After several months and five meetings, the 16 member community advisory group to the LOTT Clean Water Alliance's Groundwater Recharge Scientific Study has wrapped up Phase I of its work.
The group, and the LOTT Alliance, the water utility organization comprised of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County, will be helping the community understand what these words mean in the months to come.
Reclaimed water is a form of wastewater management - it's wastewater that has been treated and can be used for a different purpose, such as irrigation. It's a somewhat new concept in the Pacific Northwest, although it has been used for years for a variety of purposes, even for drinking, in California, the Southwest, and other locations in the country.
The South Sound community is already producing and using reclaimed water. The LOTT Alliance produces Class A reclaimed water using a sand filter technology - up to 1.5 million gallons per day - at its plant in downtown Olympia, and uses it for irrigation. Another two million gallons per day is produced at the LOTT plant in Lacey on Martin Way. The reclaimed water produced there uses a membrane bioreactor technology and is currently pumped to the Hawks Prairie reclaimed water ponds and recharge basins where it is infiltrated to replenish groundwater. Reclaimed water is also being used to enhance wetlands and restore stream flows.
Although the Class A reclaimed water that LOTT produces is continually monitored and tested, there are lingering and emerging questions about our area's unique geography, soil structures, and what is currently in our water system, such as compounds of emerging concern, i.e. pharmaceuticals and personal care products. These are all topics being explored by the LOTT Alliance and the groundwater study advisory group when it comes to the continued and future use of this reclaimed water.
The subject of reclaimed water, and its use for potentially recharging our groundwater aquifers is emotional and fraught with conflicting concerns. It's about community values and its unknown risk on human and environmental health. It's also about money - the cost of processing and treating it to the highest level using the best technology to date, reverse osmosis, issues around land use and growth, and competing priorities for the use of a precious and scarce natural resource - water.
The Groundwater Recharge Scientific Study
The groundwater advisory group community members applied for their positions and were selected by LOTT Alliance staff late last year. Most group members have demonstrated a steep learning curve. Some have a background or some experience in water issues, public service, and related administrative nuances, such as serving on a board of some kind. Most, if not all, members have exhibited a healthy curiosity and some have asked questions that indicate an ongoing dose of skepticism in LOTT, the process, and the advisory group’s actual role. Some are quite satisfied with the direction of the study, and the information provided thus far. Others, not so much.
Members have received a great deal of information, mostly from LOTT’s perspective, on the latest science regarding basic water/wastewater principals, definitions and explanations of technical jargon, and information regarding the unique challenges facing the South Sound community and its varied water systems. Public comment has been allowed at each meeting, and members have discussed and reviewed their concerns during meetings. Each meeting has lasted three hours.
Karla Fowler, LOTT Community Relations and Environmental Policy Director, answered some of these questions at the last advisory group meeting:
But, she says, the cities interest in water rights mitigation is not the sole driver for LOTT to infiltrate reclaimed water. LOTT produces reclaimed water and sells it to the cities for $1 a year. It is up to the cities to decide how to use that water, for irrigation or stream flow enhancement, for example. If the cities do not make use of the water, LOTT must have an outlet for it, and that is where the infiltration basins come in. Ultimately, LOTT is tasked with responding to our communities needs for wastewater treatment – existing and future.
The decision to use reclaimed water in our groundwater ultimately lies with the LOTT Board of Directors, composed of four elected officials, one from each jurisdiction, currently held by City of Lacey councilmember Cynthia Pratt (chair), City of Olympia councilmember Steve Langer, City of Tumwater councilmember Tom Oliva, and Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero.
Tour the LOTT Facility
Ben McConkey, LOTT's public facilities manager and project manager for the Groundwater Recharge Scientific Study, gave a public tour today of LOTT's Budd Inlet Treatment Plant. The tour provides a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes work of the facility, which includes seeing a screener with small holes that takes out baby wipes, condoms, tampons, rags, bottles, sticks, leaves and other materials that shouldn't be in the system. Primary and secondary clarifiers and ultraviolet lights further process the water so it can be discharged to Budd Inlet or used for other uses such as irrigation and other non-drinking purposes.
I have also attended every meeting of the groundwater advisory group except one, and have spoken as an individual during time for public comment. My remarks centered around a request for the possibility of televising groundwater advisory board and LOTT Board of Directors meetings for greater transparency and public education and involvement. These comments and advisory board responses can be viewed in the group’s meeting minutes.