Chances are, if you’ve ever taken a stroll through a city park, played a few rounds of golf, walked down the street or visited a school campus you may have seen a sign with a variation of the message, ”Reclaimed Water in Use, Do Not Drink.” But what exactly is reclaimed water? A simple definition from the Southwest Florida Water Management District tells us that it is “highly-treated wastewater that can be used for irrigation and other uses to extend our water supplies.” In this article we’ll expand on this definition to explain how this is accomplished and what the benefits are of reusing this water.
The southeastern United States, including Florida, gets the majority of their potable water from an ancient underground reserve called the Floridan Aquifer. This marvel of nature contains layer upon layer of sand, clay, shell and limestone that works to naturally filter our water. Extending beneath all of Florida, as well as portions of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina – and into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic – this aquifer is the main water source for almost 10 million people.
Though impressive, the aquifer does have its limits. Freshwater supplies are depleted due to decreased rainfall or resident overuse. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “as Florida’s population continues to grow, the demand for fresh, clean water also increases, which will lead to more widespread, severe and more prolonged water shortages. The majority of Florida’s population lives near the coast, and population growth continues to center on coastal areas. Near the coast, ground water supplies are limited, shallow, and vulnerable to overdraft, contamination and salt water intrusion. Reuse helps to conserve potable water supplies since reclaimed water is used in place of potable water for certain purposes. In addition, many reuse activities can help recharge ground water supplies.”
To do our part in reducing the demands on the aquifer – and with the future needs of our ever-growing city in mind, UCNSB started a program in the late 1990s to supply highly-treated wastewater for irrigation needs. The use of this reclaimed water for irrigation frees up a large amount of our potable water allotment to be used for other areas. The large swath of land named the Western Utility Complex, located west of I-95, is the site of our Water Reclamation Facility. We plan on expanding our efforts, as there is adequate space on this land to construct more structures that would allow us to process a larger amount of water.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District provides a simplified description of the process of treating wastewater to provide high quality reclaimed water; “it begins with using screens and other processes to remove sand and debris before it enters the sedimentation tank. In this tank, large solids are removed prior to microorganisms and organic materials breaking down. Next, clarifiers assist to clear the water color before it enters the disinfection chamber where chlorine is typically used to kill remaining microorganisms before the treated water leaves the wastewater plant for distribution.”
UCNSB follows a similar method. We draw brackish water from lower levels of the aquifer through four deep wells, treat this water through reverse osmosis and then blend it with potable water from existing wells. Treatment of this brackish water produces a byproduct of brine, which we send to a 200-acre pond, where it is diluted before being returned to our Water Reclamation Facility to become reclaimed water for irrigation. The fact that this water can be utilized for irrigation means that NO water is ever wasted. Reuse facilities are constantly monitored to ensure that only high-quality reclaimed water is distributed. This water is clear and essentially pathogen-free.
The Utilities Commission has about 22,090 domestic wastewater customers within a service area of 51.1 square miles. This service area is defined by interlocal agreement between the Utilities Commission, the City of New Smyrna Beach, and Volusia County. UCNSB’S Advanced Treatment Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) currently processes approximately 3.62 million gallons each day. All of the highly-treated effluent is provided for irrigation in the reuse distribution system to several golf courses, the Sportsplex, medians, and approximately 2705 residential irrigation users.
The use of reclaimed water is completely safe and once it soaks back into the ground, it contributes to the replenishment of our water resources. It is a great way to make the most of the water that we get from the aquifer and ensure that our residents have enough water in the years to come. This is especially important as our city continues to grow.