Flagstaff has been using reclaimed water to replace the use of potable water for applications such as irrigation, toilet flushing and snowmaking. City Water Services is starting a study to consider how to manage reclaimed water for the long term. The study will consider whether to expand its use, use it for aquifer recharge, or reserve it as a future potential source of drinking water (after further processing). What are your thoughts about the future of reclaimed water use?
Flagstaff is already recharging the aquifer to a certain extent with discharged water from the Wildcat plant into the Rio de Flag. This is an important reason to keep our treatment facilities in top shape and discharging the cleanest water possible. Creating wildlife habitat along our urban trail plus some recharge of the aquifer is a great use of reclaimed water. I also support installing reclaimed water lines where they make sense in new developments. Eventually getting to the place where we reuse all water in a meaningful manner (toilet flushing, aquifer recharge, irrigation and wildlife) is a positive.
Flagstaff’s reclaimed water is rated as an “A+” but this does not mean we should jump into using it as potable water without a better understanding of potentially overlooked and dangerous contaminants. The grading system was established in 1996, and a recent National Research Council committee concluded that reclaimed wastewater should only be used to supplement drinking-water sources as a last resort. We are not at the point of last resort, and without a better understanding of how contaminants such as pharmaceuticals in reclaimed water affect our health, I do not think we should convert our reclaimed water into potable water. If the city had tens of millions of dollars, it could build an advanced treatment facility, but Flagstaff Water Services doesn’t have that kind of money.
De facto reuse through recharge and recovery has been in use since the 1900’s in Flagstaff and is an adequate form of water resource management. One issue with this process is finding storage for the reclaimed water that goes unused during our non-irrigation seasons. Feeding this excess of reclaimed water directly back into the C-aquifer without first reusing it as a reclaimed water resource could be seen as wasteful. Incentivizing reclaimed water piping (purple piping) into new and existing residential structures can help solve the excess reclaimed water issue, while conserving the use of potable water for reclaimed purposes.
I do not support a program to encourage more use of reclaimed water, unless it replaces essential potable water uses, such as toilet flushing. Reclaimed water is too valuable for low priority uses such as snow making and lawns. We will need reclaimed water as a future water source, after significantly improved treatment, for direct re-use or for groundwater recharging.
I think it is worth the investment to use reclaimed water to feed areas where conservation is so good our pipes cannot flow properly due to the lack of running water. Regarding potable water, we draw roughly 82% of our groundwater determined by our 100-year plan. I’m concerned that if we do not take water conservation even further than the progress we’ve made we will run the risk of not providing potable water for future generations. In addition, an investment in a more localized quaternary-process water treatment facility may prove beneficial in comparison to the proposed Red Gap Ranch project.