Research Projects

Guidebook for Airports on Opportunities and Strategies for Water Reuse

This guide would provide information and perspective on airport opportunities for water reuse, at a time of renewed national focus and strategic initiatives supporting considerations and implementation of water reuse. This research would generate targeted information to help airports better understand the financial, environmental, and operational challenges and opportunities for water reuse.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Water reuse is a valuable tool in water management, serving to increase availability and optimize resources in areas where water is either scarce or to increase sustainability. In February 2020, the EPA and other federal, state, and local water leaders announced the release of the National Water Reuse Action Plan: Collaborative Implementation (Version 1). The National Water Reuse Action Plan includes an initial set of 37 actions organized around 11 strategic theme areas to be taken by federal, state, tribal, local and water sector partners to support consideration and implementation of water reuse. The plan notes that of 40 out of 50 state water managers indicated that their states are expected to face freshwater shortages in the next 10 years. In the drought-prone areas of the country, many states and communities of all sizes have recently or are currently experiencing widespread historic drought that may be further exacerbated by urbanization and population growth, and the impacts of climate change, such as increased temperatures.

Airports can reuse non-potable water produced from a building's blackwater, greywater, stormwater, collected rainwater, foundation drainage or air-cooling (A/C) condensate through capture and treatment. The treated water can be reused onsite or locally for a variety of non-drinking purposes including but not limited to toilet flushing, plant irrigation, or cooling tower make up water. There are U.S. and international examples of airports that have implemented or are planning to implement water reuse technologies. For example, SFO's Airport-wide Recycled Water Plan will involve construction of a recycled water treatment plant and supply of recycled water to airport facilities. In response to water supply concerns and associated rising costs for potable water, Sydney International Airport (Terminal 1) constructed a treatment plant to recycle its wastewater. San Jose airport uses recycled water for toilet flushing and irrigation, and Zurich Airport treats wastewater from de-icing operations for irrigation use.

Potential cost and resource sustainability benefits can be considerable even in areas of the country without water supply limitations. Additionally, water reuse approaches and technologies are scalable, and the applications are not limited to large hub airports. Wastewater reuse is an established practice at many water sector utilities across the country. Cost, benefit, technology, regulatory, and public health and environmental considerations are relatively well documented and understood, though information gaps remain.

While there are significant opportunities for and examples of cost and resource savings through reuse strategies, there is no airport-specific resource that specifically addresses considerations and decisionmaking around water reuse specifically (vs. broader sustainability and water conservation approaches). Because of the renewed federal interest in water reuse strategies, initiating this research within the next 12 months allows ACRP to leverage ongoing initiatives, outreach, and research.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The purpose of this product would be to guide airport decisionmaking on water reuse opportunities. The guide would capitalize on ongoing research and outreach on the benefits and considerations of water reuse strategies, approaches, and technologies (including previously published ACRP products relevant to this), to provide a detailed approach to evaluating whether water reuse is a long-term viable option for the airport, from a cost/benefit, environmental, sustainability, and operational perspective. The guide would also identify available funding or financing opportunities for water reuse efforts and examples of water reuse applications at airports (and key details that would enhance airport decisionmaking, e.g., cost savings, timeframe, benefits and obstacles). Finally, the guide would identify opportunities for broader community engagement on long-term water reuse and water resources planning.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

This research effort would involve:

- Conducting a literature review and research on water reuse strategies applicable to airports, and associated cost/benefit, regulatory, construction, operational, and other considerations.

- Developing a decisionmaking framework to support airport evaluation of these strategies, taking into consideration airport size, location, and other relevant concerns.

- Obtaining airport stakeholder input on the decision framework.

- Holding a virtual or in-person roundtable discussion with airport stakeholders who have successfully implemented water reuse strategies to gather input and lessons learned.

- Developing case studies of domestic and international water reuse installations at airports.

- Developing a strategy for airports to engage in local, state, and federal water reuse initiatives.

- Developing a resource guide that incorporates the framework, roundtable outcomes, case studies, and engagement strategy.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

$400,000 for costs associated with:

- Literature review and research

- Stakeholder engagement, including roundtable planning, facilitation, and support

- Development of the outreach/engagement strategy and decision framework

- Administration and coordination with ACRP and project panel

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

In addition to EPA's efforts, there are various collaborations underway among states, utilities and the federal government to facilitate the development of onsite non-potable water reuse. There are existing federal guidance documents and resources available on water reuse, and published news articles and peer-reviewed journal articles on the specific potential benefits of reuse technologies to airports. There are also existing federal resources on the broader topic of water conservation and sustainability. Additionally, ACRP Report 154, Water Efficiency Management Strategy for Airports, identified water reuse as an appropriate water management strategy, but does not provide extensive detail on cost, technology, regulatory, environmental, siting, and other considerations that would be beneficial to airports.

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Idea No. 487