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With a massive water infrastructure bill in the works, it’s time to rethink the old model of centralized treatment — miles of pipelines are expensive and prone to leaks.

The bill, which now moves to the House, has a special focus on rural and tribal communities

At the end of April, with controversy raging over what constitutes core infrastructure, United States senators from both sides of the aisle proved there is no controversy over infrastructure when it comes to wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, and water reuse.

In an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the body passed the $35 billion Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, S. 914 (DWWIA), amending and reauthorizing essential federal funding programs for water infrastructure and creating some new ones. Special focus was given to sanitation and drinking water in rural and tribal communities, and pivoting the nation toward a clean energy economy.

A final package could be hammered out later this year when members of the House and Senate meet in a conference committee to develop a compromise plan.

Funding for Water Issues

Under the bill, $14.65 billion would go to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), $250 million to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, $1.4 billion to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sewer Overflow & Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant Program, and $125 million to the Alternative Source Water Pilot Program.

Beyond the familiar programs, the DWWIA would fund several new ones:

  • A new EPA Rural and Low-Income Water Assistance Pilot Program would help water utilities serve low-income ratepayers.
  • $100 million would go toward a new Wastewater Energy Efficiency Grant Pilot Program.
  • $125 million will go toward a new Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Grant Program.
  • The Connection to Publicly Owned Treatment Works Grant Program would receive $200 million.
  • An undetermined amount would go toward the new Small Publicly Owned Treatment Works Efficiency Grant Program.
  • The Water Infrastructure and Workforce Investment Grant Program would receive $25 million.
  • The Stormwater Infrastructure Technology Program would receive $25 million to establish five Stormwater Centers of Excellence.
  • $50 million would go toward stormwater infrastructure grants.

New Thinking About Water Infrastructure

Outdated and crumbling water infrastructure has long been a problem in the U.S. The massive overhaul spelled out in the bill is providing a perfect moment to rethink many models of wastewater and water treatment. How can they be made more sustainable and more resilient?

At Fluence, we believe the key is in decentralized treatment. Instead of following the old paradigm of a central plant serving a large area, tied together with extensive collection and delivery pipelines, it’s more efficient to install small, decentralized treatment plants exactly where they’re needed. Should something go wrong, the defective unit can be repaired or replaced without taking down the whole system. And the portability of the plants allows for a quick response to changing needs.

Containerized Water Reuse and Desalination

Agricultural communities and tribal lands face particular challenges that may be addressed by the bill. Rural America is struggling with a sanitation crisis, and crop fertilization often leads to nitrate contamination. Fluence’s Aspiral™ plants, with their scalability, exceptional nutrient removal, and energy efficiency, can be quickly installed where they are needed to deal with these problems, serving more areas than ever before. And, Aspiral™ contains Fluence’s flagship wastewater treatment technology, the membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR), which has been proved to exceed California’s Title 22 regulatory standard for reuse.

With its small footprint, Aspiral™ is also a good fit for the kind of metropolitan stormwater treatment and reuse programs given special attention by the bill. It’s low-noise and low-odor, so it won’t disturb a city’s residents.

Fluence’s Smart Packaged NIROBOX™ is also poised to play a part in the country’s water-infrastructure transformation. In many parts of the country, brackish-water aquifers can be transformed into sources of drinking water with NIROBOX™ desalination units. The product line also contains models that use membrane technology to treat seawater and fresh water.

Flexibility and Resilience

Another priority of the bill is to increase resilience to natural hazards and extreme weather events. Fluence modular units are again ready to serve. Aspiral™ and NIROBOX™ containerized units are both constructed inside weatherized, hurricane-resistant steel shipping containers with specialized coatings for maximum resilience. The decentralized design also adds resiliency. If one unit is damaged in a natural disaster, the rest of the system remains unaffected, and the compromised unit can quickly be replaced.

Contact Fluence to explore how our product lines are uniquely suited to the DWWIA’s emphasis on rural community goals. It’s easier now more than ever to establish and maintain the quality water systems that small communities deserve.

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