Sustainable Nitrogen Management Through Beneficial Reuse

Last Modified: Dec 16, 2009


  • Richard Cisterna, P.E., and Matthew Van Horne - Hazen and Sawyer

An ever growing number of wastewater utilities around the country are facing very challenging nutrient management issues, mostly focused on nitrogen. Typically, nitrogen reduction analyses do not include beneficial reuse of wastewater, such as spray irrigation, industrial use, or groundwater recharge. They typically focus on relatively energy-intensive and often costly biological nutrient reduction options and rarely take into account the potential nutrient management benefit obtained via reclaiming wastewater effluent prior to its discharge to a surface water body. The presentation will show how beneficial reuse can be a viable component of a nitrogen management program when the ‘complete cost’ of the alternatives are considered including economic, environmental (carbon footprint), and potable water offsets. It will also present an approach for utilities to evaluate beneficial reuse as a sustainable nitrogen management tool.

Over the last few years, the concepts of sustainability, water-energy nexus and water stewardship have come to the forefront of our industry resulting in new certifications (Water Stewardship Certification) and new terms and concepts. The terms ‘offset’ and ‘water neutral’ have been used to describe activities which help to ‘neutralize’ the effects of water use on the hydrologic cycle. Using reclaimed water to manage nitrogen is one example of this sustainable water stewardship and water neutralization.

The sustainable stewardship becomes evident when considering how wastewater effluent reduces the total nitrogen load to the receiving waters, allows for beneficial use of the effluent and its nutrients, and reduces potable water demand and associated costs while also decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. Beneficial reuse therefore has the potential to become a cost-effective and sustainable component of a utility’s nitrogen management program when considering the noted benefits.

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