Report outlines next steps for making water reuse a bigger part of state’s water use plans

State agencies, partners pave way for cities, businesses to reuse water

A new report to the Minnesota Legislature lays out a path for safe and sustainable water reuse to become a bigger part of the state’s overall water management picture in the near future.

Water reuse is the capture and use of stormwater, wastewater, and subsurface water to meet water demands for uses such as flushing, irrigation, cooling, washing, industrial processes and drinking. Water reuse has become increasingly common in states like California, Texas and Florida where water is scarcer and demand is greater than in Minnesota.    

Even in water-rich Minnesota, however, changes in weather patterns, increased population, increased irrigation demands and growth in industries that use a lot of water have started to stress Minnesota’s water resources. Depletion of groundwater reserves in some locations has focused attention on the need for more efficient use of water. In the past decade, interest in water reuse has rapidly increased in Minnesota. According to a survey, between 2010 and 2016, municipalities, watershed districts and watershed management organizations, businesses, industries and developers installed at least 22 projects around the state, but there are likely more.

The most well-known of such projects are probably Target Field or CHS Field, baseball stadiums that capture rainwater and stormwater to wash bleachers and for other uses such as irrigation. Other notable examples include:

  • Mankato uses treated wastewater to supply industrial cooling and irrigation of public spaces.
  • The City of Woodbury has several stormwater reuse systems that provide irrigation.
  • St. Louis County-Duluth Motor Pool building uses harvested rainwater to irrigate community gardens and wash vehicles.

Despite the increased interest in reuse, Minnesota, like many other states, lacks a comprehensive, statewide approach to guide municipalities, industries and other parties interested in implementing water reuse. Cities and companies have been asking the state to provide guidance so that the permitting process can happen in a more predictable and efficient way. Consequently, the 2015 Minnesota Legislature directed the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to prepare a study of and recommendations for regulatory and nonregulatory approaches to water reuse to help in developing state policy for water reuse in Minnesota.

“Water reuse in Minnesota has been hampered by a lack of a clear approval process for projects, by a lack of information on reuse water quality and standards and by uncertainties about costs and risks to health and the environment,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “The benefits, costs and risks of water reuse all need to be balanced. This report helps us clarify how to evaluate the resources and take the next steps to successfully advance water reuse in Minnesota.”

The report was prepared by a multi-agency workgroup led by MDH. The workgroup included staff from the departments of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, and Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center. The workgroup got input and ideas from a variety of stakeholders: watershed districts, consultants, local governments, stormwater managers, wastewater operators, businesses and industries wanting to reuse water for their operations.

The report contributors say water reuse will be an increasingly important part of managing Minnesota’s water resources as demands on the state’s water supplies continue to grow.

“We like water reuse as a strategy for stretching water supplies in those parts of the state where supplies are, or will be, limited,” said Steve Woods, Executive Director of Freshwater Society. “Minnesota is a national leader in managing water, but reuse is one area where we lag behind. This report will allow everyone to move on to the next steps.”

The workgroup defined successful water reuse, collected information on current water reuse projects in Minnesota and other states and jurisdictions, and looked at different approaches to managing human health risks. The report outlines the benefits, costs and risks of reuse and strategies for reducing the risks. Finally, it makes some Minnesota-specific recommendations for state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and industries to consider in developing regulations and guidance for water reuse. The report recommends further study, collaboration, and education on water reuse, as well as further development and clarification of guidance, standards, and government roles for water reuse.

“We want to plan wisely for reuse, to make it safe for human health and the environment, sustainable through planning, long-term investment and responsible management, and supported through research, education, guidance, outreach and funding,” said workgroup leader Anita Anderson, a water engineer with MDH.

To view the full report, go to the MDH website at: Advancing Safe and Sustainable Water Reuse in Minnesota (PDF).

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