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Arizona says recycling sewage for drinking water is inevitable as ADEQ opens public comment

By Greg Hahne
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Monday, November 6, 2023 - 5:42pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2023 - 9:41am

24th Street Water Treatment Plant in Phoenix
Tim Agne/KJZZ
Treated water in sedimentation basins at the 24th Street Water Treatment Plant in Phoenix

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comment on expanded plans to reuse wastewater for drinking.

The department released a roadmap for its Advanced Water Purification Program last week.

ADEQ says the move comes amid increased water scarcity due to persistent drought. 

Its roadmap would provide guidelines for municipal and private utilities to treat sewage and send the recycled water directly to homes. As it stands, treated effluent is filtered through the ground before the water is ready for consumption.

ADEQ Deputy Director Randy Matas says specific treatment techniques will be left up to local communities, as the map is solely seeking to provide standards.

Public comment closes Dec. 2.

Even Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, said it's not a question of "if'' but of "when.''

"The use of reclaimed effluent is inevitable in the arid Southwest, period,'' he said. "That's not really debatable any more.''

More to the point, it's already happening.

Put simply, treated effluent now is discharged onto, and in some cases injected into, the ground. And eventually it is pumped out after there has been a natural filtering process of sorts.

Gov. Katie Hobbs already appears convinced that the rules being crafted by DEQ will provide for safe water.

"I am comfortable with science and technology ensuring that what we put into our water system is safe for users,'' she said.

So, will she drink recycled water from the faucets in her home?

"Yes,'' the governor responded.

And an ADEQ survey conducted earlier this found 70% said there were somewhat or very likely to drink recycled waster.

Matas, however, said convincing all Arizonans to accept the technology will require proof that they can see.

Scottsdale already has started down that road with a demonstration project with several local breweries crafting beer with water they got from the city's own advanced water treatment facilities. In that city's case, that includes not just normal purification to A+ levels, good enough to discharge into streams and for irrigation, but also other processes including reverse osmosis, membrane ultrafiltration and treatment by ultraviolet light.

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