NORMAN — Norman’s water supply future could depend, at least in part, on the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s willingness to envision a future where water reuse plays a vital role in serving the needs of a growing population.
Clean water is the mark of modern, industrialized nations, and agencies like the DEQ are charged with protecting people who drink that water, but 97 percent of treated water is used for some purpose other than drinking, Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.
Komiske and his staff have been working to find ways to safely reuse water for nonpotable — non-drinking — uses, and the DEQ will be an integral part of that movement forward.
Last week, city staff met with DEQ officials from at the city’s compost facility to determine if treated effluent from the Water Reclamation Facility could be used to water the compost. The compost facility uses approximately 1.6 million gallons each year. While that is a relatively small step forward, it is one more step in an overall movement toward safe water reuse practices.
“In the summertime, when we’re running low on water and we’re wanting people to conserve, this place uses over half a million gallons a month, and that’s when we need it the most,” Komiske said.
Moisture is needed in compost to keep the natural chemical process going. Currently, drinking water is used to water the city’s compost.
“Those guys that work down there are like chefs,” Komiske said. “They have to put together the right amount of nitrogen with carbon and moisture. The internal temperatures can reach 130 or 140 degrees. That’s when it starts breaking down to make the good compost for your garden.”
Treated effluent from the wastewater facility is slightly higher in nitrogen and would be beneficial because nitrogen is one of the ingredients necessary for breaking down mulch into compost.
“We have to remove the ammonia, but it still has more nitrogen than potable water, and that’s part of the process they need at the compost facility,” Komiske said.
Using water reclaimed from the city’s wastewater treatment facility is not a new practice. The city uses treated effluent for in-house, non-drinking maintenance needs at the wastewater treatment plant, saving around 13 million gallons of drinking water per month.
In addition, the University of Oklahoma uses treated effluent to irrigate portions of the golf course. That reused water is also sourced from treated city wastewater.
Guidelines established by the DEQ only allow for the reuse on fairways, which required an extra irrigation system, but the university made that investment. That investment is financially sound because of the cost savings involved in using treated effluent rather than watering fairways with drinking water.
The DEQ was expected to discuss the reuse at Norman’s compost facility at its meeting this week but did not have time to get to the item. A decision to move the process forward could come as early as next week. The DEQ will ensure the public is protected in its reuse guidelines.
The water used at the compost facility is not like a yard irrigation system. It comes out of a water gun.
“When they use water, they use a lot of it at once,” Komiske said. “We can set these (water guns) to go at night. We can lock the gates, so there’s no one around.”
Reclaiming wastewater for appropriate uses is the wave of the future. Once upon a time, cities had sewer treatment plants. Those morphed into pollution control facilities, then wastewater treatment plants, and now are called water reclamation facilities.
Part of the renaming is a result of higher standards of treatment available through modern technology. The renaming is part of a new perception.
“We’re starting to realize it’s the same water that’s been around for millions of years,” Komiske said. “What our treatment plants do is reclaim the water.”
While the gallons of water saved at the compost facility may seem small relative to the millions of gallons used by the city’s population, it could be an important step in the right direction for Norman.
“This could be of significant assistance to the city, and we are awaiting (the) DEQ’s decision,” City Manager Steve Lewis said. “I think this is a smart move.”