Reclaimed water or recycled water, is former wastewater (sewage) that is treated to remove solids and certain impurities, and used in sustainable landscaping irrigation or to recharge groundwater aquifers. The purpose of these processes is sustainability and water conservation, rather than discharging the treated water to surface waters such as rivers and oceans.
The definition of reclaimed water, as defined by Levine and Asaneo, is "The end product of wastewater reclamation that meets water quality requirements for biodegradable materials, suspended matter and pathogens." In more recent conventional use, the term refers to water that is not treated as highly in order to offer a way to conserve drinking water. This water is given to uses such as agriculture and sundry industry uses.
Cycled repeatedly through the planetary hydrosphere, all water on Earth is recycled water. But, typically when we hear the term "recycled water" or "reclaimed water" it means wastewater that is sent from our home or business through a pipeline system to a treatment facility where is treated to a level consistent with its intended use. It is then routed directly to a recycled water system for uses such as irrigation or industrial cooling.
The recycling and recharging is often done by using the treated wastewater for designated municipal sustainable gardening irrigation applications. In most locations, it is intended to only be used for nonpotable uses, such as irrigation, dust control, and fire suppression.
There are examples of communities that have safely used recycled water for many years. Los Angeles County's sanitation districts have provided treated wastewater for landscape irrigation in parks and golf courses since 1929. The first reclaimed water facility in California was built at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1932. The Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) was the first water district in California to receive an unrestricted use permit from the state for its recycled water; such a permit means that water can be used for any purpose except drinking. IRWD maintains one of the largest recycled water systems in the nation with more than 400 miles serving more than 4,500 metered connections. The Irvine Ranch Water District and Orange County Water District in Southern California are established leaders in recycled water. Further, the Orange County Water District, located in Orange County, and in other locations throughout the world such as Singapore, water is given more advanced treatments and is used indirectly for drinking.
In spite of quite simple methods that incorporate the principles of water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) for easy recovery of stormwater runoff, there remains a common perception that reclaimed water must involve sophisticated and technically complex treatment systems, attempting to recover the most complex and degraded types of sewage. As this effort is supposedly driven by sustainability factors, this type of implementation should inherently be associated with point source solutions, where it is most economical to achieve the expected outcomes. Harvesting of stormwater or rainwater can be an extremely simple to comparatively complex, as well as energy and chemical intensive, recovery of more contaminated sewage.
Storm and sanitary sewers were necessarily developed along with the growth of cities. By the 1840s the luxury of indoor plumbing, which mixes human waste with water and flushes it away, eliminated the need for cesspools. Odor was considered the big problem in waste disposal and to address it, sewage could be drained to a lagoon, or "settled" and the solids removed, to be disposed of separately. This process is now called "primary treatment" and the settled solids are called "sludge."
At the end of the 19th century, since primary treatment still left odor problems, it was discovered that bad odors could be prevented by introducing oxygen into the decomposing sewage. This was the beginning of the biological aerobic and anaerobic treatments which are fundamental to waste water processes.
By the 1920s, it became necessary to further control the pollution caused by the large quantities of human and industrial liquid wastes which were being piped into rivers and oceans, and modern treatment plants were being built in the US and other industrialized nations by the 1930s.
Designed to make water safe for fishing and recreation, the Clean Water Act of 1972 mandated elimination of the discharge of untreated waste from municipal and industrial sources, and the US federal government provided billions of dollars in grants for building sewage treatment plants around the country. Modern treatment plants, usually using oxidation and/or chlorination in addition to primary and secondary treatment, were required to meet certain standards.
Current treatment improves the quality of separated wastewater solids or sludge. The separated water is given further treatment considered adequate for non potable use by local agencies, and discharged into bodies of water, or reused as reclaimed water. In places like Florida, where it is necessary to avoid nutrient overload of sensitive receiving water, reuse of treated or reclaimed water can be more economically feasible than meeting the higher standards for surface water disposal mandated by the Clean Water Act 
Maximum water recovery 
To determine maximum water recovery there are various techniques that have been developed by researchers; for maximum water reuse/reclamation/recovery strategies such as water pinch analysis. The techniques help a user to target the minimum freshwater consumption and wastewater target. It also helps in designing the network that achieves the target. This provides a benchmark to be used by users in improving their water systems.
The cost of reclaimed water exceeds that of potable water in many regions of the world, where a fresh water supply is plentiful. However, reclaimed water is usually sold to citizens at a cheaper rate to encourage its use. As fresh water supplies become limited from distribution costs, increased population demands, or climate change reducing sources, the cost ratios will evolve also.
Using reclaimed water for non-potable uses saves potable water for drinking, since less potable water will be used for non-potable uses.
The usage of water reclamation decreases the pollution sent to sensitive environments. It can also enhance wetlands, which benefits the wildlife depending on that eco-system. For instance, The San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant instituted a water recycling program to protect the San Francisco Bay area's natural salt water marshes.
Reclaimed water is highly engineered for safety and reliability so that the quality of reclaimed water is more predictable than many existing surface and groundwater sources. Reclaimed water is considered safe when appropriately used. Reclaimed water planned for use in recharging aquifers or augmenting surface water receives adequate and reliable treatment before mixing with naturally occurring water and undergoing natural restoration processes. Some of this water eventually becomes part of drinking water supplies.
A water quality study published in 2009 compared the water quality differences of reclaimed/recycled water, surface water, and groundwater. Results indicate that reclaimed water, surface water, and groundwater are more similar than dissimilar with regard to constituents. The researchers tested for 244 representative constituents typically found in water. When detected, most constituents were in the parts per billion and parts per trillion range. DEET (a bug repellant), and Caffeine were found in all water types and virtually in all samples. Triclosan (in anti-bacterial soap & toothpaste) was found in all water types, but detected in higher levels (parts per trillion) in reclaimed water than in surface or groundwater. Very few hormones/steroids were detected in samples, and when detected were at very low levels. Haloacetic acids (a disinfection by-product) were found in all types of samples, even groundwater. The largest difference between reclaimed water and the other waters appears to be that reclaimed water has been disinfected and thus has disinfection by-products (due to chlorine use).
A 2005 study titled "Irrigation of Parks, Playgrounds, and Schoolyards with Reclaimed Water" found that there had been no incidences of illness or disease from either microbial pathogens or chemicals, and the risks of using using reclaimed water for irrigation are not measurably different from irrigation using potable water. Studies by the National Academies of Science, the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, and others have found reclaimed water to be safe for agricultural use.
There is debate about possible health and environmental effects. To address these concerns, A Risk Assessment Study of potential health risks of recycled water and comparisons to conventional Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Product (PPCP) exposures was conducted by the WateReuse Research Foundation. For each of four scenarios in which people come into contact with recycled water used for irrigation - children on the playground, golfers, and landscape, and agricultural workers - the findings from the study indicate that it could take anywhere from a few years to millions of years of exposure to nonpotable recycled water to reach the same exposure to PPCPs that we get in a single day through routine activities.
Distribution and demand 
Reclaimed water is often distributed with a dual piping network that keeps reclaimed water pipes completely separate from potable water pipes. In the United States, reclaimed water is always distributed in lavender (light purple) pipes to distinguish it from potable water. The use of the color purple for pipes carrying recycled water was pioneered by the Irvine Ranch Water District in Irvine, California.
In many cities using reclaimed water, it is now in such demand that consumers are only allowed to use it on assigned days. Some cities that previously offered unlimited reclaimed water at a flat rate are now beginning to charge citizens by the amount they use.
Testing standards 
Reclaimed water is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but by the states, using standards formulated decades ago. Newer information shows serious public health concerns about pathogens in the water. Many pathogens cannot be detected by currently used tests.
Recent literature also questions the validity of testing for "indicator organisms" instead of pathogens. Nor do present standards consider interactions of heavy metals and pharmaceuticals which may foster the development of drug resistant pathogens in waters derived from sewage.
Potable uses 
In most locations, reclaimed water is not directly mixed with potable (drinking) water for several reasons:
- Utilities providing reclaimed water for nonpotable uses do not treat the water to drinking water standards.
- Varying amounts of pathogens, pharmaceutical chemicals (e.g., hormones from female hormonal contraception) and other trace chemicals are able to pass through the treatment and filtering process, potentially causing danger to humans. Modern technologies such as reverse osmosis may help to somewhat overcome this problem. An experiment by the University of New South Wales reportedly showed a reverse osmosis system removed ethinylestradiol and paracetamol from the wastewater, even at 1000 times the expected concentration.
- Drinking water standards were developed for natural ground water, and are not appropriate for identifying contaminants in reclaimed water. In addition to pathogens, and organic and endocrine disrupting chemicals, a large number of compounds may be present in reclaimed water. They cannot all be tested for, and there is a paucity of toxicity information on many of the compounds.
Because of this, state regulatory agencies do not allow reclaimed water to be used for drinking, bathing, or filling swimming pools. They also warn those who use reclaimed water for irrigation to place a sign on their property warning people not to drink from the irrigation system, and to not use it directly on fruits or vegetables.
Aboard the International Space Station, astronauts have been able to drink recycled urine due to the introduction of the ECLSS system. The system cost $250 million and has been working since May 2009. The system recycles wastewater and urine back into potable water used for drinking, food preparation, and oxygen generation. This cuts back on the need for resupplying the space station so often.
Indirect potable reuse 
Some municipalities are now investigating Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) of reclaimed water. For example, reclaimed water may be pumped into (subsurface recharge) or percolated down to (surface recharge) groundwater aquifers, pumped out, treated again, and finally used as drinking water. This technique may also be referred to as groundwater recharging. This includes slow processes of further multiple purification steps via the layers of earth/sand (absorption) and microflora in the soil (biodegradation).
Unplanned indirect potable reuse 
Unplanned Indirect Potable Use has existed even before the introduction of reclaimed water. Many cities already use water from rivers that contain effluent discharged from upstream sewage treatment plants. There are many large towns on the River Thames upstream of London (Oxford, Reading, Swindon, Bracknell) that discharge their treated sewage ("non-potable water") into the river, which is used to supply London with water downstream. This is a not uncommon practice in many parts of the world, though is not always "paid for", even though it ought to be paid for.
This phenomenon is also observed in the United States, where the Mississippi River serves as both the destination of sewage treatment plant effluent and the source of potable water. Research conducted in the 1960s by the London Metropolitan Water Board demonstrated that the maximum extent of recycling water is about 11 times before the taste of water induces nausea in sensitive individuals. This is caused by the build up of inorganic ions such as Cl-, SO42-, K+ and Na+, which are not removed by conventional sewage treatment.
Space travel 
Wastewater reclamation can be especially important in relation to human spaceflight.
- In 1998, NASA announced it had built a human waste reclamation bioreactor designed for use in the International Space Station and a manned Mars mission. Human urine and feces are input into one end of the reactor and pure oxygen, pure water, and compost (humanure) are output from the other end. The soil could be used for growing vegetables, and the bioreactor also produces electricity.
Treatment improvements 
As world populations require both more clean water and better ways to dispose of wastewater, the demand for water reclamation will increase. Future success in water reuse will depend on whether this can be done without adverse effects on human health and the environment.
In the United States, reclaimed waste water is generally treated to secondary level when used for irrigation, but there are questions about the adequacy of that treatment. Some leading scientists in the main water society, AWWA, have long believed that secondary treatment is insufficient to protect people against pathogens, and recommend adding at least membrane filtration, reverse osmosis, ozonation, or other advanced treatments for irrigation water.
Recent Advances in Reverse Osmosis have been in different countries, but have consistently produced very high quality water all the same. In Singapore, reclaimed water, also known as NEWater has become cleaner than the government issue tap water. Also, according to Bartels, the Bedok Demonstration Plant, which uses RO membranes, has successfully run for the past 3 years, producing high quality wastewater all the while.
Seepage of nitrogen and phosphorus into ground and surface water is also becoming a serious problem, and will probably lead to at least tertiary treatment of reclaimed to remove nutrients in future. Even using secondary treatment, water quality can be improved. Testing for pathogens using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) instead of older culturing techniques, and changing the discredited fecal coloform "indicator organism" standard would be improvements.
In a large study  treatment plants showed that they could significantly reduce the numbers of parasites in effluent, just by making adjustments to the currently used process. But, even using the best of current technology, risk of spreading drug resistance in the environment through wastewater effluent, would remain.
Some scientists have suggested that there need to be basic changes in treatment, such as using bacteria to degrade waste based on nitrogen (urine) and not just carbonaceous (fecal) waste, saying that this would greatly improve effectiveness of treatment. Currently designed plants do not deal well with contaminants in solution (e.g. pharmaceuticals). "Dewatering" solids is a major problem. Some wastes could be disposed of without mixing them with water to begin with. In an interesting innovation, solids (sludge) could be removed before entering digesters and burned into a gas that could be used to run engines.
Emerging disinfection technologies include ultrasound, pulse arc electrohydraulic discharge, and bank filtration. Another issue is concern about weakened mandates for pretreatment of industrial wastes before they are made part of the municipal waste stream. Some also believe that hospitals should treat their own wastes. The safety of drinking reclaimed water which has been given advanced treatment and blended with other waters, remains controversial.
Other alternatives 
In urban areas where climate change has threatened long-term water security and reduced rainfall over catchment areas, using reclaimed water for indirect potable use may be superior to other water supply augmentation methods. One other commonly used option is seawater desalination. Recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater may have many of the same disadvantages, including high costs of water treatment, infrastructure construction, transportation, and waste disposal problems. Although the best option varies from region to region, desalination is often superior economically, as reclaimed water usually requires a dual piping network, often with additional storage tanks, when used for nonpotable use.
A less elaborate alternative to reclaimed water is a greywater system. Greywater is wastewater that has been used in sinks, baths, showers, or washing machines, but does not contain sewage (see blackwater) and has not been treated at the same levels as recycled water. In a home system, treated or untreated greywater may be used to flush toilets or for irrigation. Some systems now exist which directly use greywater from a sink to flush a toilet or even combine the two into one piece of furniture.
Perhaps the simplest option is a rainwater harvesting system. Although there are concerns about the quality of rainwater in urban areas, due to air pollution and acid rain, many systems exist now to use untreated rainwater for nonpotable uses or treated rainwater for direct potable use. Urban design systems which incorporate rainwater harvesting and reduce runoff are known as Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) in Australia, Low Impact Development (LID) in the United States and Sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) in the United Kingdom. There are also concerns about rainwater harvesting systems reducing the amount of run-off entering natural bodies of water.
Worldwide applications and acceptance 
As of 2010, Israel leads the world in the proportion of water it recycles. Israel treats 80% of its sewage (400 billion liters a year), and 100% of the sewage from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area is treated and reused as irrigation water for agriculture and public works. The remaining sludge is currently pumped into the Mediterranean, however a new bill has passed stating a conversion to treating the sludge to be used as manure. Only 20% of the treated water is lost (due to evaporation, leaks, overflows and seeping). The recycled water allows farmers to plan ahead and not be limited by water shortages. There are many levels of treatment, and many different ways of treating the water—which leads to a big difference in the quality of the end product. The best quality of reclaimed sewage water comes from adding a gravitational filtering step, after the chemical and biological cleansing. This method uses small ponds in which the water seeps through the sand into the aquifer in about 400 days, then is pumped out as clear purified water. This is nearly the same process used in the space station water recycling system, which turns urine and feces into purified drinking water, oxygen and manure. To add to the efficiency of the Israeli system - the reclaimed sewage water may be mixed with reclaimed sea water (Plans are in action to increase the desalinization program up to 50% of the countries usage by 2013 - 600 billion liters of drinkable sea water a year), along with aquifer water and fresh sweet lake water - monitored by computer to account for the nationwide needs and input. This action reduced the outdated risk of salt and mineral percentages in the water. Plans to implement this overall usage of reclaimed water for drinking are discouraged by the psychological preconception of the public for the quality of reclaimed water, and the fear of its origin. As of today, all the reclaimed sewage water in Israel is used for agricultural and land improvement purposes.
The second largest waste reclamation program in the world is in Spain, where 12% of the nation's waste is treated. 
The leaders in use of reclaimed water in the U.S. are Florida and California, with Irvine Ranch Water District as one of the leading developers. They were the first district to approve the use of reclaimed water for in-building piping and use in flushing toilets.
In a January 2012 U.S. National Research Council report, a committee of independent experts found that expanding the reuse of municipal wastewater for irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation could significantly increase the United States’ total available water resources. The committee noted that a portfolio of treatment options is available to mitigate water quality issues in reclaimed water. The report also includes a risk analysis that suggests the risk of exposure to certain microbial and chemical contaminants from drinking reclaimed water is not any higher than the risk from drinking water from current water treatment systems—and in some cases, may be orders of magnitude lower. The report concludes that adjustments to the federal regulatory framework could enhance public health protection and increase public confidence in water reuse.
As Australia continues to battle the 7–10-year drought, nationwide, reclaimed effluent is becoming a popular option. Two major capital cities in Australia, Adelaide and Brisbane, have already committed to adding reclaimed effluent to their dwindling dams. Brisbane has been seen as a leader in this trend, and other cities and towns will review the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project once completed. Goulbourn, Canberra, Newcastle, and Regional Victoria, Australia are already considering building a reclaimed effluent process.
According to an EU-funded study, "Europe and the Mediterranean countries are lagging behind" California, Japan, and Australia "in the extent to which reuse is being taken up." According to the study "the concept (of reuse) is difficult for the regulators and wider public to understand and accept."
Indirect potable reuse (IPR) 
- Orange County, California
- London, United Kingdom
- Singapore (where it is branded as NEWater)
- Payson, Arizona
- The Torreele project in the Veurne coastal region of Belgium, which began operating in 2002 
- Virginia Occoquan Reservoir - The Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority plant discharges its highly treated output to supply roughly 20% of the inflow into the Occoquan Reservoir, which provides drinking water used by the Fairfax County Water Authority - one of the three major water providers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Non-potable reuse (NPR) 
- Austin, Texas
- Caboolture and Maroochy (South East Queensland, Australia) LGA's currently provide reclaimed water for industrial use (primarily capital works). Users must apply for a key to be able to access the compounds in which the outlets are located.
- Clark County, Nevada
- Clearwater, Florida
- Contra Costa County, California
- Melbourne, Australia
- Mount Buller Ski resort uses recycled water for snow making.
- San Antonio operates the largest recycled water system in the United States.
- Sydney, Australia
- Tucson, Arizona
- San Diego, California (San Diego County)
- St. Petersburg, Florida
In some places, reclaimed water has been proposed for either potable or non-potable use:
- South East Queensland, Australia (planned for potable use as of late 2010) 
- Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia (proposed for non-potable use).
- Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia (proposed in January 2007 as a backup source of potable water)
- Los Angeles, California - By 2019, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will build a plant to replenish their groundwater aquifer with purified water in order to deal with the shortage of rain and snow fall, restricted water imports and local groundwater contamination.
See also 
- Levine, Audrey D.; Takashi Asano (1 June 2004). "Peer Reviewed: Recovering Sustainable Water from Wastewater". Environmental Science & Technology 45: 203A. doi:10.1021/es040504n. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- NEWater FAQ, accessed 8 January 2007; Orange County Water District's Groundwater Replenishment System, accessed 9 September 2011
- Manly Star Project
- P.F.Cooper,2001, Decentralized Sanitation and Reuse, Chapt.2, IWA Publishing, London,UK.
- 33 Usc 1251 seq., 1972, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Enacted by Congress.
- Sierra Club Fact Sheet
- Helgeson, Tom (2009). A Reconnaissance-Level Quantitative Comparison of Reclaimed Water, Surface Water, and Groundwater. Alexandria, VA: WateReuse Research Foundation. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-934183-12-0.
- Crook, James (2005). Irrigation of Parks, Playgrounds, and Schoolyards: Extent and Safety. Alexandria, VA: WateReuse Research Foundation. p. 60. ISBN 0-9747586-3-9.
- Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 1996.
- "Monterey Wastewater Reclamation Study for Agriculture, Final Report". Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
- York, David; R. Holden, B. Sheikh, L. Parsons (September 2008). "Safety and Suitability of Recycled Water for Irrigation of Edible Crops". Proceedings of the 23rd Annual WateReue Symposium.
- Rules and Regulations for Reclaimed Water. City of San Diego. 31 January 2007.
- Purple Rain Education Program. Pasco County, Florida. 31 January 2007.
- Timothy LaPara, Sara Firl, 2006, The Importance of Municipal Sewage Treatment in the spread of Antibiotic resistance, 106th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
- James D. Oliver, 2005, The Viable but Nonculturable State in Bacteria, J. of Microbiology p.93-100.
- Valerie J. Harwood, Audry D. Levine, Troy M. Scott, Joan G. Rose, 2005,Validity of the Indicator Organism Paradign for Pathogen Reduction in Reclaimed Water and Public Health Protection, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Vol.71.
- Tsai, Kan-Jen (2008). "Bacterial Heavy Metal Resistance". Osaka Biology. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
- From the Toilet to the Tap, Australian Broadcasting Corporation 9 November 2006
- Committee on the Viablility of Augmenting Drinking Water Supplies with Reclaimed water, 1998, Issues in Potable Reuse, National Research Council
- Space.com. (2009, May 20). Astronauts Drink Recycled Urine, and Celebrate. Retrieved November 29, 2009 from http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/090520-space-urine.html
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- Harvey H. Harper PhD., 2008, Good intentions gone awry?, 27th International Symposium of North American Lake Management Society, Orlando Florida
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- National Research Council report, Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater
- National Research Council Report in Brief, Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater
- "Reuse of water in the EU and the Mediterranean", by Bill McCann, Water 21, Journal of the International Water Association, April 2008, p. 42-44, quoting the Aquarec project
- Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System.
- Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System Case Study.
- Green Valley Park Lakes Groundwater Recharge Project.
- Austin Water Utility
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- Water Reclamation
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- Waterwise A nonprofit non-governmental Organization dedicated to promoting the wise use of water.
- WateReuse A nonprofit Organization whose mission is to advance the beneficial and efficient use of water resources using reclamation, recycling, reuse, and desalination.
- Watchers Protecting the Environment A nonprofit Organization dedicated to finding the truth about reclaimed sewage water and sludge.
- Help for Sewage Victims A nonprofit Organization dedicated to factual research for the protection of sewage victims.