Waste Less, Pollute Less: Using Urban Water Conservation to Advance Clean Water Act Compliance
- Many metropolitan areas are facing serious water supply challenges in an era of chronic water scarcity, increased uncertainty in future water availability, and growing competition for water resources.
- Municipalities and water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities can use a range of cost-effective approaches to reduce water demand, and these water-saving measures also have water pollution control benefits.
- Water efficiency measures can be incorporated into the Clean Water Act's regulatory and infrastructure financing programs to moderate the cost of new or expanded clean water infrastructure.
In many parts of the United States, cities and suburbs -- and the wastewater and stormwater utilities that serve them -- are among the largest sources of water pollution. They need hundreds of billions of dollars to repair, maintain, and improve their infrastructure to comply with Clean Water Act standards that protect public health and the environment. In many cases, they must maintain that compliance while accommodating population growth. These regulatory obligations include:
- basic "secondary treatment" and advanced nutrient removal for sewage,
- control of combined sewer overflows (CSO) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSO),
- municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) stormwater controls, and
- restoring or maintaining an overall state of good repair despite decades of under-investment in aging systems.
At the same time, many metropolitan areas are facing serious water supply challenges in an era of chronic water scarcity, increased uncertainty in future water availability, and growing competition for water resources. As global temperatures continue to rise, precipitation patterns change, and water demands increase, more communities will be challenged to maintain adequate water supplies.
Water Conservation Helps Wastewater Utilities and States Meet Clean Water Goals
Fortunately, there are many cost-effective urban water conservation strategies that can help address both water quality and quantity needs. These strategies can simultaneously relieve stress on urban water supply systems and keep pollution out of our rivers, lakes, and beaches.
Municipal wastewater and stormwater systems can improve their Clean Water Act compliance by implementing policies and programs that promote the use of water-saving measures -- and many are already starting to do so. The EPA and the states can apply Clean Water Act regulations and infrastructure financing programs to spur wastewater utilities and MS4s to do even more. Further, states that ensure new wastewater infrastructure is "right-sized," by requiring full consideration of water efficiency measures, can stretch their limited dollars to help more communities solve more water quality problems.
Measures that curtail indoor water use -- such as water-efficient fixtures and appliances -- also reduce strain on sewage collection and treatment systems, improving pollution control performance and reducing compliance costs. Measures that supplement local water supply by capturing rainwater for reuse or groundwater recharge, or that use native landscaping to reduce outdoor water demand, also cost-effectively reduce stormwater pollution and sewer overflows.
last revised 8/28/2014