The Importance of Recycled Water in the Desert

Published Nov 09, 2020

We all understand the importance of recycling and the vital role it plays in protecting our environment. In Arizona, recycling water plays a critical role in our lives by providing us with an additional water source.

The truth is that all water is recycled and reused as a part of the natural water processes known as the hydrologic cycle. However, human-generated water recycling, also known as water reclamation or water reuse, centers on treating wastewater so that water can become an integral part of our water portfolio in the Valley.

Recycling water has been a part of Arizona's water management since 1973. Back then, AMWUA negotiated an agreement with APS on behalf of its five original members - Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe – to sell and deliver treated effluent from the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant to help cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station . Since that time, the role of recycled water has expanded, and it will continue to do so.

The water that flows out of your home from your sink, shower, toilets, and laundry and into the sewage system is traditionally called wastewater . Nearly 100 percent of that water is treated by the cities and put back to use, and not wasted.

The cities treat the recycled water to the State’s high standard so it can be used to irrigate sports fields, golf courses, and commercial landscapes, and create or restore riparian habitats. It is also used to recharge aquifers  and stored underground  for use during times of shortage. Recycled water can extend water supplies, improve water quality, reduce discharge and disposal costs of wastewater, and save energy.

To help provide a better understanding of recycled water, it's helpful to know the common terminology used when referencing it.

Effluent: Arizona law defines effluent as wastewater collected from homes and businesses in a sewer system for later treatment in a facility regulated by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). These facilities are known as wastewater treatment plants.

Recycled or Reclaimed:  These two terms are used interchangeably to describe wastewater that is treated to a very high-quality level that allows for its reuse for a beneficial purpose.

Indirect potable reuse: This is the blending of advanced treated recycled water into a natural water source—such as a groundwater basin or surface water reservoir—to expand a water supply for public use after further treatment. Indirect potable reuse is allowed in Arizona and used by many cities. Many cities treat their recycled water and release it into a natural waterway. It is recharged and blended in the aquiferand creates an environmental benefit such as the Tres Rios wetlands downstream of the 91st Ave Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest such plant in Arizona.

Direct potable reuse: This is recycled water that has been treated with advanced technology making it safe for drinking. This technology is already used in such places as Texas, Singapore, and Namibia and will become important to communities faced with scarce water supplies. Scottsdale Water is the first provider in Arizona to be permitted for direct potable reuse. While Scottsdale does not deliver this water to its customers, their research into this technology demonstrates how direct potable reuse could become a viable option for areas of the State as water supplies become more sparse.

We all know recycling products such as plastic, paper, and glass are crucial to our environment's health. And just as important is the role recycled water plays in an arid State like ours. Thanks to innovation and the forward-thinking of the cities, the water used inside your homes and businesses will continue to be reused in many diverse ways and never wasted, which is what recycling is all about.

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities' ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit .

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