Words Count When Talking About Advances In Water Technology
By Warren Tenney
Technology is now available to transform wastewater into a purified drinking water source. This advanced water recycling could provide millions of gallons of drinking water a day for urban centers and small rural communities and slow demand for water in aquifers, lakes, rivers and streams. Water professionals are careful about the words they use to describe this technology. They are eager to assure the public of the technology’s value and gain people’s acceptance. They are particularly worried about one shortcut phrase people use to describe the purification technology: toilet to tap or T2T.
The phrase is catchy and short, perfect for social media and headlines, but words have power. People who care about future water supplies worry this phrase could make purified recycled water a harder sell. In fact, “purified recycled water” is a more accurate description of this new source of drinking water.
There is no common term to describe this purification process except for terms such as “direct potable reuse” or “advanced reclaimed.” These are fine for professionals to use but they mean nothing to the general public. That leads non-water people to create more understandable and directly descriptive phrases. Purified recycled water is a simple way to describe the new water source. Here’s why: the wastewater used to create drinking water already has been treated and cleared of pathogens to meet the A+ standard set by the state. It’s the recycled (sometimes called “reclaimed”) water that AMWUA cities use to irrigate parks and sports fields, to restore riparian habitats, to create fishing lakes and recharge groundwater aquifers. To create purified recycled water this highly treated wastewater then enters into a far more advanced stage of treatment, such as ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection with advanced oxidation, activated carbon filtration and chlorine disinfection.
In January the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will end the state's prohibition against using recycled wastewater as a drinking water source. The change is possible because of advances in the purification technology and also in the ability to monitor the water’s quality. The new rule will allow Arizona to issue permits for “Advanced Reclaimed Water Treatment Facilities” where highly treated wastewater will be purified to drinking water standards. Drinking water treatment plants will be allowed to use purified recycled water as “source” water. Drinking water treatment plants will continue to process this new source water following federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
These Advanced Reclaimed Water Treatment Facilities take time to design and build. It’s likely some communities – particularly in rural Arizona – may need these facilities to augment their water supplies. Texas already has facilities to purify recycled wastewater as a direct source of drinking water. California is expanding in that direction.
On another front, Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge is designed to help people understand the technology and get over their hesitation to embrace purified recycled water as an Earth-friendly advancement. The movement to purify recycled water is so important that in November 2016 the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge won the $250,000 New Arizona Prize competition and its $2,500 people’s choice award. The creators built the technology used to process purified water inside a semi-trailer truck. The truck has traveled to events around the state explaining to visitors how the technology works. The project also sponsored a craft beer challenge using purified recycled water.
Water professionals will continue to lead by example and choose their words carefully. Purified recycled water is an important step toward saving our planet and ensuring future water supplies to sustain a thriving economy for some Arizona communities. Someday, it will simply be another source of drinking water, as common as water from a well or a canal. People who know water don’t want the wrong words to slow that progression.
For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.