When to Consider Distributed Systems in an Urban and Suburban Context

A decentralized wastewater system is a managed onsite and/or cluster system(s) used to collect, treat, and disperse or reclaim wastewater from a small community or service area.

Water infrastructure systems of the 21st Century will increasingly rely on an integration of centralized and decentralized treatment approaches to most effectively deliver economical, flexible, and sustainable water services to communities. Distributed water management describes integrated planning, design, and management using system infrastructure at various scales — from decentralized to centralized — based on an equitable approach that considers suitability and sustainability. This research presents distributed infrastructure management approaches to a variety of stakeholders, provides examples showing where and why distributed approaches are being used to advance sustainability at the community level, and provides tools that practitioners can use to make informed infrastructure decisions.

The resources provided will assist planners, utility managers, engineers, developers, regulators and other decision-makers and stakeholders to better determine whether or not these approaches would be a viable solution in their community.

This project analyzed 20 case study examples where distributed approaches are being used for wastewater service across a range of community-specific situations and management frameworks.  This information was then used to create a toolkit to help stakeholders determine where, when, why, and how to use decentralized approaches in suburban and suburban areas — or in areas where users might normally be served by centralized systems.

ImageThe case studies include a variety of applications of the distributed infrastructure approach, including onsite reuse systems driven primarily by the green building and sustainable design movements, managed decentralized system infrastructureimplemented by communities seeking independence from undesirable conventional sewer systems, and innovative decentralized treatment approaches employed by traditional municipalities to optimize their operations. On a broader level, this research supports integrated resource management efforts that support multiple community goals and values to advance the classic triple bottom line of sustainability: social, economic and environmental performance.

The toolkit of products from this research includes:


 Case Studies Listed by Type1

Green Building/Sustainable Sites (GB)

Battery Park City, New York City (UO)
Couran Cove Island Resort, Queensland, Australia (IC)
Currumbin Ecovillage, Queensland, Australia (IC)
Dockside Green, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts (IC)
Philip Merrill Center, Annapolis, Maryland
Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.
Workplace6 Recycled Water Factory, Sydney, Australia (UO)

Independent Communities (IC)

Bethel Heights, Arkansas
Lake Elmo, Minnesota
Piperton, Tennessee
Warren, Vermont
Weston Solar Aquatics, Weston, Massachusetts (GB)
Wickford Village, Rhode Island

Utility Optimization (UO)

LOTT Alliance, Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater, Washington
Loudoun Water, Loudoun County, Virginia
Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, Mobile, Alabama
Pennant Hills Golf Club, Sydney, Australia
Sand Creek, Aurora, Colorado
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina (UO)

  1Multiple categories noted in parenthesis.

The Decentralized Wastewater Stakeholder Decision Model



Additional Resources

From WERF:

Information on WERF's Decentralized Efforts
[[RMEs_2|Responsible Entities Guidance]]
Using Rainwater to Grow Livable Communities Tool 
Progress newsletter article on When to Consider Distributed Systems

From Others:

Consortium of Institutes for Decentralized Wastewater Treatment (CIDWT) 
National Decentralized Water Resources Capacity Development Project 
U.S. EPA's Septic (Onsite) Systems 
Handbook for Managing Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Systems 
National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) 
Glossary of Decentralized Terms (PDF) 
U.S. Green Building Council