Water Reuse in the Sunshine State

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Reclaimed water pipes. pascocountyfl.net

Those purple pipes that carry reclaimed water to sprinkler systems all over Florida have just become famous. Recognizing that “Florida’s environment, economy, and quality of life depend on a clean and reliable supply of water,” Governor Rick Scott has officially named May 15-21 as Florida Water Reuse Week. The proclamation affirms the safety and reliability of water reuse technology–including the production and use of reclaimed water for sprinkler irrigation– and encourages local governments and citizens throughout the Sunshine State to help conserve our limited supply of freshwater by adopting a water mindset of “Use It Again!”

Water reuse involves taking highly treated domestic wastewater and returning it to a community for use. It’s a way of recycling the water, so it stays available to the community that needs it. It’s a way of taking back water that would otherwise be discharged from the wastewater treatment plant into a surface water body without being put to any beneficial use. By returning that water instead to the local water supply, we get beneficial use from it and can alleviate pressures on our state’s freshwater resources in streams, lakes, and underground aquifers. And water reuse does this safely and reliably–in fact Florida leads the nation in water reuse and is a world leader in developing the technology and safety standards necessary to ensure that reused water is safe for humans and the environment. We do it everyday of the year in Florida, claiming 727 million gallons a day of recycled water. That’s 727 million gallons a day that doesn’t have to be taken from our aquifers.

Reused water is purified to meet science-based standards set to the specific requirements of a given end use, such as irrigation, environmental restoration, energy production, and even human consumption. In fact:

The treatment technologies employed to recycle water are able if necessary to remove virtually all water pollutants, including pathogens and micro-constituents such as trace amounts of organic chemicals.

Golf course being irrigated with reclaimed water.

Most of us are probably familiar with the most common application for reused water, which is the use of reclaimed water for irrigation. Reclaimed water is just wastewater that has been highly treated and filtered for reuse. The main benefit of reclaimed water use in the landscape is that it conserves our potable water. A few years ago we produced a series of Factsheets on reclaimed water and quoted 2009 data that reclaimed water had substituted that year for more than 127 billion gallons of potable water while serving to add more than 79 billion gallons back to available groundwater supplies. Let’s hear it for beneficial water reuse! Here are just a few of the other ways that recycled water is being used in Florida:

  • West Palm Beach is working on a project that will use advanced treatment of reclaimed water to enhance wetlands and recharge the aquifer.
  • The City of Tampa stores highly treated recycled water 300 to 400 feet underground for future use. Facing a water supply shortage? No problem. . .recovery wells are in place to put all that stored water into the public supply if needed.
  • Tallahassee has been using recycled water for crop irrigation since 1966. They apply recycled water to corn, soybeans, and pasture land.
  • In the Reedy Creek Improvement District around Walt Disney World, nearly 6 million gallons per day of recycled water are used to replenish the aquifer.

These are just a few of the examples, and I encourage you to check out the Florida Water Reuse Association to learn more. As the Florida population continues to grow, we will need ever more supplies of freshwater. At the Water Reuse Association Seminar this week I learned that by 2030 Floridians will face a nearly 300 million gallon per day shortage of freshwater if population continues to grow as projected. Our aquifers alone cannot meet that need, and increasing our capacity to produce and use recycled water will be a crucial step in future water sustainability for the Sunshine State.