Water Use and Reuse

“The story of the American West has always been a story of water, how much of it there is and who controls it. So for a small agricultural town in eastern Washington, free-flowing groundwater was almost better than striking gold (Washington State Magazine – Fall 2008 – Ben Herndon).”

Those days are gone. Rather than the artesian wells giving us our water, we’re getting most of it from the Grand Ronde aquifer. There’s no way to know exactly how much water is in the Grande Ronde, but the levels seem to be dropping every year. Ours isn’t the only aquifer with this issue, though we luckily don’t lose a bunch of water for farmland irrigation. However, with a growing population, it is still a concern.

One of the City Council’s 2016 goals is: “Continue to pursue the wastewater reuse project, including irrigation of City park grounds, Pullman School District grounds, and WSU green spaces and industrial applications.”

Water reclamation and reuse is not a new concept. It’s been done successfully in the United States at a municipal level since about the 1930s. One of the first well-known projects was in San Francisco. However, technology increases have allowed potable reuse to be as safe – if not safer – than current drinking water treatment systems. For example, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection are used to prepare potable reuse, as it removes paracetamol and ethinylestradiol among other things. Countries like Singapore, based on need, have led the way on this.

But we’re not even talking about potable reuse! We’re talking about irrigation uses! We need to continue using resource possibilities, such as federal and state grants, to improve our aquifer storage recovery (which is injecting water into an aquifer through wells or by surface spreading and infiltration and wells or by surface spreading and infiltration and then pumping it out when needed), or transform effluent from the city’s wastewater treatment plant into irrigation water (it would just end up in the South Fork Palouse River anyway).

The city has engaged in some proactive consumer-based actions, like toilet and washing machine rebates, as well as lawn removal credits. The city has also touted the virtues of “wisescaping“.

It’s not enough. A few few things the city can do:

    • Enforcement. This is done primarily through rates. Driving up prices in the summer months is an attempt to drive down usage. I believe this is only partially effective. Many of us like our green lawns and feel it adds to quality of both life and community. Plus, a strict enforcement can be prohibitively expensive. Cities that have done this have spent a lot of money to recoup only a little, and it has created ill-will with many.
    • Education. Let’s be honest, one of the biggest crap shoots in our wonderful city is opening the water bill and guessing what it will be. In addition to a better, more comprehensive information campaign, in lay person’s terms that anyone can understand, could really help. But if Pullman had the same type of customer portal that has been successfully implemented in Lakewood. It’s web-based and interactive and gives the customer easier access to information, including current water usage. Imagine being able to look at where you’re at for water usage in the month, and have the ability to cut back.
    • Engineering. The university has committed itself to aggressive efforts in leak detection and repair. Check out what Fountain Valley, California has done. However, it’s more than just a “continuous flow” flag generated by a water meter or AMI headend system. It combines advanced math and analytics, adaptive filtering, etc. And the right software can help prioritize leaks. All of this can help determine where water can be saved, especially if we can turn”Big Data” into a readable, actionable dashboard for city leaders.

The best approach will be a concerted effort between city administration and residents. It is incumbent upon all to work at recharging the aquifer.