By Nancy Stoner
Water quantity issues are increasingly part of conversations as I talk with people across the country. Drought conditions are becoming more frequent and we need to consider that when planning for water needs. We can learn from communities like Austin, Texas, which are not only conserving more water, but are developing distribution networks to reuse more of the water treated at wastewater facilities.
In July I visited Austin, where an unlikely landmark shows the city’s commitment to water reuse. The 170-foot tall 51st Street Reclaimed Water Tower holds 2 million gallons of reclaimed water and is helping the city through drought. This innovative technology allows the city to reuse treated wastewater that is normally discharged into the Colorado River. In fact, 5,300 homes are able to access 1.17 billion gallons per year of reclaimed water, saving the city water and money.
I also visited the City of Austin’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant. Effluent from the wastewater treatment plant irrigates 150 acres of farmland. Hay and crops are harvested and some of the revenue goes to the city while the dried biosolids are used on-site. The biosolids are turned into nutrient rich compost called Dillo Dirt, which is used to landscape public places or sold to commercial vendors. Hornsby Bend is also capturing the methane gas it produces to generate its heat and electricity.
Austin is doing a great job of finding purchasers for the reused water, not only for irrigation, but also for industrial reuse. For example, BAE Systems uses reclaimed water for two chilling stations that supply the water to an entire facility. While the industrial users are finding some transition costs due to the different quality of reused water, the price differential between the two is so great that they save significant money in the long run. With current drought restrictions in Austin, lawn watering is now limited to one day per week, so areas irrigated by reused water – which has less restrictions – are much greener than others.
Austin is just one example of the water reuse innovations arising across the nation and shows that using innovative technology to address water challenges not only saves money, but in some areas is necessary for survival.
About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.