Feasibility and life cycle assessment of decentralized water, wastewater, and stormwater alternatives for residential communities with a variety of population densities
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Centralized infrastructure (CI) is difficult to sustain with limited water and fossil fuel resources because CI withdraws 100% of water demand from the environment as an open-loop system and electricity is consumed to transport and treat water and wastewater while demand is increasing. Hybrid infrastructure (HI) is proposed to combine CI with decentralized alternatives such as low impact development (LID) technologies (i.e., xeriscaping, rain gardens, and rainwater harvesting) or greywater reclamation systems with membrane bioreactors (MBRs). Water, wastewater, and stormwater systems in the City of Atlanta (COA) were regarded as CI. HI was compared to CI using life cycle environmental impacts measured by water reuse index (WRI) and life cycle assessment (LCA) scores. WRI is a ratio of water withdrawal to sustainable water resources of wastewater (i.e., return flow) and stormwater discharge, which presents water stress level (e.g., 0.2 ~ 0.4: medium-high level). LCA score is determined as % of annual world average environmental damage per capita. As stormwater runoff, water demand, greywater generation, rainwater harvesting, etc. vary depending on land use and population density, feasibility of decentralized alternatives was evaluated in eleven residential communities. Five single-family residential communities were designated as between R-1 of 16 people/10 acres and R-5 of 169 people/10 acres and six multi-family residential communities were designated as between RG-1 of 148 people/10 acres and RG-6 of 5,808 people/10 acres. HI with LID technologies reduced WRI of COA that relies on CI from 0.45 to 0.12. HI reduced the LCA scores of CI with combined sewer system (CSS) by between 1% for RG-6 and 68% for R-1 and the LCA scores of CI with separate sewer system (SSS) by between 0% for RG-6 and 18% for R-1. As population density increases for the multi-family residential communities, harvested rainwater decreases and a small amount of water demand is satisfied. Consequently, it has a negligible impact on the LCA scores in RG-6. HI with greywater reclamation system reduced WRI of COA from 0.45 to 0.35. HI resulted in the LCA scores greater as compared to CI in the five single-family communities and RG-1, RG-2, and RG-3 because of the electricity consumption of small-scale MBR. However, the electricity consumption per kgal decreases with increasing MBR treatment capacity and the LCA scores were reduced by 5% for RG-4, 15% for RG-5, and 21% for RG-6. The MBR treatment capacity of RG-4 is 15.6 kgal/day.