Treating and then reusing wastewater for industrial, irrigation, and other uses is a potential strategy to benefit the regional wastewater system and sustain the seven-county region’s water resources for future generations.
In May, the Council adopted policies to guide its response to requests from industries, communities, or others interested in using reclaimed water. The changes to the regional 2040 Water Resources Policy Plan create a wastewater reuse pilot program with the possibility of a regional cost-share where there is regional benefit to the regional wastewater system.
Reclaimed water is wastewater treatment plant effluent that has received additional treatment to make it suitable for specific types of reuse. The terms recycled water and reuse water are often used interchangeably with reclaimed water.
Partnerships with communities will be crucial
The new policies ensure the Council will work closely with communities on potential projects.
“The policies articulate the Council’s commitment to cooperate and partner, rather than compete, with local communities and water suppliers as we build our wastewater reuse capabilities,” said Jeannine Clancy, assistant general manager for the Council’s Environmental Services division.
The policies state that any proposed project must be consistent with the host community’s comprehensive plan, and if appropriate, the Council may enter into a joint powers agreement with the host community for the reclaimed water service. The Council will also enter into a long-term service agreement with each reclaimed water user.
Reclaimed water will be provided on a cost-of-service basis
In addition to community partnerships, the Council has committed in the new policies to:
Respond to requests from entities interested in reclaimed water; the Council will not proactively seek opportunities for wastewater reuse.
Provide reclaimed water on a cost-of-service, case-by-case basis—not at one uniform rate.
Pursue non-Council funding—such as Clean Water Legacy funds, bonds or wastewater reuse grants—for Council reclaimed-water facilities.
Regional cost share could be implemented under pilot program
Under the pilot program, the Council will evaluate the potential regional benefit of a potential wastewater reuse project. Regional benefit will be determined by the benefit the potential project has on the regional wastewater system. If the project meets the Council’s criteria, the Council will determine an appropriate regional cost-share—provided that the cumulative regional cost-share for all such projects doesn’t exceed 0.75% of the total annual municipal wastewater charges.
Determining the regional benefit of wastewater reuse
The Council established two criteria for determining whether there is a regional wastewater system benefit from a potential project; a proposed project must meet at least one of the two criteria.
The first is that a project is:
(a) located in an area where the regional wastewater system was built to service long-term growth in a sub-regional area in which water managers now are concerned about meeting sustainable water supply for the future while not harming ecosystems, degrading water quality or reducing water levels and
(b) that growing demand for groundwater could mean difficulty obtaining groundwater use permits from the Department of Natural Resources.
The second criterion is that the proposed project reduces the Council’s surface water discharge, delaying capital improvements needed to meet more stringent regulatory requirements.
Public input on individual regional cost-share determinations
The policy also commits the Council to hold a public hearing to get customer and public input prior to making a final determination on regional benefit and regional cost-share for an individual project. Any cost sharing would apply only to the Council-owned portion of infrastructure related to a wastewater reuse project. It would not fund privately owned pipes or other facilities.
Pilot program grew out of community task force deliberations
“These policy changes enable the Council to move forward with its wastewater reuse efforts and clarify for our customer communities how we will proceed,” Clancy said. “We are grateful to our local partners on the Wastewater Reuse Policy Task Force, as well as those who provided input during the process, for their time and insight.”
The Council’s regional vision, Thrive MSP 2040, encourages wastewater reuse where economically feasible to promote sustainable water resources. Wastewater reuse is common in some parts of the country where water shortages are a critical issue, but newer to this region, where water resources are relatively abundant.