by Jim Force
Direct potable reuse of recycled water would not only provide a new, local sustainable source of water for California communities, the move toward direct potable reuse (DPR) could serve to bring the wastewater and drinking water sides of the profession together, making the “One Water” concept a reality.
Those are some of the thoughts of Jim Fiedler, Chief Operating Officer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Utility Enterprise, on the State Water Resources Control Board draft report to the Legislature on the feasibility of developing regulations for DPR.
CWEA spoke with Fiedler about the draft report and the potential for DPR in California.
Q: If you were to sum up the findings of the Board’s report on DPR, what would your elevator speech to a fellow water professionals be?
Fiedler: First, I would point out that the report confirms that it is feasible to develop regulations that would lead to DPR in California.
Second, I’d want to thank Division of Drinking Water along with the Expert Panel and the Advisory Group for their leadership and dedication in completing the report within the timeframe set by the Legislature.
And third, I’d tell my colleagues that this is a great time to be a water or wastewater professional. It’s exciting that criteria (for DPR) will now be developed.
Q: What did you find unexpected about the Advisory Panel’s meetings or their findings?
Fiedler: If anything, the diversity of the group. The Advisory Panel was composed of water professionals, NGOs, agencies–it was a good cross-mix of stakeholders. We held a number of meetings, and I was impressed with the thoughtful discussion.
Q: Is DPR in California’s near future? When will these things happen?
Fiedler: I don’t know about near-term, but it’s closer today than it was 10 years ago. We’re seeing multi-year droughts and more uncertainty in the hydrologic cycle. We recognize the need for sustainable local sources of water, as opposed to imported water as a key driver.
Research is another driver. The WateReuse Research Foundation (now Water Environment and Reuse Foundation) provided some of the research used by the Expert Panel and helped support the Expert Panel findings that it is feasible to develop and implement DPR criteria that would be protective of public health.
Q: What can the State Water Board do to help support water professionals if we were to implement DPR?
Fiedler: Adhere to the recommendations they receive from the Expert Panel and water professionals, and pursue those recommendations vigorously. However, prior to actual regulations (which could take years), the state should move forward on those projects that agencies bring forward on an individual basis. All of us have learned so much from Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the world’s largest water purification system for indirect potable reuse, which was permitted before groundwater regulations were adopted.
Q: Do we need to invent any new water technologies to safely produce pure water for DPR or are we ready to build these AWTFs right now?
Fiedler: I think the technologies already exist. The biggest need will be for real-time monitoring for these advanced treatment. We have to be sure we are providing sufficient treatment that will deliver a high-quality water and safeguard public health. In indirect potable reuse, you have an environmental buffer, but in DPR, that buffer is not present.
Q: At this early stage, what can be said about costs vs. benefits of DPR?
Fiedler: Costs will be both site-specific and dependent on the level of regulatory requirements. Some communities can discharge reverse osmosis concentrate through ocean outfalls, while other may need to dispose of the waste streams from their processes on land or in landfills. It will depend on local conditions.
Q: The Advisory Panel discusses a new certification program for Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) operators – do you see potential impacts on current water treatment and wastewater operators?
Professional groups have long recognized the need for trained and certified operators. It takes more than just a good treatment process; you need the knowhow of capable operators to manage these systems.
What’s interesting with DPR is the parallel path developing between wastewater and drinking water system operators to achieve the necessary level of advanced certification. An example of this convergence is that OCWD uses wastewater operators to operate GWRS, whereas here at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, water treatment operators run our advanced purification facility. Another example: the state’s Drinking Water Division was recently moved to the State Water Resources Control Board, so that wastewater and water treatment are in the same governmental organization.
Q: You seem enthusiastic about this convergence.
Fiedler: Traditionally, we’ve had our own tribes, so to speak—water and wastewater silos. The professional associations on both sides have served their members well. But we all recognize that there’s only so much water. DPR provides a really exciting opportunity for the two groups to come together and work to solve the needs of both wastewater and drinking water treatment and management.
Q: Thinking back to early in your career did you ever expect water professionals would pursue DPR operations?
Fiedler: No. It was like going to the moon. Plus there was the “yuck” factor and prohibitive costs. But much has changed during the years. We’ve made dramatic advances in RO, UV disinfection, and other processes, and we’ve reduced our energy footprint while doing so.
But, we still have a great need for public education. Fundamentally, our communities don’t know where their water comes from or where it goes following its use. In the old days, we didn’t want people to think much about where the water ended up after its use.
Now, I think it’s really important that we get the word out to the general public. They should have a better understanding of where their water comes from and what it takes to get it here, as well as the safety and benefits of reusing water. We want them to have 100 percent confidence in their water supply.
Jim Fiedler is the Chief Operating Officer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Utility Enterprise. He is responsible for leading Santa Clara’s water supply program consisting of: water importation, surface reservoir operations and storage, groundwater management, raw and treated water delivery, drinking water treatment, water recycling and purification, and water conservation programs.
A member of the water district staff since 1982 he has over 35 years of leadership and engineering experience in the area of water supply, flood protection and watershed stewardship. His management and technical experience includes regional water supply, flood and environmental planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance of water supply and flood protection infrastructure.
In addition, Jim serves as the Chair of the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) Board of Directors; Board Member of the WateReuse Association: Member on the State Advisory Group for Direct Potable Reuse in California; Past President of National Association of Flood and Storm Management Agencies (NAFSMA) and past Board member of the San Francisco Bay Planning Coalition.
Jim is a registered civil engineer in California. He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, and graduate of Stanford University with a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering.