Our integrated One Water research touches the entire water cycle by addressing issues holistically and providing actionable solutions. WRF's research benefits all areas of the water sector, as well as agriculture, energy, clean air, watershed management, and other commercial industries. 

About Our Research Programs

Our staff and Research Strategy Committee members have worked diligently to develop five comprehensive research programs designed to provide flexible funding and partnership opportunities to advance water research and innovation. Our focus is on applied research and innovative processes and technologies. We have a competitive selection process, proven quality control measures, and a nationally recognized expert peer review system.

Scenic waterfall

    Topics of Focus

  • Asset Management

    High-quality water service depends on having the infrastructure to meet the requirements of customers, utilities, and regulators. Because water services are asset intensive, utilities are constantly working to maintain these pipes, pumps, tanks, and systems, while also controlling costs and reducing risks. With deteriorating infrastructure, limited budgets, restricted flexibility in rates, and increasing expectations, utilities are on a continual quest for the most appropriate practices to meet these competing demands.

    For more information, contact Jian Zhang.

    Project #5014

    Practical Framework for Water Infrastructure Resilience


    Project Highlights

    Secure and resilient water infrastructure is critical for citizens and the security of the nation. However, the best path to ensuring the security and resilience of this infrastructure is up for debate. There are numerous regulations and guidelines related to...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Jian Zhang, PE, Ph.D.
  • 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 #5042

    Assessing Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Release from Finished Biosolids


    Project Highlights

    The manufacture and common consumer uses of products ranging from non-stick surfaces to aqueous film-forming foams have resulted in PFAS detection in the influent and effluent of many water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs), along with detections in waste solids, with...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Lola Olabode
  • Cyanobacteria & Cyanotoxins

    Aquatic microscopic algae and cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) occur naturally in most surface waters. However certain nutrient and temperature conditions can cause them to multiply rapidly, 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 cyanobacteria are not toxic, they can produce unpleasant tastes and odors.

    Cyanobacteria continue to be among the most problematic organisms in fresh water systems. Without clear guidance or consensus regulations in place, many utilities struggle with responding to cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom (cHAB) events. Since 1994, WRF has completed more than 40 research projects on these microscopic organisms and the cyanotoxins they produce, helping facilities detect, monitor, and manage these organisms—as well as communicate with the public.

    For more information, contact Sydney Samples.

    Project #4912

    Developing Guidance for Evaluation and Implementation for Control of HABs in Source Water


    Project Highlights

    As cyanobacteria blooms become more prevalent, utilities need improved guidance on early detection programs and source water control strategies. To meet this need, this project reviewed available published information, survey utilities regarding practices, evaluated existing and innovative technologies for monitoring...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Jonathan Cuppett
  • 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 #4843

    Integrating Sewage Thermal Energy Use (STEU) and Other Emerging Water-Energy-Waste Technologies into Decentralized/Distributed Systems


    Project Highlights

    The persistent challenges and threats posed by climate change, natural resource depletion, increased pollution, and growing economic inequality have led to a recognition: a sustainable future requires new approaches to the way societies design, build, and operate critical systems. This...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar
  • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

    Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also commonly referred to as perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs, are a group of anthropogenic chemicals with past and current uses in industrial processes and consumer products. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified some PFAS as likely human carcinogens. 

    PFAS are used in firefighting foams, coating for food packaging, ScotchGard™, and Teflon™, among other products. PFAS are highly resistant to chemical decomposition and can enter source waters through industrial releases, wastewater treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, release of firefighting foams, and land application of contaminated biosolids. 

    For more information, contact Mary Smith.

    Project #5124

    PFAS One Water Risk Communication Messaging for Water Sector Professionals


    Project Highlights

    Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of increasing concern to the water sector and the public. It is critical that water systems continue to be the trusted sources of information for their customers, especially regarding emerging contaminants such as PFAS...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Mary Smith
  • Reuse

    All communities need a supply of clean, safe water. Some communities, and the utilities that serve them, have the luxury of tapping into additional water sources when their primary supplies face quality or quantity issues. However, because traditional water sources, such as surface water and groundwater, are highly dependent on location, many utilities don’t have easy access to contingency supplies. As increased pressures from drought, extreme weather, and shifting populations make backup supplies more critical, many utilities are looking beyond traditional sources to diversify their supplies. Many communities are also grappling with political and institutional issues, like local control of water supplies, driving the need to identify new, local options to avoid the need to import water.

    All of these circumstances make water reuse an attractive option. Potable reuse purifies water from wastewater treatment plants through advanced treatment methods to meet drinking water standards, while non-potable reuse recycles municipal wastewater and water from impaired sources for activities that don’t involve human consumption, such as landscape and crop irrigation, industrial processes, and other uses.

    For more information, contact Lyndsey Bloxom.

    Project #4960

    An Enhanced Source Control Framework for Industrial Contaminants in Potable Reuse

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Ashwin Dhanasekar
  • Stormwater

    Precipitation fills our streams and lakes and soaks into the ground to replenish our aquifers. Most moderate rainfall is readily absorbed by soil, which acts as a natural filter as water moves through the cycle. But, in heavy storms, excess moisture can run off oversaturated ground. Because we’ve engineered so much of our land with impervious surfaces, that runoff can be excessive. Without the benefit of natural filtration, stormwater flows directly to waterbodies, storm drains, and sewer systems, taking with it any debris, chemicals, bacteria, eroded soil, and other pollutants it picks up along the way.

    While new technologies and green infrastructure help reduce pollutant levels, many solutions are best equipped to handle frequent, low-intensity storms, rather than the sporadic, powerful storms experienced more recently. To compound the problem, population growth and rising water demand have increased dependence on local water sources, including groundwater recharge—raising more concern over potential contaminants.

    For more information, contact Harry Zhang.

    Project #4841

    Assessing the State of Knowledge and Research Needs for Stormwater Harvesting


    Project Highlights

    The field of stormwater harvesting is evolving and expanding. Utilities and communities are considering viable alternatives to increase water supplies, improve resiliency of water resources, and find multi-beneficial and innovative approaches to addressing regulatory and water quality challenges. This project...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Harry Zhang, PhD, PE
  • Water Use & Efficiency

    In the United States, per-capita water use has been declining since the 1980s, largely due to efficiency improvements from product standards, codes, and third-party certification programs. Federal and state regulations also impact water use. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 restricted water use in common household fixtures and appliances to save energy. The recent drought in California resulted in Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668, which limit indoor water use to 55 gallons per person per day until 2025.

    Water efficiency is an important way to increase a utilities’ water supply reliability, decrease the capital costs of building a new supply, and ultimately reduce treatment and distribution costs. Because water use trends will continue to change, utilities should be aware of and track the drivers of water use so they can plan appropriately for their service area. In addition, integrating water loss control activities and plans with broader institutional goals and objectives can further enhance water supply reliability, increase revenue generation, and accurately account for water usage.

    Project #5057

    Level 1 Water Audit Validation Guidance Manual, Second Edition


    Project Highlights

    Water audit validation is the process of examining water audit inputs to improve the water audit’s accuracy and document the uncertainty associated with water audit data. This project developed guidance on Level 1 water audit validation using version 6 of...

    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Maureen Hodgins

Current Projects

WRF has over 300 ongoing research studies covering dozens of emerging topics.  

Completed Projects

WRF has published findings for over 2,000 completed projects.

All Projects

Explore our entire $700M portfolio of applied research.