Reclaimed water requires homework first
Elimination of the discharge of effluent to surface waters is one of the primary goals of reclaimed water systems. Now, many municipalities are increasingly looking to reclaimed water as a valuable resource and a way to increase water supplies. As the importance of reclaimed water increases, many cities and counties are faced with a new challenge of developing institutional elements such as ordinances, agreements and rate structures that control the use and costs of this new service.
Before a municipality implements a reclaimed water system, it must define its potential customer base. With a limited number of large users, such as golf courses or agricultural properties, individual agreements are more appropriate because they allow for individual tailoring of service conditions. With numerous small customers such as single-family homes, ordinances are more suitable.
The second step in developing the institutional framework is to define the goals of the water reclamation program. Cities need to determine if the goal is to offset potential water demands, eliminate or reduce a surface water discharge or achieve both simultaneously.
All reuse agreements or ordinances should define responsible parties for repair/maintenance of facilities; expected water quality standards; potential uses, inspection and testing provisions as a condition of service to ensure ordinance compliance; enforcement measures; and, in a residential-use program, whether connection to the reuse system will be voluntary or mandatory and what specific conditions will apply.
The rate system should reflect the goals of the program, taking into consideration comparative costs of reclaimed water and potable water supplies and total savings realized in comparison to implementing alternative systems, such as effluent disposal.
City officials in Venice, Fla., hired environmental engineers Camp Dresser & McKee, Cambridge, Mass., to develop and design its reclaimed water system.
The project team first determined that a residential reuse system would be a cost-effective strategy to address both water shortage issues and effluent disposal restrictions. Then it helped develop and implement the legislation that would be necessary to control its use.
Officials specified when the distribution systems would be built and imposed restrictions on using alternate sources of water for irrigation once reclaimed water service was available.
In addition, the ordinances specified that the utility system would provide reclaimed water in compliance with state regulations, and it made provisions to halt the service when this water quality could not be obtained.
Extensive inspections of each residence were conducted to check for cross connections between the reclaimed water system and the potable water system, and the city maintained a right to halt reclaimed water service if significant violations are found. Ordinances also stipulate that city utility staff may enter customer property for periodic compliance inspections.
In addition to regular customers, the city negotiated individual reuse agreements with a number of large golf courses and stipulated that the courses would have to periodically revert to groundwater for irrigation supplies when there were shortages of reclaimed water.
The city of Venice decided to pursue a voluntary connection policy. The reuse service area was divided into distinct neighborhoods in which the city required a 51-percent participation rate for installation.
Residents in the targeted areas were required to pay a nominal readiness-to-serve fee, and usage fees were then charged to those receiving service. “The design of the reclaimed water system and the ordinances controlling the use and costs of the system are equally important,” says Joe Towry, reclaimed water coordinator for the city of St. Petersburg, Fla. “They must complement each other to achieve the goals of the program.”
With close evaluation of the needs and goals of a municipality’s reclaimed water system, and careful planning of the ordinances used to implement the system, municipalities can build or strengthen the foundations for their water reuse programs to support and ensure their success.