest (up from fourth highest in 2018). “Water conservation/efficiency” was rated the 14th most important issue (up from 21st in 2018. And “drought or periodic water shortages” was the 19th most important issue (up from 20th in 2018).

The City of Wichita Falls, Texas, successfully implemented an emergency direct potable reuse project to grapple with a record drought that impacted the region from 2010 to 2015. The City fully used its wastewater effluent to supply half of its drinking water for more than a year. The reuse, as well as conservation and drought restrictions, enabled the city to cut summer demand on water reservoirs by 80 percent and maintain reservoir levels for a year.
Daniel Nix
“We spent a lot of time educating the public about the high quality of wastewater effluent, including the technologies and processes used for drinking water treatment and system safety,” said Daniel Nix (pictured at right), public utilities operations manager with the Wichita Falls Public Works Department.

In January 2018 the City completed a $35 million permanent, long-term indirect potable reuse project that delivers all wastewater effluent from the Wichita Falls Resource Recovery Facility to Lake Arrowhead for storage and ultimate reuse as drinking water. It can recycle up to 16 million gallons per day.

“Our citizens were extremely accepting of both the direct and indirect potable reuse projects and we did not receive a single complaint,” Nix said.

More details and insights are available in the full State of the Water Industry Report and the Executive Summary on the AWWA website, available for download to AWWA members.