18 August 2008
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
Water reuse can be defined as the use of reclaimed water for a direct beneficial purpose. The use of reclaimed water for irrigation and other purposes has been employed as a water conservation practice in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, and other states for many years.
Reclaimed water, also known as recycled water, is water recovered from domestic, municipal, and industrial wastewater treatment plants that has been treated to standards that allow safe reuse. Properly reclaimed water is typically safe for most uses except human consumption.
Wastewater is not reclaimed water. Wastewater is untreated liquid industrial waste and/or domestic sewage from residential dwellings, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities. Gray water, or untreated wastewater from bathing or washing, is one form of wastewater. Wastewater may be land applied, but this is considered to be land treatment rather than water reuse.
The demand for fresh water in Virginia is growing as the population increases. This demand can potentially exceed supply during times of even moderate drought. In recent years, the normal seasonal droughts that have occurred in Virginia have caused local and state government to enact water conservation ordinances. These ordinances limit the use of potable water (water suitable for human consumption) for such things as car washing and landscape irrigation. The potential for developing new sources of potable water is limited. Conservation measures, such as irrigating with reclaimed water, are one way to help ensure existing water supplies are utilized as efficiently as possible.
The environmental benefits of using reclaimed water include:
Increased water quantity:
- Decreased diversion of freshwater from wetlands and other ecosystems.
- Reduced use of potable water by industrial, housing, and recreational development projects that use reclaimed water.
- Reduction in the amount of groundwater withdrawal, which impacts base flow in many rivers and streams.
Increased water quality:
- Reduction in the amount of nutrients entering the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and other water bodies.
Reclaimed water typically comes from municipal wastewater treatment plants, although some industries (e.g., food processors) also generate water that may be suitable for nonpotable uses.
The turfgrass and ornamental horticulture industries have grown as Virginia becomes more urbanized. The acreage devoted to high-value specialty crops that benefit from irrigation, such as fruits and vegetables, is also increasing. As demand for potable water increases, maintaining turf, landscape plants, and crops will require the utilization of previously underutilized water sources.
The regulation of reclaimed water production and use encourages both the supply of and the demand for reclaimed water. The benefits to suppliers of reclaimed water include greater public awareness and demand for reclaimed water and clear guidelines for reclaimed water production. Benefits to end users include increased public acceptance of the use of reclaimed water and a subsequent decrease in the demand for fresh water.
There are no federal regulations governing reclaimed water use, but the U.S. EPA has established guidelines to encourage states to develop their own regulations. The primary purpose of federal guidelines and state regulations is to protect human health and water quality. To reduce disease risks to acceptable levels, reclaimed water must meet certain disinfection standards by either reducing the concentrations of constituents that may affect public health and/or limiting human contact with reclaimed water.
State regulations need not agree with U.S. EPA guidelines and are often more stringent. In Virginia, water reuse means direct beneficial reuse, indirect potable reuse, or a controlled use in accordance with the Water Reclamation and Reuse Regulation (9 VAC 25-740-10 et seq.; available at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality website www.deq.virginia.gov/programs/homepage.html under Water Reuse and Reclamation.)
The Virginia Water Regulation and Reuse Regulation establishes legal requirements for the reclamation and treatment of water that is to be reused. These requirements are designed to protect both water quality and public health, while encouraging the use of reclaimed water. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Water Quality Division has oversight over the Virginia Water Reclamation and Reuse Regulation.
For more information about this and other landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.