Rules for use of wastewater flowing toward approval
OKLAHOMA CITY - The state is moving closer to allowing cities to use cleaned-up wastewater as a raw water source.
Rules protecting public health and the state's reservoirs for several water conservation measures could be approved by September. And there still isn't yet a well-established formula for how much it will cost municipalities and rural water districts to comply with new rules, said Michael Graves, vice president at engineering firm Garver. That's likely to vary for each city, he said.
Getting those new rules developed was like meeting a rowdy, opinionated book club, said Saba Tahmassebi, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality's chief engineer. Everyone had different opinions and some weren't afraid to be vocal.
He, Graves and others discussed on Tuesday the state's progress on developing new water quality rules at the American Water Works Association's annual conference held at the Cox Convention Center.
Advancing new regulations for less-than-potable drinking water is part of the state's Water for 2060 Act. The 2012 law established a water conservation policy that Oklahomans shouldn't use more freshwater in 2060 than was used in 2010. Treating municipal wastewater and then sending that liquid into reservoirs and streams is a critical part of ensuring there's a long-term supply for growing communities. The process is known as indirect potable reuse.
The DEQ's Water Quality Management Advisory Council on Oct. 10 recommended approving rules that would allow treated wastewater to be injected into aquifers. The agency's Environmental Quality Board will address the recommendation at the next meeting on Nov. 7. The Legislature and the governor must both approve those rules before they become effective. DEQ Water Quality Division Director Shellie Chard said those rules could be in place by September if everyone approves.
The advisory council will address indirect potable reuse rules on Jan. 11 and if the members recommend the rules, the board could address the issue at its Feb. 16 meeting. Following the same approval path, indirect potable reuse rules could also be in place by September 2018.
Tahmassebi said working groups began meeting in 2014 to develop those potable reuse rules. Chard said that years-long process might seem lengthy, but her agency must protect public health, as well as prevent potential harm to bodies of water where people fish, swim and boat. Oklahoma will be one of the first states to have indirect potable reuse rules in place, she said.
Graves is a member of the working group and said members examined Florida's indirect potable reuse rules. But what was in place there wasn't useful, in part because the process was so cumbersome.
Norman is working toward indirect potable reuse, and an engineering firm is examining how well it could clean up treated wastewater so that it could flow into an already polluted reservoir, Lake Thunderbird. Utilities director Ken Komiske said the pilot study is examining several different treatment methods, each with a different price tag.
Graves said Lawton also examined indirect potable reuse and direct potable reuse to develop a water conservation plan. Indirect potable reuse cost about $7 per 1,000 gallons, and direct potable reuse cost $5 per 1,000 gallons. But there are so many local variables, those figures shouldn't be used for other municipalities, he said.
"Every utility will have its own challenges," Graves said. "How far are you from the reservoir, will that flow with gravity, or do you have to pump it; if you're pumping it, is that five miles or 20 miles?
All of that factors into the cost per thousand gallons.
Tahmassebi said municipal leaders must determine what it's worth to have a secure water supply to support its growth.
"That could be a fiscal decision the municipality makes outside of (agency) rulemaking," he said.