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 aging 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.

    193 Projects 11 Web Tools 5 Case Studies 20 Webcasts
  • Biosolids

    In the United States alone, billions of gallons of water are treated each day at wastewater treatment 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.  

    63 Projects 3 Web Tools 1 Webcast
    Project #4867
    Aquatic plants in a laboratory

    Developing Exposure and Toxicity Data for Priority Trace Organics in Biosolids

    In Progress

    Project Highlights

    Trace organic compounds (TOrCs) in land-applied biosolids are of concern to the public, the water quality industry, and the regulatory community. The number of scientific studies examining the issue continues to grow, but significant knowledge gaps remain that hinder the...
    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Lola Olabode
  • 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.

    23 Projects 8 Webcasts
    Project #4697

    Four Steps to Effective Cyanotoxin Communications: A Risk Communications Toolkit


    Project Highlights

    This project provides materials, templates, and tools for utilities, regulatory agencies, and water professionals to better communicate about the risks associated with cyanotoxins in drinking water supplies. The research team leveraged interviews with utilities and a digital engagement platform with...
    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Alice E Fulmer
  • 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.

    68 Projects 10 Web Tools 4 Case Studies 11 Webcasts
    Project #4788

    State of the Science and Issues Related to Heat Recovery from Wastewater

    In Progress

    Project Highlights

    This research explores the feasibility of recovering thermal energy from sewage, and what the state of current technology is for doing so, It is the first step identifying prospects and practical applications of sewage thermal energy use (STEU) by water...
    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. 

    2 Projects 2 Webcasts
  • 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.

    154 Projects 5 Web Tools 4 Case Studies 4 Webcasts
    Project #4775

    Agricultural Reuse- Impediments and Incentives

    In Progress

    Project Highlights

    This study is a global inventory of successes, delays, and setback in the process of switching from various traditional sources to recycled water for agricultural irrigation. The project used multiple methods to evaluate the impediments and incentives impacting the use...
    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Ms. Kristan VandenHeuvel
  • 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.

    49 Projects 8 Web Tools 1 Case Study 5 Webcasts
    Project #4684

    Incentives for Green Infrastructure Implementation on Private Property: Lessons Learned


    Project Highlights

    Green infrastructure is a best management practice designed to retain, reduce, infiltrate, and/or treat stormwater runoff prior to entry into drainage systems. The benefits to both combined and separate storm sewer systems are reduced water quantity in conveyance systems, reduced...
    Principal Investigator
    Research Manager
    Mr. Jonathan Cuppett
  • 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, ultimately reducing 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.

    26 Projects 3 Web Tools 8 Webcasts
    Project #4695

    Guidance on Implementing an Effective Water Loss Control Plan


    Project Highlights

    This project created a Guidance Manual and Decision Framework to help North American water utilities develop actionable, cost-effective, and defensible water loss reduction and control plans. The research will allow utilities to develop plans that align with their strategic goals,...
    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.