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Water Technology and Innovation

Examples of Innovation in the Water Sector

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Across the country there is growing momentum to address traditional and emerging threats to the nation’s water resources through innovative technology. EPA has highlighted the following examples of how innovation is currently being deployed in the water sector, organized by the 10 market opportunities defined by EPA. 

On this page:

Conserving and Recovering Energy 

Gresham, OR Achieves Energy Net Zero

Through the use of biogas generation and recovery, as well as ground-mounted solar arrays, the City of Gresham’s wastewater treatment plant is the first in the Pacific Northwest to generate more electricity than it consumes each year, which saves the city about $500,000 per year. More information on Gresham's Wastewater Treatment Plant.

DC Water Saves Energy

DC Water was the first plant in North America to adopt thermal hydrolysis process from the company Cambi. Using this process creates biogas and has enabled DC Water’s Blue Plains Advanced Treatment Plant to generate 10 megawatts of electricity, which is about one-third of the plant’s energy requirement. More information on a Greener Blue Plains.

Oakland, CA, Utility Goes Energy Positive

More than a decade ago, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in Oakland, CA, began accepting organic wastes from local food processors, food growers and livestock producers to better utilize the excess capacity in its existing anaerobic digesters. The result has been a doubling of biogas production, which allowed EBMUD’s wastewater treatment plant to become the first facility in North America to produce more renewable energy on site than is needed to run the facility. More information on recycling water and energy

Conserving and Recovering Nutrients

Madison, WI, and Boise, ID, Harvest Phosphorus

The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, in conjunction with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, recovers phosphorus at their Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, converting it into an environmentally friendly fertilizer, Crystal Green®. More information on Phosphorus Harvesting.

The City of Boise implemented the MultiformTM P-Recovery system at its West Boise Water Renewal Facility to manage nuisance struvite deposits and recover phosphorous. More information about Boise’s phosphorous removal process.

Using Technology to Optimize Fertilizer Application

Researchers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln are working with farmers on Project SENSE (Sensors for Efficient Nitrogen Use and Stewardship of the Environment), which uses innovative technologies to optimize nitrogen fertilizer use. As part of the project, crop canopy sensors are used to measure the real-time nitrogen status of crops. This information is then used to produce nitrogen application rate recommendations that can ultimately lead to greater crop productivity, decreased fertilizer use, and improved water quality as a result of reduced fertilizer runoff. More information about Project Sense.

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Improving and Greening of the Water Infrastructure

Rainwater Harvesting at EPA

EPA’s Headquarters facility in Washington, DC recently upgraded an existing 6,000-gallon capacity rainwater harvesting system with OptiNimbus real-time controls to manage stormwater retention and use more effectively. The system allows EPA to monitor the volume of rainwater captured and used over time. More information on stormwater.

GreenPlan Bay Area

The GreenPlan Bay Area project developed a GIS-based tool and GreenPlans to help municipalities in California identify the optimal combination and location of green infrastructure/low impact development features to address water quality on a watershed scale. More information on GreenPlan Bay Area.

Greening of Our Cities

Green City, Clean Waters is the city of Philadelphia’s 25-year plan to protect and enhance its watersheds by managing stormwater with intensely implemented green infrastructure. Recently, Philadelphia celebrated an impressive landmark in the program; 1,000 acres throughout the city have been greened, and counting! More information on what Philadelphia is doing

Save the Rain is Onondaga County’s and the city of Syracuse’s visionary stormwater management and public outreach program, featuring over 200 projects, capturing over 120 million gallons of runoff each year to protect their watershed. Every project advanced through the program has a unique Web page where the public can review the project design elements, cost, and stormwater capture objectives. More information on Save the Rain.

Reinventing Urban Water Infrastructure

ReNUWIt is a multi-institution research center that works in close partnership with utilities, water service providers, equipment manufacturers and international research partners to convert great ideas for re-inventing the nation’s urban water infrastructure into practical and sustainable solutions. More information on Reinventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure.  

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Conserving and Eventually Reusing Water

Emory University Reclaims Wastewater

The WaterHub at Emory University is reducing its water footprint nearly 40% by reclaiming and reusing up to 146 million gallons of campus wastewater annually by using an adaptive ecological technology that naturally breaks down organic matter in wastewater for use as process (make-up) water in its steam and chiller plants. More information can be found at:

Potable Reuse

The communities of Big Spring and Wichita Falls, Texas, built the country’s first two potable reuse facilities, using multiple barrier technologies and intense monitoring. Presently, Colorado River Municipal District’s Big Spring facility provides water to five communities using direct potable reuse (DPR) processes. Wichita Falls implemented an emergency DPR system in response to severe drought in 2014. When drought conditions subsided, the DPR system was decommissioned and Wichita Falls subsequently implemented a permanent indirect potable reuse (IDR) system.

More information on these and other facilities with potable reuse capabilities can be found in EPA’s 2017 Potable Reuse Compendium.

The World’s Largest Potable Reuse System

The Groundwater Replenishment System operated by the Orange County Water District in California is the world’s largest advanced water purification system for indirect potable reuse, taking treated wastewater that is purified to produce a high-quality water. More information on Groundwater Replenishment System.

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Reducing Costs and Improving Techniques for Water Monitoring 

Mobile App for Water Quality Data

A mobile and web application called KCWaterBug provides live water quality data so users can make real-time informed decisions about recreation in numerous streams in the Kansas City area.

Rocky River Hydrology

Cleveland Metroparks in Ohio studied the hydrology of the Rocky River headwater streams affected by runoff by using real-time flow and water quality sensors to attain precise, short-interval hydrograph and water quality data. More information on Cleveland Metroparks

National Great Rivers Research and Education Center

The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) created a network of monitoring buoys for real-time, continuous water quality data on the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers. The data from these buoys, along with data collected from federal, state, local and private sources is publicly available through the Great Lake to Gulf Virtual Observatory. More information on NGRREC and Virtual Observatory.

Clemson University’s Intelligent River

Clemson University’s Intelligent River Research Enterprise is a data acquisition system supported by a network of sensors on the Savannah River. The sensors were implemented with the help of NSF and provide real-time water quality and flow rate data along the entire length of the Savannah River. The data and a map of sites are available online and more information on the Enterprise.

Monitoring Lake George

The Jefferson Project is a collaborative effort between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM and the FUND for Lake George (New York) to develop a lake environmental monitoring and prediction system to provide a real-time understanding of lake health. More information on The Jefferson Project.

Monitoring the Hudson River

The Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System (HRECOS) is a network of real-time monitoring stations on the Hudson River Estuary. HRECOS is a collaborative effort between multiple agencies, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, USGS and NOAA, among others. More information on HRECOS.

The River and Estuary Observatory Network is an effort between Clarkson University’s Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries and IBM to use real-time monitoring technologies to better understand the Hudson River ecosystem from the headwaters in the Adirondack Mountains to the ocean. More information on River and Estuary Observatory Network

Third Party Technology Evaluation

The Water Environment Federation and The Water Research Foundation have established LIFT (Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology), a program designed to enable technology evaluations for municipal and industry end-users to share the cost of conducting demonstrations to accelerate adoption of new and innovative technologies. More information on LIFT

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Improving Performance of Small Systems 

Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors recently approved the next phase of work on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program. The program will reclaim treated wastewater and use it to reduce the region’s dependence on imported water; by 2032, it is expected to provide thirty percent of Padre Dam’s current drinking water demands. More information on advanced water purification

Algae-Based Wastewater Treatment

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources worked with Commonwealth Engineers, Inc. and One Water Group to install algae-based wastewater treatment systems at two of its state parks. Both locations use an algaewheel® system, which works similarly to a rotating biological contactor. Wastewater is conveyed to a basin containing partially submerged paddles (wheels), which are rotated via a blower. Biofilm, made of a consortium of algae and bacteria, attached to the wheels supply oxygen to the wastewater while removing nutrients. These small, decentralized systems are ideal for low flow facilities. Little land space is required and the system is capable of handling variable flows with changes in seasonal demands. More information on the Indiana facilities.

Small Systems Innovation Research

Using funding from EPA’s STAR grant program, two national research centers conduct research on innovative technologies that can be implemented in small systems. More information on the centers’ grants.

The Design of Risk-reducing, Innovative-implementable Small-system Knowledge (DeRISK) Center is led by the University of Colorado Boulder with five affiliated research organizations. DeRISK researchers are exploring topics, including: applications of photochemical processes for small systems, distribution system innovations, and extended biofiltration.

The Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) is led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst with six affiliated research organizations. Some of the current research efforts at WINSS include studying the use of ferrate for disinfection, research on electrodialysis with nanofiltration, and developing a mobile application to assist small systems with asset management.

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Reducing Water Impacts from Energy Production

Cleaning Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a method using microbes to clean both organic contaminants and salts from hydraulic fracturing wastewater, while producing renewable energy. More information on the University of Colorado Boulder project.

Use of Reclaimed Water as Makeup for Cooling Towers

The Public Service Enterprise Group’s Linden, NJ, Generating Station does not currently employ a cooling water intake structure. Instead, the Linden Generating Station uses reclaimed wastewater from the nearby Linden Roselle Sewerage Authority (LRSA) for all its cooling water needs. After being used for cooling, any remaining water (e.g., cooling tower blowdown) is pumped back to LRSA for treatment again. More information on Public Service Enterprise Group

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Improving Resiliency of Water Infrastructure to the Impacts of Climate Change

Adapting to Climate Change and Water Reuse

Due to damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Florida’s Emerald Coast Utilities Authority had to relocate it’s Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant away from the coastal plain and rebuilt. The new Central Water Reclamation Facility has treatment technology that enables the reuse of 100 percent of the nearly 22.5 million gallons per day (average flow) treated at the facility. Additionally, the new plant was built to withstand Category Five hurricanes and now stands 50 feet above sea level, thereby increasing resilience to sea level rise and flood risk. More information on Emerald Coast Utilities

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Improving Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Improving Onsite Systems

The Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) aids in the development, testing, and piloting of new and innovative onsite technologies. More information on MASSTC. Currently, MASSTC is working with EPA, USGS and other partners to screen technologies as part of the Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge, which was launched in January 2017 to challenge innovators to design a nitrogen sensor for use in advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems. EPA News Release on Technology Challenge.

Reinventing the Toilet

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation challenged universities to design toilets that capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, while capturing useful resources. Since 2011, the Foundation has awarded 16 grants to research organizations through the challenge and continues to strive to spur change to improve worldwide drinking water while reducing sanitation-related problems. More information on water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Improving Water Quality of Our Oceans, Estuaries, and Watersheds

Protecting Lake Tahoe

The Lake Clarity Crediting Program uses a suite of stormwater tools and protocols to target ongoing effective actions to reduce urban stormwater fine sediment and nutrient pollutants to Lake Tahoe. More information on Lake Tahoe.  

Using Roleplaying to Manage Watersheds

The University of Virginia (UVA) Bay Game is a computerized simulation based on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The simulation allows players to take the roles of stakeholders, such as farmers, developers, watermen and local policy-makers, and make decisions about their watershed.

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