Before committing to using reclaimed and recycled water, cities and counties often look for other solutions to water supply issues. Craig Riley, water reclamation and reuse program lead at the Washington State Department of Health and vice-chair of the Water Environment Federation's Water Reuse Committee, says the following alternatives to water reuse are the most-talked-about options among his former colleagues in the Office of Drinking Water in Spokane, Wash. And, while each can be helpful, he says none are as effective as reuse.

New wells. "The first thing most public water systems seem to do is what they've always done: develop new wells," Riley says. "Few systems try to develop surface water supplies anymore because of the treatment requirements. But, that assumes enough groundwater and water rights are available."

Conservation. "The first thing public water systems expect during a water shortage is to stop lawn watering," Riley continues. "The second step is promoting low-flow fixtures and high-efficiency appliances. The biggest drawback is that outdoor uses don't help during the winter; classic conservation and leak projects can save a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent of the normal system demand."

Expand water rights. Finally, many public water systems assume they can expand their water rights or get new water rights, Riley says. "That means the last source is a water rights bank, if one exists, or the open market. But, for that to happen, someone — a water system, irrigator or industry — has to quit using that water. Based on my knowledge, that is not a very big source."

Nancy Jackson is a Huntsville, Ala.-based freelance writer.