advancing the science of water ®

    Topics of Focus

  • Biosolids

    In the United States alone, billions of gallons of water are treated each day at water resource recovery facilities. Once the water is clean, a different challenge remains: determining what to do with the solids that are removed during the treatment process. The resulting mixture is often a unique semi-solid blend of organic and inorganic materials, trace elements, chemicals, and even pathogens, so there is no across the board solution for handling and processing the combinations of constituents that may be present.

    Because these solids are often rich in nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus—which also happen to be the perfect ingredients for promoting healthy soil and plant growth—many facilities have turned to land application. Before these solids can be put to use for things like fertilizing farmland, however, they must undergo rigorous treatment to meet stringent regulations, at which point they become known as biosolids.

    For more information, contact Ashwin Dhanasekar.

    Project #4871
    Aquatic plants in a laboratory

    Nationwide Meta-Omics Survey of Anaerobic Digestion and Fermentation Processes for Resource Recovery from Biosolids and Other Organics


    Project Highlights

    With a shift toward more complex anaerobic carbon conversion processes, a better mechanistic understanding of the microbial communities (both structure and function), carbon conversion pathways, and the kinetics therein is needed. This knowledge might also necessitate the enhancement of current...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Stephanie Fevig, PE
  • Climate Change

    Climate change is altering our natural hydrologic cycle, creating uncertainty when it comes to the quality and quantity of water sources. WRF’s research on climate change covers the key areas of climate risk assessment, climate adaptation, and mitigation strategies.

    Because the first step in preparing for climate change is understanding the potential and variable impacts these changes can have on water sources and treatment systems, WRF research tracks potential outcomes, considering a variety of possibilities, and provides resources and tools to help facilities identify and address risks and vulnerabilities in their operations and infrastructure.

    Implementing climate change adaptation strategies will be critical as the water sector moves forward. WRF’s research in this area helps utilities create better long- and short-term adaptation plans, respond more effectively to severe weather, and improve infrastructure and operations to meet changing needs, including the production of onsite energy systems and reliable back-up power to protect critical services.

    The water sector must also have a hand in mitigating the root causes of climate change. By pioneering approaches to improve energy efficiency, including process optimization, improved energy management, and the use of renewable energy, WRF is helping the water sector decrease activity that is driving these changes.

    For more information, contact Harry Zhang.

    Project #5054

    Using Climate Information in Water Utility Planning


    Project Highlights

    This project convened a workshop for water utilities in the northwest United States designed to improve the delivery of resources for small- to medium-size water utilities to help them build their resilience to climate change. Through a survey, focus groups...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Maureen Hodgins
  • Cyanobacteria & Cyanotoxins

    Aquatic microscopic algae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) occur naturally in most surface waters, however certain nutrient and temperature conditions can lead them to rapidly multiply, leading to “blooms.” Under certain conditions, some species of cyanobacteria can produce toxic secondary metabolites or cyanotoxins, which may pose health risks to humans and animals. Even when algae is not toxic, it can produce unpleasant tastes and odors.

    Cyanobacteria continue to be one of the most problematic organisms in our fresh water systems—with nearly a third of the United States reporting blooms. Without clear guidance or consensus regulations in place, many utilities struggle with responding to events. Since 1994, WRF has completed more than 30 research projects on these microscopic organisms and the cyanotoxins they produce, helping facilities detect, monitor, and manage these nuisance organisms—as well as communicate with the public.

    For more information, contact Sydney Samples.

    Project #4716

    Refinement and Standardization of Cyanotoxin Analytical Techniques for Drinking Water


    Project Highlights

    There is uncertainty relating to the screening and confirmation of cyanotoxin samples. Water utilities need robust and dependable methods to monitor cyanotoxins in source water, through the treatment process, and at the tap, as well as to make appropriate decisions...

    Principal Investigator
    Y. Carrie
    Research Manager
    Ms. Julie Minton
  • Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs)

    The use of strong oxidants to disinfect water has virtually eliminated waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery in developed countries. However, research has shown that chlorine interacts with natural organic matter present in water supplies to form regulated and emerging disinfection byproducts (DBPs).

    To minimize the formation of regulated DBPs and comply with existing regulations, water utilities have increasingly been moving away from chlorine to use alternative disinfectants like chloramine, or installing more advanced and costly treatment processes, such as ozone or granular activated carbon to remove DBP precursors. However, while reducing the formation of halogenated DBPs, alternative oxidants have been shown to favor the formation of other DBPs (e.g., ozone producing bromate and halonitromethanes, and chloramines producing N-nitrosodimethylamine and iodinated DBPs). 

    For more information, contact Kenan Ozekin.

    Project #4711

    Occurrence Survey of Bromide and Iodide in Water Supplies


    Project Highlights

    Disinfection byproduct (DBP) formation depends on the presence and reactivity of oxidants and precursors (e.g., natural organic matter [NOM], bromide, and/or iodide ions) and is influenced by water quality and treatment conditions. Controlling DBP formation has historically focused on removing...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Dr. Kenan Ozekin
  • Energy Optimization

    For most water facilities, energy is one of the highest costs in their operating budget. Stricter regulations are pushing facilities to use even more advanced—and energy-intensive—treatment technologies. Optimizing energy use can provide huge cost savings and numerous additional benefits, including improving air quality, protecting the environment, and bolstering energy security. WRF has published more than 100 projects that explore ways to not only optimize current energy use, but to generate power as well—setting the course for a self-sufficient water sector.

    For more information, contact Ashwin Dhanasekar.

    Project #5062

    A Distributed Renewable Energy Opportunities and Policy Workshop


    Project Highlights

    This project expanded on the results of project 4625 by holding a science to policy workshop connecting research, industry, and policy. The workshops engaged local, state, and national water and energy professionals in discussions on the opportunities for distributed energy...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar
  • Intelligent Water Systems

    As with other industries, newly developed technologies drive water utilities to adapt their day-to-day operations. Water networks have been a special focus, with new instrumentation options for water production, transmission, distribution, wastewater collection, and consumer end-points coming to market. Implementing these technologies can improve the efficiency and reliability of water networks, but with myriad options, utilities need guidance on which technologies are most worthwhile and how they should be implemented. 

    For more information, contact Ashwin Dhanasekar.

    Project #4978

    Application of Big Data for Energy Management in Water Utilities


    Project Highlights

    The water sector has increased its attention to energy use, including concerns surrounding rising costs, energy security, and energy reliability. Despite the technological and analytical improvements made around the management, accessibility, interpretation, and visualization of energy data, the application of...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar
  • Microbes & Pathogens

    Control of microbes in water systems is critical to achieving water quality and public health goals. While most microbes are not considered human pathogens, certain microbes can pose health risks or contribute undesirable tastes and odors. 

    Since the early 20th century, modern drinking water treatment has made great advancements in the detection, removal, and inactivation of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. As technologies in the drinking water space continue to progress, new challenges have arisen in the form of opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens. 

    Wastewater and stormwater utilities also play an essential role in reducing the pathogen load to receiving waters used for recreation.  Additionally, more recent advancements in water reuse, especially direct potable reuse, demand more understanding of pathogen detection, removal, and inactivation in wastewater. 

    For more information, contact Grace Jang (drinking water & reuse) or Lola Olabode (wastewater).

    Project #5093

    Understanding the Factors That Affect the Detection and Variability of SARS-CoV-2 in Wastewater


    Project Highlights

    Wastewater-based surveillance (WBS) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) represents a promising complement to clinical testing as a means of assessing COVID-19 trends within a community. The objective of this project was to understand how WBS sampling designs...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar
  • Resource Recovery

    In recent decades, the wastewater sector has moved away from the idea of wastewater treatment plants as waste disposal facilities, instead envisioning these plants as water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs). WRRFs can produce clean water, recover nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen), and potentially reduce fossil fuel consumption through the production and use of renewable energy.

    For more information, contact Jeff Moeller.

    Project #4819

    Understanding the Impacts of Low-Energy and Low-Carbon Nitrogen Removal Technologies on Bio-P and Nutrient Recovery Processes


    Project Highlights

    The purpose of this research was to develop a multi-pronged approach to facilitate low-energy nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) removal and recovery from wastewater using biological P removal (bio-P). The research increases the understanding of fundamental ecology, kinetics, and stoichiometry...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar

Innovation at WRF

Our Innovation Program is a multi-pronged initiative to help bring new water technology to the field quickly and efficiently. The program provides a seamless pipeline for research outcomes to culminate in the implementation of innovative processes and technologies.

Technology Evaluations

Facility and industry end users share the cost of conducting demonstrations to accelerate adoption of new technologies.

People and Policy

Bench-marking how individual utilities accomplish the identification of resources and policies needed to implement effective research and development.


In-depth training, education, and outreach designed to promote innovation.

Informal Forum for R&D

Managers and individuals responsible for technology identification and deployment share experiences, activities, and interests.

Advances in Water Research

January–March 2023
vol. 33 no. 1
In this issue:

This issue features some of our most impactful projects of 2022, addressing topics such as PFAS, potable reuse, and risk management.

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