January 2013, Vol. 25, No.1

2013 State of the industry

Get a glimpse of what’s in store for the coming year with regard to infrastructure financing, water reuse, and laws and regulations.

 

2013 U.S. legislative and regulatory outlook

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Infrastructure debate continues

After a long and contentious election cycle, Washington, D.C., will spend the early part of 2013 grappling with critical budget and tax questions. The answers to these questions will significantly influence federal spending and, to some extent, federal policy, for the next several years.

  • The president has made it clear that addressing income tax rates will be his top priority initially, but other policy matters, including infrastructure investment, may surface during the negotiating process with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the fact that the U.S. Senate remains in Democratic hands, the initial weeks of the new U.S. Congress may look much like the final weeks of the previous Congress.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) will continue to work with Congress and federal agencies to advance policies and legislation that is in the interest of WEF members. At the top of the WEF agenda will be the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA) legislation that was introduced in the Senate and released in draft form in the House during 2012. WEF and other water advocates also will closely monitor the budget and tax debate and attempt to minimize the negative impacts of any spending cuts on key water programs, such as the state revolving funds, U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, and water quality monitoring.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiatives related to stormwater, green infrastructure, integrated planning, and affordability also will receive scrutiny from regulatory and legislative perspectives.

The damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in late October sparked increased interest in the water-related impacts of climate change, and some members of Congress and local officials, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, called for new aid to assist water utilities with adaptation and installation for more-resilient systems.

As in the bigger infrastructure debate, however, action may depend on how the overall budget and tax question is resolved.

— Tim Williams and Steve Dye, WE&T 


New stormwater rule on the horizon

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is updating the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program through a national rulemaking effort. This rulemaking began in 2009 with an originally established date of Sept. 30, 2011, for release of the final rule; however, this date has been pushed back to Dec. 10, 2014. The proposed rule is expected to be published on June 10, 2013, and while there has been considerable delay in this rulemaking effort, it is expected that this date will not change. EPA is updating several areas of the stormwater program:

  • Expansion of MS4 areas/situations and programs. Several options have been discussed, including expansions of area using standard watershed boundaries or expansions to include entire jurisdictions rather than portions of them. 
  • Establishment of a new development performance standard. Past and current federal stormwater programs have relied on technology-based standards; however, the new program likely will have a requirement to capture and retain a volume based upon percentile exceedence, i.e., the 90th percentile storm. It should be noted that this new standard could be applicable to all development sites across the country, whether the site is located inside or outside of an MS4 area, that cross a certain size threshold, most likely between 0.4 and 2 ha (1 and 5 ac).
  • Establishment of a redevelopment performance standard. It is expected that this standard will be similar to the new development standard in frame-work, but less stringent, to provide more flexibility for urban infill, redevelopment, and revitalization.
  • Retrofit requirements for some areas. Retrofit is one of the more critical elements of the new program because of the associated costs. If this provision is kept in the rule, it is likely to be very general in nature. However, there is a chance that it may not be included, as total maximum daily loads in urban settings may provide the regulatory vehicle to address retrofit requirements.

Other elements of the rule likely will include regulations guiding transportation systems, special provisions for critical waterbodies, and the potential to include combined sewer system areas into MS4 programs. Other critical issues, such as the implementation timeframe of the rule and the equivalency of existing programs, will be included in the proposed rulemaking. More information is available at www.wef.org/stormwater.

— Seth Brown, WE&T 

U.S. EPA releases CWA jurisdiction guidance

In April 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released draft guidance on the scope of waters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA). According to EPA, the guidance, Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act, “is focused on protection of smaller waters that feed into larger ones, to keep downstream water safe from upstream pollutants. The focus is also on reaffirming protection for wetlands that filter pollution and store water and help keep communities safe from floods. The guidance will not extend federal protection to any waters not historically protected under the Clean Water Act and will be fully consistent with the law, including decisions of the Supreme Court. The guidance will also maintain all of the existing exemptions for agricultural discharges and waters, and also identify specific types of water bodies to which it does not apply — areas like artificial lakes and ponds, and many types of drainage and irrigation ditches.”

EPA received more than 230,000 public comments on the draft guidance. While most recognized the importance of effective implementation of CWA to protect human health and water quality, many encouraged the agency to pursue formal rulemaking. In response, EPA and the Army Corps announced in October 2011 that formal rulemaking was being initiated. However, on Feb. 21, 2012, EPA submitted the guidance, now called Clean Water Protection Guidance, to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for federal interagency review. EPA acknowledges the requests from the U.S. Congress, industry organizations, environmental groups, states, and the public for rulemaking to further clarify CWA requirements consistent with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, but the agency intends to finalize the guidance while continuing to work on rulemaking.

Environmental groups support the draft guidance as a measure to ensure the protection of all important waterways, including headwater streams and wetlands. Opponents argue that this guidance significantly expands CWA’s reach beyond the intent of Congress and the limitations recognized in recent Supreme Court decisions and could result in increased construction costs and project delays due to the lengthy permit process and backlog.

The 112th Congress has taken an active interest in this issue. U.S. Sens. Barrasso (R–Wyo.), Inhofe (R–Okla.), Heller (R–Nev.), and Sessions (R–Ala.), along with 26 of their colleagues, introduced legislation in the Senate (S. 2245, Preserve the Waters of the U.S. Act) to prevent EPA and the Army Corps from implementing the guidance. The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a companion bill (H.R. 4965) sponsored by Reps. Mica (R–Fla.), Rahall (D–W.Va.), Peterson (D–Minn.), Lucas (R–Okla.), and Gibbs (R–Ohio). The bill would prevent EPA and the Army Corps from issuing final guidance or using it as a substantial basis for any rule. The House Appropriations Committee added a policy rider to its energy and water fiscal year 2013 spending bill that would prevent the agencies from implementing the final guidance by prohibiting use of funds to “develop, adopt, implement, administer, or enforce” guidance that purports to clarify which waters of the United States fall under federal protection. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the 113th Congress.

— Amanda Waters, WE&T 

 

Fiscal cliff’ potential game changer

Following the November election, the 112th U.S. Congress reconvened for a lame-duck session through the end of 2012. This final session of the 112th Congress was dominated by the federal budget and the impending “fiscal cliff.”

At press time, unless current law is amended, all of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, as well as various other temporary tax provisions (such as alternative minimum tax relief for middle-class Americans, extension of estate tax relief, and others), were set to expire at the end of the year. Decisions were required about whether to extend, replace, or allow to lapse the 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut for all working Americans. Finally, $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts (“sequestration”) mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 were scheduled to take effect Jan. 2. Half of the automatic spending cuts would hit the Pentagon, while the other half would reduce spending by the rest of the government, with most agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facing funding cuts of 8.2%. Thus, the federal government would fall off a fiscal cliff unless the president and Congress agreed to amend current law.

Specifically, EPA would face a reduction in its existing budget of roughly $8.4 billion down to $7.7 billion. The reductions would include $196 million in cuts to wastewater and drinking water state revolving infrastructure funds as part of a $293 million cut from the state and tribal assistance grants and $220 million from EPA’s program account that funds core agency functions, including regulatory development. Even if lawmakers strike a deal to avoid sequestration, it is still expected that the EPA budget would face major reductions, as the various options being floated as alternatives to the sequestration would still result in large cuts to nondiscretionary spending, including EPA’s funds.

Carl Myers, WE&T 

Framework allows integrated permitting, affordability

On June 5, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework. This voluntary local planning process allows municipalities and their utilities to identify a prioritized critical path to achieving the water quality objectives of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by identifying efficiencies in sequencing the implementation of competing requirements that arise from separate wastewater and stormwater projects, including capital investments and operation and maintenance requirements. This approach should lead to more-sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure. CWA and implementing regulations, policy, and guidance provide the necessary flexibility to implement an integrated planning process. The framework can be implemented through the existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program or by developing or modifying consent decrees.

Municipalities or utilities considering the development of an integrated plan should contact the appropriate regulatory agencies with CWA oversight to determine whether the agency will accept this approach (states with delegated CWA authority are not mandated to adopt and implement the integrated planning framework). To facilitate widespread implementation, EPA is working with its regions and the states to educate them on integrated planning and encourage adoption of this approach. A key factor will be how best to ensure that any integrated plan is truly affordable at the local level.

The Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) is working with the American Water Works Association (Denver) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (Washington, D.C.) to develop more-robust procedures and tools to help localities determine better measures of affordability for all affected populations, considering income levels, local bonding limits, and reasonable tax and fee rates. These procedures and tools, when available in early 2013, then can be used in developing implementable local integrated plans.

— Carl Myers, WE&T 

Stuck in stalemate

Many financing measures for water and wastewater infrastructure stalled last year in the U.S. Congress 

Although the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) continue to be two of the biggest sources of infrastructure funding for wastewater and water utilities, many in the industry pushed for other financing measures during 2012, urging the passage of congressional bills that would have created or enhanced other funding sources for the water sector. Some put their stakes behind the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Authority (WIFIA), while others hoped for a raised cap on private activity bonds (PABs). But none of the measures passed. This was particularly surprising in the case of bills that placed more emphasis on private funding, removing some of the financial burden from the federal government.


Many blame the inability of several water and wastewater infrastructure funding bills to pass not on the merits of the bills or measures themselves but on congressional congestion.

“The current partisan gridlock is the worst I’ve seen,” said Tommy Holmes, legislative director of the American Water Works Association (AWWA; Denver). “Congressional staff have told me that in previous sessions of Congress, WIFIA would have passed by now because it makes so much sense.”

“These aren’t expensive bills, compared to the SRF or even WIFIA,” said Tim Williams, senior director of government affairs at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.). “The fiscal cost of private activity bonds is $300 million a year. The reason it didn’t progress was institutional gridlock and lack of focus on water and infrastructure.”

But some say the stalling of these bills has little to do with partisan gridlock and more to do with a lack of cohesion within the water and wastewater industry itself.

“We’ve been somewhat dysfunctional in asking for solutions,” said Ken Kirk, executive director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA; Washington, D.C.). “We aren’t concerted in what we’re asking of Congress. We have been very divided in our message, but we need to speak with one voice.”

A new funding mechanism for water 

At a Feb. 28, 2012, hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, both WEF and AWWA pushed for the creation of WIFIA, a funding mechanism modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. According to a fact sheet provided by AWWA, WEF, and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), WIFIA could “lower the cost of capital for water utilities while having little or no long-term effect on the federal budget.” WIFIA would access funds from the U.S. Department of the Treasury at long-term Treasury rates. These funds would be used to provide loans or other credit support for water projects. Funds would flow from the Treasury, through WIFIA, to larger water projects or to the states that wished to borrow money for their SRFs to enlarge their pool of
capital. Loan repayments, with interest, would flow back to WIFIA and then into the Treasury, with interest, the fact sheet explains.

“Innovative financing legislation provides an opportunity to demonstrate once again that clean water is a national priority, and that leaders here in Washington are sympathetic to the needs of local governments,” Jeff Eger, WEF executive director, testified during the hearing. “Introduction and eventual passage of new water infrastructure financing legislation is an important step in recognizing the value of water and the need to support our essential water infrastructure.”

But despite some compelling arguments in its favor, so far, WIFIA has languished.

“We do believe that WIFIA legislation is close to being introduced,” Holmes said in October. “There may be bills in both the House and Senate introduced in the lame-duck session of Congress. Granted, there realistically is not time to pass a stand-alone WIFIA bill in this session. However, introduction of the bill now would help in educating more members of Congress on the concept and help in building co-sponsors when bills are introduced in the 113th session of Congress,” he said. “As for why they haven’t passed yet: A lot of legislation has stalled in this Congress.”

Raising the cap, spurring private investment 

Several financing initiatives to help increase private involvement in water and wastewater infrastructure and technology also came before Congress during 2012.

“The tricky part of private funding for municipal water infrastructure is providing private-sector investors the amount of return they would expect from investments while keeping the cost of finance down to levels that municipal entities need,” Holmes said.

But some believe they would have the winning recipe with raising the cap on PABs, municipal securities whose proceeds are used by one or more private entities. “A municipal security is considered a private activity bond if it meets either of two sets of conditions set out in Section 141 of the Internal Revenue Code,” according to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (Alexandria, Va.).

The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Coalition, a conglomerate of water and wastewater organizations, has advocated for legislation to lift the PAB volume caps. The coalition worked with Sen. Robert Menendez (D–N.J.) to include the PAB language in the Senate version of the Highway Bill.

“We’ve been trying to make the argument that it’s a pretty inexpensive measure,” said Dawn Kristof Champney, president of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association Inc. (WWEMA; Washington, D.C.). “It also would provide an increase in tax revenue for state and local governments. It could bring in revenue of $412 million for these governments at a cost of $300 million to the federal government.”

Raising the PAB cap would make sense, “which has been reflected in the very large bipartisan support it received,” Champney said.

But ultimately, the provision was eliminated in the final version of the legislation that was adopted by Congress in June.

“Anything that increases cost spending usually gets some pushback from the House side,” Champney explained.

Some in the industry also have advocated other ways to encourage more private investment in the water industry (see sidebar, above). On June 28, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D‒N.M.), Diane Feinstein (D‒Calif.), and Olympia Snowe (R‒Maine) introduced the Expanding Industrial Energy Efficiency Incentives Act of 2012 (S. 3352). The bill would have given federal tax credits to U.S. companies that invest in water recycling and other water-efficiency technologies.

“S. 3352 would encourage significant private sector investment in water efficiency — an important step toward achieving the goal of national water security,” said Jon Freedman, global relations leader at GE Power and Water (Schenectady,N.Y.), in Environmental Leader, a Web-based daily trade publication covering energy and environmental sustainability news.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, but, at press time, no other actions had taken place.

Champney said one problem with the bill is that it has not garnered much attention from the water industry as a whole. “It’s one of the many bills that are just sitting in committee,” she said. “I personally will say on behalf of WWEMA that we will dedicate more attention to this bill.”

Agreeing to disagree 

Kirk said he understands why others in the industry are seeking new funding measures for water and wastewater infrastructure, although the SRF program “has become a very strong component for funding.” The problem is that the SRF program probably is not enough, and there “continues to be a huge gap between what utilities are spending and what they should be spending,” he said. “Costly requirements place a significant new additional cost on communities.”

But NACWA still believes the SRF and a potential trust fund are the industry’s best bet.

“Obviously, we’re interested in having the highest level of SRF funding we can get,” Kirk said. “Those in the private industry want to increase the cap on private activity bonds, but you have to meet the criteria for those bonds, and only three of [NACWA’s] members — that I know of — even meet those criteria,” he said. “Also, you can’t be sure that raising the cap will help.”

Kirk also said he sees potential problems with WIFIA, “the new flavor of the month or the year. I think it made more sense in the highway arena. How is WIFIA different than the SRF loan program? All these measures require some cost. The stark reality is the country is facing a fiscal cliff, and there will be potential cuts for discretionary funds like WIFIA, SRF, and others unless there is another mechanism on the table for funding, like the trust fund.”

The industry has to start agreeing and working together on the message it is trying to convey to Congress, Kirk said. “There are Democrats and Republicans alike who believe water and wastewater services are local issues, and that is not true.” It is the industry’s job to educate them differently, he said.

Champney agreed that the industry needs more cohesion, but she pointed out that there is good reason for the disagreement.

“There is a universal consensus that we need more money for the SRF,” Champney said. “But we all know that this isn’t anywhere close to what we need. This is where we splinter our resources. One group is pushing for private bonds because of the low cost. Another group is behind the infrastructure bank idea, but it’s too early to gauge how successful it would be. There are still those who say the federal government should go to the trust fund program grants. But I think that’s naïve. The programs should be locally sustained. We shouldn’t keep going back to Uncle Sam.”

Looking toward the future 

Though those in the industry may be divided on what measures have the most potential, many see more of a likelihood of these bills passing in Congress in the future.

“The general political environment that we were in the last 2 years will change after the election,” Williams said in October. “They’ll realize it is in their best interest to cooperate.”

Champney agreed. “The next Congress isn’t going to look much different than the one we have now, but it’s a period of reckoning,” she said. “Everyone is going to have to come to the table.”

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 

Other funding avenues 

During WEFTEC® 2012 in New Orleans, much of the new technical session programming was dedicated to helping companies in the water and wastewater industry find ways to secure funding outside of the municipal bond market and federal government grants, loans, and tax incentives. The topics varied from the commercialization of water industry products that originated in universities to funding water entrepreneurship through strategic partnerships. During the featured session, “Investors Forum: What You Need To Know About Venture Capital and Investors,” panelists discussed how companies could make themselves better candidates for private capital.

One panelist was candid about the likelihood for small companies to receive private funding for their ventures. From a banking prospective, “the larger you are, the more profitable you are, the more debt capital is affordable to you,” said Grant Garbers, managing director of Headwaters MB LLC (Denver). He said there are also other “industry drivers” his firm considers before investing, such as a company’s gross profit margins, the management and people at the company, and market conditions.

William Malarkey, managing director of Boenning & Scattergood (West Conshohocken, Pa.), also described what his banking firm looks for in companies seeking investment. “We prefer to have a relationship with the company early on,” he said. They also want to invest in companies with good financial records, a strong management team with a good track record, and a good and realistic road map for building their business.

“Show an airtight business plan that shows growth,” Malarkey said.

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 

Shortages and education help fuel reclaimed-water acceptance, new uses

Has America reached a tipping point in accepting reclaimed water as a viable water resource?

It certainly looks that way. Amid growing water scarcity and concern about future availability, two out of three Americans now say they are comfortable with the idea of water reuse, according to a survey released in October by GE (Fairfield, Conn.).

While many Americans remain squeamish about the idea of drinking purified wastewater, more than 80% of those surveyed support the use of recycled water for nonpotable uses, including agricultural irrigation, power generation, landscaping, industrial processing, and toilet flushing.

Growing public acceptance is occurring none too soon, given that 36 U.S. states are expected to face water shortages in the coming year, according to the GE report.

The resources available through water reuse are vast and largely untapped. As recently as 2010, only 0.1% of municipal wastewater nationally was recycled for nonpotable uses, the New York Times reported.

Only a handful of systems purify it even further and use it to replenish reservoirs or groundwater basins. The largest is in Orange County, Calif., where 265,000 m3 (70 million gal) of treated effluent is sent to recharge local reservoirs each day.

Fewer still, including the Colorado River Municipal Water District in parched West Texas, have made the commitment to send their ultraclean treated wastewater directly back into the regular drinking water systems. But the march has begun.

Ground zero: Flagstaff, Ariz.

Widespread public acceptance notwithstanding, water reuse projects are still no slam-dunk to implement — even in the most drought-stricken regions.

For proof, look no further than Flagstaff, Ariz., which the city’s utilities director, Brad Hall, has dubbed “ground zero” for reclaimed-water use.

In this northern Arizona city, where precipitation is down by nearly one-third in the past 15 years, recycled water comprises 20% of the city’s water supply. Most is used to irrigate golf courses and other recreational venues, with the unused portion sent to recharge local aquifers.

“For the most part, the community has been supportive of our efforts,” Hall said. To meet rising demand, in fact, voters in recent years approved a bond issue to fund construction of a $37 million water reclamation facility, the city’s second.

But widespread public support didn’t stop local Native American tribes from waging a decadelong legal battle to prevent a nearby ski resort from using the city’s Class A+ reclaimed water to make artificial snow.

Since 2002, when the city first signed an agreement to supply reclaimed water to the Arizona Snowbowl resort, local tribes have filed a series of lawsuits — one of which made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — to block the effort, based on religious and environmental grounds, Hall said.

The courts consistently have ruled in the Snowbowl’s favor. By the end of 2012, the resort’s new private delivery system was connected to Flagstaff’s reclaimed-water system, making it one of the world’s first ski resorts to produce artificial snow using 100% reclaimed water.

And that’s not the only battle Flagstaff has had to fight.

Other special interest groups have raised concerns about endocrine-disrupting compounds, including hormones and antibiotics, that have been found in treated wastewater, Hall said. Researchers are beginning to study what risks, if any, these compounds may pose to humans.

“This isn’t a new problem, and it’s not a Flagstaff-specific problem,” Hall said. “But that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.”

In fact, the city has voluntarily tested its reclaimed water and assembled its own advisory panel to develop a work plan on how to address the issue on a local level.

“It’s incumbent on our industry to focus attention on the issues that are being raised, Hall said. “On a local level, we’re doing everything we can to be proactive and stay out front of them.”

Making reuse affordable in Pompano Beach, Fla. 

The Pompano Beach (Fla.) Utilities Department also learned the importance of paying attention to critics when it sought to expand its existing water reuse program to residential customers a few years ago. During a 4-year period, only 75 out of about 1000 eligible homeowners signed up — even though it meant they could irrigate their lawns for about one-fourth the cost they paid previously for potable water.

“We thought people would be ecstatic,” Randy Brown, the city’s utilities director, told Utility Executive last year. “We were saving them money with a solution that would stretch our water resources for
future use.”

The problem was that residents had to pay to connect their irrigation systems to the city’s, the cost of which was unpredictable.

Since then, the city has retooled the program, hiring private plumbers to connect eligible residents to the system and paying for the work through an increase in reclaimed-water rates.

It worked. Between October 2011 and September 2012, the city connected 440 additional residences. “People weren’t objecting to reclaimed water,” Brown said. “They were objecting to the cost of tying into our system.”

Education and rationing in San Diego 

The City of San Diego also faced an early setback in its water reuse program when a public outcry led the City Council to halt the city’s first repurification project in 1999.

Public resistance posed a tremendous challenge to the region, which imports as much as 90% of its water supply. As recently as 2004, 63% of respondents to a San Diego County Water Authority poll opposed water reuse.

When the survey was repeated in 2011, those opposing reuse had dropped to 25%. What happened in the interim?

“It was a lot of education — and the reality of water rationing — that made the difference,” said Marsi Steirer, deputy director of the San Diego Water Department. “The more our residents know about our water
supply, the more receptive they are to the idea of recycled water,” she said.

In recent years, the department has made a concerted effort to help the community understand the origin of the water flowing from their taps and the science behind water recycling.

Steirer said her agency knew it couldn’t do it alone. “We enlisted the help of our City Council, as well as leaders from the business and environmental communities, to help spread the word,” she said. “That gave us traction. It was important that people got information regularly from many different sources and not just [from] us.”

The educational efforts paved the way for a variety of sustainability efforts, including the 2011 construction of a $13 million pilot project to demonstrate that purified wastewater could be made safe to drink and affordable to produce.

For the past year, the advanced treatment pilot plant produced 3785 m3/d (1 mgd) of reclaimed water. If the final tests prove the water is safe and affordable — as they have thus far — the city hopes to build a permanent plant that could produce up to 60,000 m3/d (16 mgd) to recharge a local reservoir. If all goes according to plan, recycled wastewater could account for 7% of the total in the city’s main reservoir a decade from now, Steirer said.

Meanwhile, the price of imported water continues to rise — 85% in the past 8 years alone. “By the time we complete our advanced treatment plant, we expect the cost of advanced treatment will be competitive with the price of importing water,” Steirer said.

Direct potable reuse in Big Spring, Texas 

In 1998, a U.S. National Research Council study found that Americans considered reuse projects like San Diego’s acceptable only as a last resort.

In West Texas, a region beset by chronic drought and depleted reservoirs, the need for a last resort is now a reality. In Big Spring, Texas, the Colorado River Municipal Water District is putting the finishing touches on a $14 million advanced treatment facility that will supplement the drinking water supply in perpetually dry Texas cities, such as Midland and Odessa.

Scheduled for completion early 2013, the Big Spring plant will put wastewater effluent through an additional purification process before blending it with water coming from reservoirs. The comingled water will then be sent to a regular drinking water treatment plant. The new plant is expected to contribute as much as 7570 m3 (2 million gal) of the 136,000 m3 (36 million gal) in the district’s daily drinking water supply.

While projects like the ones in Flagstaff and Big Spring make national headlines, they also pave the way for communities now getting started on water reuse projects. Consider Lawrence, Kan., where the parks and recreation department received approval from the state’s Department of Health and the Environment in 2012 to use treated wastewater to irrigate the greenery in local medians, roundabouts, and other public places.

No dedicated distribution lines or other advanced treatment facilities are planned, according to Jeanette Klamm, the city’s utilities program manager. Rather, the parks department intends simply to truck treated wastewater from a water resource recovery facility in east Lawrence to the sites.

“Every community has to start somewhere,” said Klamm. “For us, this is it.”

Mary Bufe, WE&T 

©2013 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.