Exploring Water Reuse

Water-reuse_350A.jpgSustainable water resources are a necessary component of a growing, prosperous Twin Cities metro region. While water is abundant across the region, several factors may compromise the future availability and quality of our water resources:

  • Contamination
  • Increased demand for drinking water
  • Regulatory usage limits
  • Climate change

Water reuse is a tool to help offset these impacts. The two primary forms of reuse currently used in Minnesota are nonpotable (not used for drinking water) stormwater and wastewater reuse. After appropriate treatment, both stormwater and wastewater can be reused for a variety of purposes, including for flushing toilets, irrigating crops, and supporting industrial processes.

Barriers to water reuse

A lack of clear regulation is a huge barrier for widespread application of stormwater reuse. In addition, a lack of public understanding of stormwater reuse water quality and system performance, and lack of information about public health risk, makes stormwater reuse difficult to implement.

In contrast, wastewater reuse has a clear regulatory path. However, Met Council wastewater treatment does not remove all pollutants from water, which may create a barrier to reuse. Eliminating all pollutants from wastewater is currently prohibitively expensive.

Strong policies needed to implement and promote water reuse

Currently, we lack a clear process to implement reuse in Minnesota that adequately protects public health and includes flexible regulatory guidance. The region needs a process developed by regional stakeholders, the Met Council, and state agencies to accelerate and implement water reuse. Strong regional water policies and actions will help to implement and promote water reuse.

Advancing water reuse in the region

To successfully implement stormwater and wastewater reuse, local and regional water partners need to adopt a One Water approach, recognizing the interconnection of all of our waters. We need increased strong regional policies and better, more frequent collaboration to effectively clarify guidelines and promote water reuse within the region.

The Met Council intends to partner with stakeholders in the region and state agencies to develop clear guidance and direction on how to safely implement reuse projects. Strong policies and coordinated water governance are vital to protect our regional waters.

We can work together with our partners in several ways to promote nonpotable water reuse, including long-range visioning and planning, regional investments and system operations, technical assistance, research, and partnership. Policy and action recommendations in two areas can help address current barriers to water reuse, plan for future scenarios, and ensure the sustainability of our waters now and for many generations to come. 

Stormwater reuse

Stormwater reuse in Minnesota currently does not have a clear process and guidance/regulatory structure. The following recommendations from our paper on water reuse are a mix of immediate and long-term actions that will direct new stormwater reuse policies and actions in our 2050 Water Resources Policy Plan.

Proposed policy recommendation: The Met Council will work with our state agency partners and impacted stakeholders to advance stormwater reuse to promote a more sustainable region.

Proposed actions:

  • Met Council staff will share information and resources to help develop guidance for implementing stormwater reuse.
  • Met Council staff, in collaboration with partners, will help to inform the direction on whether further guidance is needed or regulation is needed for the various stormwater and rainwater reuse practices being installed in the metro area. This action will include working with partners and agencies to better understand the risks associated with all types of reuse before decisions are made about guidance or regulation.
  • Met Council staff will work with agency partners to better define agency roles and responsibilities for reuse in Minnesota.

Proposed policy recommendation: The Metropolitan Council will support stormwater reuse in Minnesota, where feasible, as a means of achieving water sustainability in the region.

Proposed actions:

  • The Met Council will seek funding for grant programs to support the reuse of stormwater in the metro area, as appropriate.
  • The Met Council will work with partners to remove obstacles, as appropriate, so reuse can become more commonly used to reach sustainable water resources in the region.
  • The Met Council will implement stormwater reuse at our facilities (including for purposes of demonstration) in accordance with Minnesota Department of Health guidance as they are developed, NPDES permit requirements, and as is economically feasible.

Wastewater reuse

Our current water conservation and reuse policy focuses heavily on the process to reuse wastewater from our Environmental Services wastewater treatment plants. In addition, the regulatory approach for reuse of wastewater is clearly identified and overseen by the MPCA. Currently we are not proposing any changes to our approved process for wastewater reuse. We are proposing a new standalone wastewater reuse policy and actions.

Proposed policy recommendation: The Met Council will support the reuse of treated wastewater where feasible and appropriate.

Proposed actions:

  • The Met Council will continue to work with partners to identify external opportunities to reuse treated wastewater and assist in the evaluation of this opportunity as one regional alternative to conserve potable water sources.
  • The Met Council will identify criteria for viable wastewater reuse projects including, but not limited to, effluent contaminant concentrations to reduce the likelihood of expensive treatment.
  • The Met Council will clearly identify on our website a contact to work with us on a wastewater reuse project.
  • The Met Council will provide additional treatment to meet MPCA reuse requirements for internal use to advance our practice.

Provide your feedback

Provide your feedback

The survey linked below offers the opportunity to provide feedback about the ideas and recommendations generated in the paper and about the topic as a whole. Hearing feedback from the region will help us create a Water Resources Policy Plan that is more reflective of the values held by our residents and water professionals.

Water Reuse Research Paper Survey