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EPA Action Plan to Boost Water Reuse Across U.S.

The U.S. EPA today released a draft plan to advance water reuse nationally at the WateReuse Association Symposium in San Diego.

The National Water Reuse Action Plan identifies 46 proposed actions organized around 10 strategic objectives, including leadership and collaboration, to support the implementation of water reuse.

“Forty states anticipate experiencing fresh water shortages in certain regions within their borders over the next decade,” said David Ross, EPA’s assistant administrator for water. “Diversifying our nation’s water portfolio must be a nationwide priority, and water reuse has the potential to ensure the viability of our water economy for generations to come.”

The draft plan incorporates federal, state, tribal and local water perspectives and highlights key actions that support consideration and implementation of water reuse.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have worked for decades to increase the region’s water supply reliability through supply diversification, and the Water Authority collaborated with its member agencies to submit comments to the EPA before the draft was released.

Increasing San Diego County's Water Supply Reliability through Supply Diversification

Recycled water and potable reuse are forecast to make up more than one-quarter of San Diego County’s water supply by 2035. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

National Water Reuse Action Plan a ‘game changer’

The draft plan will be open for public comment for 90 days following its publication to the Federal Register. During that period, EPA will solicit feedback about how to prioritize and implement the proposed actions.

EPA’s goal is to issue a final plan that will include clear commitments and milestones for actions that will further water reuse to bolster the sustainability, security and resilience of the nation’s water resources, according to the agency.

“The National Water Reuse Action Plan will be a game changer,” said Patricia Sinicropi, executive director of the WateReuse Association. “Communities across the country are incorporating water reuse into their water management strategies as a proven method for ensuring a safe, reliable, locally controlled water supply – essential for livable communities, healthy environments, robust economies and a high quality of life.”

EPA Action Plan to Boost Water Reuse Across U.S.

The U.S. EPA released a draft National Water Reuse Action Plan on September 10, 2019 in San Diego. Graphic: EPA

San Diego County agencies developing water reuse and recycling

In San Diego County, several agencies are developing or expanding water recycling plans, including the City of San DiegoPadre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, the City of Oceanside, and several additional projects in North County.

Padre Dam Demonstration Facility-Padre Dam MWD photo

Padre Dam’s demonstration project is evaluating the feasibility of the East County Advanced Water Purification Program. Since March 2015, the pilot program has produced approximately 100,000 gallons of purified water each day. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

“California is widely recognized as a national and world leader in water recycling,” according to the California WateReuse Action Plan, released in July 2019. “Recycled water supplies offset approximately 9% of the state’s urban water demands and agricultural reuse provides reliable water supplies for farmers throughout the state.”

In July, the Water Authority Board endorsed Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-10-19, directing development of a water resilience portfolio approach that meets the needs of California through the 21st century.

On July 18, state officials toured San Diego County water infrastructure to see the region’s successful water portfolio approach for supply diversification, as they work to create the statewide water resilience portfolio.

EPA Action Plan to Boost Water Reuse Across U.S.

The EPA Draft National Water Reuse Action Plan cites examples from California water agencies. Graphic: EPA

Alfred and Audrey Vargas, a brother and sister team from Sweetwater High School, won top honors from the Water Authority for water-related projects at the regional Science and Engineering Fair. Their work is designed to provide low-cost fresh water to people in developing countries. Photo: SDCWA

Sweetwater High Students Aim To Avert World Water Crisis

Audrey and Alfred Vargas are trying to expand access to clean drinking water one drop at a time.

The brother and sister duo, who live in National City and attend Sweetwater High School, have been refining a portable, low-cost, easy-to-use, simple-to-construct system that efficiently desalinates brackish water.

“We see it as one of many possible solutions that can help solve the water crisis occurring throughout the world today,” said Audrey Vargas, 15.

Their endeavor is garnering growing attention. At the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair, their project – Solar Desalination Using a Parabolic Trough – secured the top Senior Division award from the San Diego County Water Authority.

Water Authority promotes innovation in students

The Water Authority has sponsored the Science & Engineering Fair for decades, and the Water Authority’s Board of Directors recognized Audrey and Alfred at its April 12 meeting, along with five other top water-related projects from the science fair.

Board member Frank Hilliker interviewed the Vargas team at the science fair and was impressed with their work. “The fact that they were able to take such a complex challenge and find a solution that seems so easy and without having to spend a lot of money was remarkable,” he said. “There are no computers, no electronics, no fuel involved. It’s a fascinating way to provide clean, reliable drinking water for people who don’t have access to clean water.”

Besides the Water Authority award, the siblings also won a Scripps Institute of Oceanography Climate Science Award, and their work was honored by the WateReuse Association (San Diego Regional Chapter) and the California Environmental Health Association – Southwest Chapter/San Diego County, Department of Environmental Health. They compete in the California State Science & Engineering Fair competition on April 23 and 24 at Exposition Park in Los Angeles.

Students set sights on solving global problem

Audrey and Alfred aspire to see their device used in impoverished communities around the world that don’t have reliable sources of drinking water.

“My sister and I live in a very modest community, and we see people who are living in poverty every day,” said Alfred. “This is a cost-effective and simple solution that can help anyone have access to a basic necessity.”

Alfred and Audrey have been entering science fairs since they were middle schoolers and Alfred has been refining the desalination project for the past three years. Alfred and Audrey note that a pivotal manner of obtaining freshwater is by distilling seawater. But that can be a costly and time-consuming process. Their portable, parabolic desalination device, however, can efficiently purify brackish water through a simple yet complex process that uses PVC pipes, a copper tube, and the sun.

Sofia Sandoval, a chemistry teacher at Sweetwater High School who advised the students, said Alfred and Audrey are destined for greatness. Indeed, Alfred aspires to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work as a chemical engineer. Audrey is determined to gain acceptance to Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford en route to a career enforcing environmental regulations.

“Alfred and Audrey are not the typical high school students who were interested in conducting a cookie cutter science fair project,” Sandoval said. “They have bigger dreams. They came to science fair orientation meeting with a firm belief that humans have a moral obligation to help humanity. They, themselves, feel obliged to enter careers that allow them to directly help humans.

“This conviction, along with Audrey’s environmental passion and Alfred’s engineering mind, drove them to their project topic selection. I think this project embodies exactly what our next generation scientists and innovators should focus on, namely a multi-dimensional approach to solving world problems.”