Increasing demands for freshwater make it necessary to find innovative ways to extend the life of our water resources, and to manage them in a sustainable way. Indirect water reuse plays a role in meeting freshwater demands but there is limited documentation of it. There is a need to analyze its current status for water resources planning and conservation, and for understanding how it potentially impacts human health. However, the fact that data are archived in discrete uncoordinated databases by different state and federal entities, limits the capacity to complete holistic analysis of critical resources at large watershed scales. Humans alter the water cycle for food production, manufacturing, energy production, provision of potable water and recreation. Ecosystems services are affected at watershed scales but there are also global scale impacts from greenhouse gas emissions enabled by access to cooling, processing and irrigation water. To better document these issues and to demonstrate the utility of such an analysis, we studied the Wabash River Watershed located in the U.S. Midwest. Data for water extraction, use, discharge, and river flow were collected, curated and reorganized in order to characterize the water use and reuse within the basin. Indirect water reuse was estimated by comparing treated wastewater discharges with stream flows at selected points within the watershed. Results show that during the low flow months of July–October, wastewater discharges into the Wabash River basin contributed 82 to 121% of the stream flow, demonstrating that the level of water use and unplanned reuse is significant. These results suggest that intentional water reuse for consumptive purposes such as landscape or agricultural irrigation could have substantial ecological impacts by diminishing stream flow during vulnerable low flow periods.
Indirect water reuse; Water withdrawals; Wastewater discharges; Water data; Wabash River watershed
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