Clean Water America Alliance's Grumbles talks health impacts of wastewater recycling

Is wastewater recycling the solution to the United States' water supply challenge? During today's OnPoint, Ben Grumbles, president of the Clean Water America Alliance and a former assistant administrator for water at the U.S. EPA, discusses new research on wastewater recycling and its health impacts. He also discusses the prospects for water-related legislation this year.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ben Grumbles, president of the Clean Water America Alliance. Ben is a former assistant administrator for water at the U.S. EPA. Ben, great to have you back on the show.

Ben Grumbles: Thank you so much, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Ben, recently the National Research Council released a report assessing the impacts of wastewater recycling on drinking water. And overall they found that the practice would not be risky to the safety of water. So put this into context for us.

Ben Grumbles: Yeah, well, we are entering a new era in water management in the U.S. and globally and I think this is a very important report. Anyone who's interested in water supply, water quality, water management, should read it and the perspective is, is that climate change and population growth are putting extreme pressures on communities across the country and so the question for the National Academy of Sciences was is it safe? Is it viable? What technologies, what regulatory safeguards there are in place to really begin, on a more robust basis, recycling municipal wastewater. And the importance of it is, is that if we can see across the country recycling of municipal wastewater done safely, it will significantly reduce some of the stress, not just on municipalities, but on agriculture and energy producers, because water-the competition for clean and safe water is fierce.

Monica Trauzzi: We keep hearing about this impending water crisis.

Ben Grumbles: Yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: Could this research and these technologies help sort of alleviate some of the stress that comes along with that?

Ben Grumbles: Yeah, well, so all water is local, except when it's not, and there are absolutely local crises that occur throughout the water-rich country that we are, but we're not water rich in some places. And the key is to try to prevent the crisis from becoming a catastrophe. And what this report is doing is it's saying, you know, municipalities discharge 12 billion gallons of municipal wastewater a day to oceans and bays. The technology is there. If you can build the public support and continue to work on-you can reduce that amount by 27 percent and that means a whole lot more water for cities and agriculture. And so it lays a very good roadmap for researchers and also for policymakers to tackle the yuck factor and some of the regulatory questions.

Monica Trauzzi: Right and you mention public support. I mean how difficult is it going to be to get Americans on the side of wastewater and using wastewater in our every day practices?

Ben Grumbles: Yeah, the road to recovery is paved with good inventions and a supportive public attitude and the recovery-resource recovery, recycling of wastewater is absolutely doable. The key is not just to have in place adequate safeguards at the state level or possibly the federal level, which is one of the big policy questions raised by the report, but the key is to bring along the public and that takes time. I mean there's a reason that people, when they hear about the idea of recycled wastewater, they think, yuck, I don't want that. Not in my water you don't. But, as the report lays out, systematically over time, across the country, communities, organizations are recycling wastewater and with beneficial results.

Monica Trauzzi: There's such a partisan spirit in Washington right now. Is water one of those issues where we could see bipartisanship in the near future?

Ben Grumbles: I like to say that water is neither red nor blue in the sense of politics, but purple. You know, it ought to be a unifying issue and it is, but the sad truth is, is that you do get bipartisan unity and action only when there's a real crisis coming. And I-you know, if you look at wetlands regulatory issues or you look at some of the proposals on infrastructure funding, there is a partisan divide. It will take time, but it also-the more facts get out and the more the sense of urgency needed, I'm confident there will be some good proposals and there are some worthy proposals that are pending in Congress right now.

Monica Trauzzi: And do you think there's enough understanding in Congress about the use of water in fracking and sort of what some of the effects might be?

Ben Grumbles: Increasingly. Our organization, Clean Water America Alliance, which likes to embrace a one water management philosophy that it's all integrated, a holistic approach to water. And taking water into account in energy production decisions is critically important. And I think what we're witnessing on the fracking friction is that water is increasingly an important part of the discussion and not just the hyperbole or rhetoric that's meant to block or promote fracking, but also part of some thoughtful analysis. And the key I think for everyone who's involved in energy production and energy security for the country through shale gas drilling and fracking is to understand that water is a critically important part of-it can be an Achilles' heel, but it's also a key to sustainable operations. And you don't just focus on risks to underground drinking water supplies. In fact, I think more and more focus needs to be to aboveground threats from the large volumes of salty or mineral rich water that's a wastewater from the fracking operations. How do you manage it? How do you recycle it? You know, we're back to the reuse movement. That's going to be very important for sustainability.

Monica Trauzzi: There's been attention on the Hill recently on the value of clean water on certain sectors of the economy. Do you think that there can be a direct correlation made between clean water and the economic strength of the U.S.?

Ben Grumbles: There absolutely has to be and connecting the dots or the dots and the drops is absolutely essential. Our organization, Clean Water America Alliance, and others are joining forces to change the paradigm from water being invisible to invaluable. And there are agencies and economists who are probing that topic of the value of water. And we're asking what's water worth? And the answer just can't be more than we're willing to pay. We have to get out the facts and show how if you invest in the infrastructure systems it's not just about local plumbing, it's about national security and competitiveness and jobs.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Ben, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you for coming on the show.

Ben Grumbles: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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