Climate change is affecting water infrastructure in various ways across the United States, from drought conditions in the West to extreme water events in the East, that have resulted in water shortages and combined sewer overflows. Local communities and regional governments are increasingly aware of the requirements to ensure ongoing access to clean and affordable water, particularly in disadvantaged communities which historically have been the most adversely impacted by water crises and unequal service coverage. New water technology systems are being adopted that will help address water scarcity issues and foster greener cities and sustainable methods of urban living.  However, it will be vital for water equity to be fully incorporated in these new systems to ensure sustainable access for all subsets of the population. 

To advance water equity efforts, researchers Khalid K. Osman, Miriam E. Hacker, and Kasey M. Faust deconstructed the concept of water equity into economic, environmental, and social pillars.  In their paper, “Conceptualizing Equity for Onsite Nonpotable Water Reuse Systems in the United States,” in the Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment, the authors provide a conceptual framework to use onsite nonpotable water reuse systems as a low-cost alternative to repairing and replacing aging systems, as well as to improve sustainability in new construction. The EPA defines OWNS as capturing and treating water sources from within or surrounding a building, such as wastewater, greywater, stormwater, or roof-collected rainwater. The water is treated and reused onsite or locally. While there have been issues that have hindered the adoption of ONWS, the concept is viable for reducing water consumption, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. The framework captures stakeholder perspectives and discusses the implications of equity and the role of decision-makers in how water equity and sustainability could be implemented. Learn more about this research at The abstract is below.


There has been a push to adopt onsite nonpotable water reuse systems (ONWS) as a supplement for conventional centralized water infrastructure. While a majority of work has centered on developing the technology, we instead focus on the implications for equity when attempting wide-scale adoption. Using existing definitions and resources for water equity in the sector, we investigate ONWS in San Francisco and New York City, using semi-structured interviews conducted with stakeholders. A qualitative approach with thematic coding and sentiment analysis is used to explore how stakeholders perceive equity in relation to their work and the resulting social, economic, and environmental implications for ONWS. Results confirm a general sentiment—equity is necessary, yet it is unclear how to incorporate this concept into practice. In some instances, equity is viewed as secondary to utility planning, operation, and management; we propose that it should be incorporated intentionally as an approach to enhance service provision. This study has implications for literature and practice as it demonstrates how decision-makers in ONWS programs engage with the concept of equity. We demonstrate how stakeholders’ roles can impact their implementation of equity, and discuss how practitioners may use this work as foundational understanding in assessing internal operations and practices, improving infrastructure in the pathway to sustainable development.

Explore how to apply onsite nonpotable water reuse systems to help achieve equitable results: