npj Clean Water ( IF 4.870 ) Pub Date : 2019-10-01 , DOI: 10.1038/s41545-019-0043-0 Thuy T. Nguyen; Paul K. Westerhoff
De facto potable reuse occurs when treated wastewater is discharged upstream of drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs) and can lead to contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) occurring in potable water. Our prior research, focusing on larger communities that each serve >10,000 people across the USA, indicates that elevated de facto reuse (DFR) occurs in Texas, and thus we added to our model DWTPs serving smaller communities to understand their vulnerability to CECs. Here, we show that two-thirds of all surface water intakes in Texas were impacted by DFR at levels exceeding 90% during even mild droughts, and under average streamflow DFR levels range between 1 and 20%. DWTPs serving lower population communities (<10,000 people) have higher DFR levels, and fewer than 2% of these communities have advanced technologies (e.g., ozone, activated carbon) at DWTPs to remove CECs. Efforts to improve water quality in these less populated communities are an important priority. The model approach and results can be used to identify prioritization for monitoring and treatment of CECs, including in underserved communities, which normally lack knowledge of their impacts from DFR occurring within their watersheds.