Research

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 #5026

    Seismic and Multi-Hazard Conference

    $15,000
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    Since 1999, WRF has collaborated with partners in Japan and Taiwan in biennial workshops to exchange knowledge and research on preparing for, and responding to, earthquakes. The 11th Water System Seismic Conference was held October 9-11, 2019, in Los Angeles...

    Principal Investigator
    John
    Shamma
    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 #4915

    Characterization and Contamination Testing of Source Separated Organic Feedstocks and Slurries for Co-Digestion at Resource Recovery Facilities

    $528,992
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    A key challenge with source separated organic (SSO) feedstock co-substrate is that its composition, quality, and characteristics differ between geographical locations and can change over time. This causes challenges and uncertainties for pre-treaters, substrate brokers, facilities accepting this material, operators...

    Principal Investigator
    Tanja
    Rauch-Williams
    Research Manager
    Ms. Stephanie Fevig, PE
  • 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 #4716

    Refinement and Standardization of Cyanotoxin Analytical Techniques for Drinking Water

    $696,597
    Completed

    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
    Guo
    Research Manager
    Ms. Julie Minton
  • 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 #4718

    Battery Storage System Guidance for Water and Wastewater Utilities

    $110,001
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    Battery energy storage systems (BESS) are increasingly being considered by water and wastewater utilities to capture the full energy potential of onsite distributed energy resources (DERs) and achieve cost savings. As new BESS technologies emerge, however, questions about applications, economy...

    Principal Investigator
    Carla
    Cherchi
    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 #5002

    Add-on to NSF proposal: Determining the Role of Organic Matter Quality on PFAS Leaching from Sewage Sludge and Biosolids

    $25,000
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    Wastewater contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) due to the use of PFAS compounds in a wide range of consumer products and industrial processes. Following primary treatment, wastewater can be treated via many different types of biological processes (e.g., activated...

    Principal Investigator
    Erica
    McKenzie
    Research Manager
    Ms. Lola Olabode
  • 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 #4829

    Evaluating Economic and Environmental Benefits of Water Reuse for Agriculture

    $138,419
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    Water reuse in agriculture provides many important economic, environmental, and social benefits. Traditional cost-effectiveness approaches that focus only on financial metrics provide an incomplete picture of the true economic and societal value of these reuse projects. There is a need...

    Principal Investigator
    Anne
    Thebo
    Research Manager
    Ms. Mary Smith
  • 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 #4852

    Economic Framework and Tools for Quantifying and Monetizing the Triple Bottom Line Benefits of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

    $398,592
    Completed

    Project Highlights

    Many cities are adopting green infrastructure (GI) programs to reduce polluted stormwater runoff and meet water quality standards related to combined sewer overflows, municipal separate storm sewer systems, and total maximum daily load targets. GI practices can also yield many...

    Principal Investigator
    Janet
    Clements
    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

    $10,000
    Completed

    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
    Reinhard
    Sturm
    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.