Reclaiming Water: Reusing a Precious Resource

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Image of Florida is the nation's leader in recycling wastewater. At Conserv II near Orlando, billions of gallons of treated wastewater is used to irrigate citrus crops, landscaping, golf courses and athletic fields and for aquifer recharge.
Florida is the nation's leader in recycling wastewater. At Conserv II near Orlando, billions of gallons of treated wastewater is used to irrigate citrus crops, landscaping, golf courses and athletic fields and for aquifer recharge. Russell Sparkman

Video Transcript

Florida reuses 660 million gallons of reclaimed water each day to conserve freshwater supplies and replenish rivers, streams, lakes and the aquifers. Expanding water reuse programs is a key component of DEP's future plans to conserve water resources.

Chris Ferraro, Florida Department of Environmental Protection: So here it comes, here comes the water. It's just about to flow over the edges. Look how nice it looks. Doesn't it look good?

Narrator: That's not just any water that Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Chris Ferraro is gushing about. It's reclaimed water. It was "waste" water, but, not anymore. This treated water is destined for reuse. It's on its way to the Floridan aquifer where it'll help to replenish ground water - the main source of this state's drinking water supply. Ferraro watches as reclaimed water surges through an inlet at one thousand gallons a minute.

The site of this basin - and 71 others just like it -- is the Water Conserv Two distribution center situated 21 miles west of the city of Orlando. It was built in 1986 to eliminate the discharge of treated wastewater into central Florida lakes. Since then, more than 200 billion gallons of wastewater has been recycled.

Chris Ferraro: It's actually one of the largest projects of its kind in the world that provides reclaimed water for aquifer recharge and citrus irrigation.

Narrator: Orange County and Orlando pipe 30 million gallons of highly treated wastewater here every day. Half of that is distributed to citrus groves, golf courses and residential communities for irrigation.

The other half is pumped into rapid infiltration basins like this one. The reclaimed water percolates through sand, receiving further treatment as it makes its way to the underlying limestone aquifer.

Chris Ferraro: Recharging the Floridan aquifer is critical because as our population grows more water is withdrawn from the aquifer by drinking water treatment plants. And with all the development, much of the area becomes impervious and we have more stormwater runoff, and less natural recharge of the aquifer once an area is developed. The rooftops, streets, driveways, result in much more runoff to surface waters. By recharging the aquifer here, we help replenish some of that water that isn't naturally making it into the Floridan aquifer like it used to.

Narrator: Systems like Conserv II are simply doing what nature has done since the dawn of time.

David York, Water Reuse Expert: But that fresh water is recycled over and over again. And Mother Nature is the world's great recycler. All water is reused; all water is recycled through the hydrologic cycle.

Narrator: For 20 years David York led the Florida DEP's efforts to promote water reuse, making Florida the nation's leader in water recycling. Today, water reuse is growing and evolving.

David York:
Historically, the driving force has been wastewater management. But, what we're seeing is more and more interest in using this reclaimed water as a water resource as a means for conserving available water supplies and also getting it back to augment and supplement available water supplies.

Narrator: York says reuse has made the word "wastewater" a bit of misnomer.

David York: It was probably a hundred plus years ago that the sanitary engineers of the world divided the water world into two. There was wastewater, the yucky stuff that you put some place. And there was water, the high-quality stuff that you reserved for your drinking water. And, ideally the two were never to meet. But, a funny thing happened on the way to some six point five billion people in the world today, is that that line between water and wastewater was largely blurred.

Narrator: One area where the line has blurred is in West Palm Beach where technology is used to treat wastewater to produce clean, healthy water ultimately for human consumption.

Ken Rearden, City of West Palm Beach: So the water leaves here and is pumped across the turnpike onto the wetland site.

Narrator: Ken Rearden who oversaw the development of West Palm Beach's advanced wastewater treatment plant says that reclaimed water is essential to meeting the city's water needs. The plant treats and cleans 55 million gallons of wastewater each day before pumping it to a 2000 acre wetland in the middle of residential development. The water moves through the wetland -- which doubles as a nature preserve and bird watching area -- before it percolates down into the aquifer. Then it is later pumped and returned to the city's water plant for final treatment and addition to the water supply.

Ken Rearden: It's been estimated by the time it leaves that pump over there, comes through this plant, goes around this wetland, back in and down through 180 feet, back up and back out, two years.

Narrator: The two-year journey from treatment to the taps is costly says Rearden, but it's the price that needs to be paid in southeast Florida where fresh water is so precious and minimizing reliance on Lake Ockeechobee is so important.

Ken Rearden: When we are not pulling water off of Lake Okeechobee for public water supply it bodes better that there's more water available for the Everglades.

Narrator: David York says that the innovative approach used in West Palm Beach demonstrates something that he preached throughout his career in environmental protection.

David York: Water is water. And, even in its dirtiest state, untreated domestic wastewater doesn't look very nice, smells kind of bad, but it's water. It's some 99.9 percent water. It's a water resource and it can be, should be, and indeed must be used for beneficial purposes.

Related Links

DEP's Water Reuse Program

WateReuse Association