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Low Energy Options for Making Water from Wastewater

Principal Investigator: Stanley B. Grant, Dept. Civil and Environmental Engineering

Lead Institution: University of California, Irvine, Subcontract to SIO/UCSD

Intellectual Merit: Climate change demands creative, low energy, multi-disciplinary, and multi-benefit approaches to sustaining adequate water resources. This PIRE will catalyze, through research and education, the development and deployment of low-energy options for improving water productivity while protecting human health and enhancing ecosystem services. The project links five different universities in two water-stressed regions of the world (southwest U.S. and southeast Australia) that have unique and complementary expertise in the development and deployment of rainwater tanks, biofilters, and waste stabilization ponds (WSP) for potable substitution and watershed protection. Our Australian partners are world leaders in these topics, as evidenced by the world's first application of these technologies in an urban catchment, a university-industry Cooperative Research Center on water sensitive urban design valued at $117M, the world's largest WSP, and a world-class facility for visualizing interfacial momentum and mass transport. By providing a forum for joint research and knowledge sharing, the PIRE will accelerate education and training in this critical area of water sustainability, and diffuse knowledge about sustainability options to U.S. middle-school and high-school students, undergraduate STEM majors, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and practitioners. Research will be carried out in four research thrusts:

(1) Improving Pollutant Removal in Biofilters will explore ways of improving the removal of pathogens and micropollutants in storm water runoff by harnessing solar energy and incorporating into biofilter design plant and animal communities native to local seasonal wetlands; (2) Public Health Risks, Energy Savings, and GHG Emissions will investigate the risks and benefits of distributed adoption of these technologies on public health, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions; (3) Regulations, Economic Instruments, Equity, and Policy will identify social, economic, and policy barriers to the adoption LEOs, quantify some of their unpriced benefits and propose economic instruments, regulations, and public education measures to foster their adoption; and (4) Watershed Scale Processes will quantify the impact of distributed adoption of these technologies on urban stream hydrology, water quality, and ecology.

The Levin lab will contribute ecological expertise to the application of biomimicry in biofilter design and function, participate in measurement of C sequestration in LEOs, carry out literature reviews and field/transect sampling to assess biofiltration functions in natural wetlands, and work with the UCLA postdoctoral scholar in maintaining biofilter mesocosms and measuring functional attributes. We focus in particular on animal roles in pollutant removal, and the potential effects of plant-animal interactions and hydrology (flow, timing) in this process. We plan to conduct measurements of animal particle sequestration/deposition/burial activities in mesocosms under different plant regimes, and make measurements required for this analysis.

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Updated August 1, 2012
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