As defined in Texas Administrative Code (TAC), “Reclaimed water is domestic or municipal wastewater which has been treated to a quality suitable for beneficial use.” (30 TAC 210.3) Because reuse water is required to meet state-established water quality standards (30 TAC Chapter 210.33), it does not look any different than tap water. The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) monitors and inspects facilities to ensure that only high-quality reuse water is distributed. In fact, CLCWA’s reuse water is of very high quality, consistently averaging much better than the TCEQ permit requirements. The terms “reuse water,” “reused water,” “reclaimed water,” and “recycled water,” are used interchangeably in the water and wastewater industry.
Reuse water is not the same as graywater, which is untreated household water from sinks, showers, or baths. In CLCWA, all sewer waste released from a residence or commercial business is sent to the wastewater treatment plant by a completely enclosed sanitary sewer main system, and never discharged directly in to an open water source. Stormwater runoff from sources such as rain water and landscape irrigation are collected by storm sewer inlets on the street and directed by storm sewer lines underground to drain in to surrounding area ditches, bayous, and lakes, untreated. Sanitary sewer lines and storm sewer lines are never crossed.
Reuse water is a great alternative for irrigating large areas including golf courses, colleges and universities, parks, and green spaces. Throughout the State of Texas it is also used for urban area uses including dust control, fire protection, toilet and urinal flushing, landscape irrigation; industrial uses including plant wash down, processing water, and cooling water supplies; recreational uses such as developing and maintaining decorative ponds, lakes and fountains; agricultural uses such as irrigation or livestock watering; ground water recharge; and surface water augmentation for potable reuse.
In the early 1990’s CLCWA contracted with Friendswood Development Company and the University of Houston Clear Lake to contribute to the cost of installing reuse water facilities for irrigation purposes. Work was started on the system in 1991 and included installing a pumping station, transmission lines, and reuse water mains. The reuse system became operational in the Summer of 1992. In 1996, reuse water lines were extended to the former Clear Lake Golf Course for irrigation and to fill the two ponds onsite. The reuse lines on the former golf course, now CLCWA’s Exploration Green Detention Facility, will be repurposed to provide approximately a six foot deep flowing water stream to support aquatic life and wildlife.
The City of San Antonio uses reuse water to augment stream flow in the San Antonio River along the River Walk. Several cities use reclaimed water to irrigate golf courses and landscapes including Amarillo, Lakeway, Las Colinas, Lubbock, and Odessa. Harlingen, San Angelo, Odessa and Lubbock use reuse water in cooling towers and for power generation. The Hueco Bolson aquifer in El Paso uses reuse water to replenish the aquifer. In the Tarrant Regional Water District and North Texas Municipal Water District, reuse water is part of a man-made wetlands area that goes through natural filtration process before being released in to lakes and reservoirs. Reuse water is not used just on Earth. The International Space Station has a reuse water system the astronauts use.
Reuse water is less expensive to use than drinking water and users benefit from the savings. The end user is located reasonably close to the source, thus eliminating large costly distribution systems. It is a drought-proof source of water. Reuse water is the only source of water that automatically increases with increased economic activity and population growth. It reduces stress on drinking water supplies by helping to conserve traditional water sources such as groundwater and surface water.
Reuse water goes through a rigorous cycle for treatment. The biological treatment process used to meet the established requirements is the activated sludge process. Wastewater is pumped through mechanical screens for removal of large debris. Aeration basins that contain activated sludge allow for microorganisms to break down organic materials in the wastewater. The activated sludge is then settled out using clarifiers, leaving clear, treated, non-potable water to be filtered and finally disinfected. The reuse water is chlorinated in order to maintain residual disinfection while in the transmission mains. Reuse facilities are constantly monitored to ensure only high-quality reuse water is distributed.
It is treated to a high enough standard for it to be drinking water quality, although not recommended.
Never! Texas regulations strictly prohibit interconnection between reuse water and potable water systems.