ASSESSMENT OF WATER USE AND INDIRECT WATER REUSE IN A LARGE SCALE WATERSHED: THE WABASH RIVER
In the context of climate change, increasing demands for freshwater make it necessary to manage our water resources in a sustainable way and find innovative ways to extend their life. An integrated water management approach needs to consider anthropogenic water use and reuse which represent major components of the current water cycle. In particular, unplanned, or de facto, indirect water reuse occurs in most of the U.S. river systems; however, there is little real-time documentation of it. Despite the fact that there are national and state agencies that systematically collect data on water withdrawals and wastewater discharges, their databases are organized and managed in a way that limits the ability to combine reported water data to perform large scale analysis about water use and indirect reuse. To better document these issues and to demonstrate the utility of such an analysis, I studied the Wabash River Watershed located in the U.S. Midwest. Existing data for freshwater extraction, use, discharge, and river streamflow 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 2007, 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. This research also completed a time series watershed-scale analysis of water use and unplanned indirect reuse for the Wabash River Watershed from 2009 to 2017. Results document the occurrence of indirect water reuse over time, ranging from 3% to 134% in a water-rich area of the U.S. The time series analysis shows that reported data effectively describe the water use trends through nine years, clearly reflecting both anthropogenic and natural events in the watershed, such as the retirement of thermoelectric power plants, and the occurrence of an extreme drought in 2012. Results demonstrate the feasibility and significance of using available water datasets to perform large scale water use analysis, describe limitations encountered in the process, and highlight areas for improvement in water data management.