The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on February 27, 2019, that it would facilitate the development of a national Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP) to serve as a catalyst to enhance the consideration of water reuse as a tool in integrated water resources management nationally. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Dave Ross made the announcement during a water reuse summit hosted by Suez and framed the plan as a collaborative effort between the water sector and federal agencies.
The WateReuse Association, a trade association of utilities and businesses involved with water recycling, immediately began the process of developing recommendations for the WRAP. WateReuse engaged its membership and facilitated a multimonth collaborative process to develop water sector recommendations jointly with the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Water Environment Federation, and the Water Research Foundation. WateReuse submitted a report to the EPA on July 1 detailing the water sector recommendations during the public comment period. The EPA released a draft WRAP for public comment and review at the 34th Annual WateReuse Symposium, hosted by the WateReuse Association in San Diego on September 8–11, 2019.
In this interview, WateReuse Association Executive Director Patricia Sinicropi speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about the importance of the WRAP, how the water sector collaborated to develop recommendations, and why interest in water recycling is skyrocketing nationally.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Patricia Sinicropi: I have been an advocate for water-related policy issues in Washington, DC, for more than two decades. Prior to joining the WateReuse Association, I served as senior legislative director for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), overseeing and directing NACWA’s legislative advocacy program, including policy analysis and advocacy on federal water policy related to infrastructure funding and financing, climate and energy, integrated planning, ratepayer affordability, and agriculture. I joined NACWA in 2008 after serving for 4 years as legislative counsel to the Water Environment Federation, where my policy advocacy also included biosolids management. Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to represent the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, an organization providing technical assistance to small, rural communities on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs. I initially came to Washington in 1995 and served in the Clinton administration as deputy director at the President’s Council on Sustainable Development for the National Town Meeting on Sustainable America and as special advisor on livable communities to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2017, I was hired as executive director of the WateReuse Association, and I am excited to be a part of leading education and advocacy efforts to increase the amount of water recycling that happens in the United States.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the WateReuse Association and its advocacy.
Patricia Sinicropi: The WateReuse Association is the nation’s only trade association solely dedicated to advancing laws, policy, funding, and public acceptance of recycled water. WateReuse represents a coalition of utilities that recycle water, businesses that support the development of recycled water projects, and customers that use recycled water. WateReuse is the go-to organization for policy on water reuse among elected officials and policymakers in every level of government. Our national office leads advocacy efforts with Congress and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Reclamation and the EPA. Seven state and regional sections work with state lawmakers and regulatory agencies to advance state policies on water reuse. We also provide education and training to help our members stay current, develop communications tools to support public acceptance, and provide a platform for water professionals across the country to share knowledge and exchange ideas on best management practices.
Joshua Dill: How can the EPA’s national WRAP help the WateReuse Association’s mission of increasing water recycling across the United States?
Patricia Sinicropi: There is innovative work happening across the water sector to advance water reuse, and the EPA wants to accelerate that work through coordinated federal leadership. The EPA has previously supported water reuse efforts, including development of publications like the 2017 Potable Reuse Compendium and Guidelines for Water Reuse, but the WRAP is the first initiative of this magnitude that is coordinated across the water sector. Once thought of as primarily a solution to drought in arid regions, water recycling has been recognized by more and more communities as a valuable addition to their integrated water management planning. It can address a multitude of issues, including issues related to climate change adaptation and poor water quality. The development of the WRAP not only elevates the profile of this effective water management strategy, but will hopefully lead to the adoption of more tools and resources to aid communities in planning water recycling projects.
The WRAP will help identify challenges and opportunities to advance water reuse and recycling. This information will help the water sector prioritize and better coordinate existing research and development, financing, and implementation of water reuse across the United States as part of integrated water resources management.
Joshua Dill: Why did national water sector organizations feel it was important to develop joint recommendations for the WRAP, and how were they developed?
Patricia Sinicropi: The EPA has done such a great job of outreach in this effort, both among the federal agencies that have purview over water issues and water sector groups and practitioners. As a sector, we felt it was important that we speak with a united voice in joint recommendations about how the federal family can support communities, businesses, and agricultural operators in their efforts to adopt water recycling practices. The nation’s leading utilities in water recycling are WateReuse Association members, and our members definitely wanted to have input. And since we are talking about integrated water management, it made sense that we would engage with other national water organizations.
We hosted expert convenings with the partner organizations on April 18 in Los Angeles and on May 9 in the Washington, DC, area to develop ideas for the WRAP. The workshops included more than 100 representatives from municipal utilities, technology and engineering companies, state regulators, federal agencies, environmental organizations, academia, and stakeholders from the oil and gas, agriculture, and irrigation industries.
Joshua Dill: Water reuse is such a broad field. How did you synthesize your water sector recommendations for the WRAP?
Patricia Sinicropi: Our recommendations focused on seven water reuse applications in which reuse is growing or growth is anticipated and action today would have lasting effect: potable reuse, onsite nonpotable water systems, industrial reuse, agricultural reuse, reuse for environmental restoration, reuse of produced water from oil and gas production, and stormwater capture and reuse. For each application, we described the challenges that currently limit water reuse in the United States and listed specific actions that would be needed to address those challenges. In total, the EPA received submissions from 53 commenters during the public comment period in the development of the draft WRAP.
Joshua Dill: The decision to pursue water recycling is typically made locally and regulated at the state level. What is the appropriate federal role in water recycling?
Patricia Sinicropi: The WRAP will establish a national imperative for safe, reliable and locally controlled water supplies. We also need Congress and the administration to align laws, regulation, and funding to help states and local governments find local solutions. The national growth in water reuse makes the federal role even more important. Investment in water reuse builds communities that are modern, sustainable, and stable—ready for families to flourish and businesses to grow.
Joshua Dill: What kind of national growth are we seeing in water reuse?
Patricia Sinicropi: Recycled water is an effective solution to a multitude of water management challenges, including water supply resiliency, population growth, environmental enhancement and habitat creation, extreme wet weather events and combined sewer overflow, and saltwater intrusion.
We have seen tremendous growth in water recycling in the traditional recycling centers of the arid West and South. This has largely been attributed to water supply challenges and the need for drought-resilient, sustainable supplies. However, there is new and exciting growth in more water-rich areas in the Pacific Northwest and in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, New York that are looking toward water recycling to help manage stormwater and receiving-water quality challenges. In addition, other regions on the eastern seaboard, such as Hampton Roads, Virginia, are incorporating water reuse strategies to support their resiliency and sustainability goals.
Joshua Dill: What does the future of water reuse look like?
Patricia Sinicropi: The future of water reuse is exciting! There has never been more national interest in water reuse, and we expect that interest to continue to increase. In the future, we will not only see every community accept water recycling as a viable component of their water management strategy, we will see the public ask for it, businesses embrace it, and utilities enthusiastically provide it.