Water, Water Everywhere … But Less Of It Every Day

“It is commonly assumed that the world’s water supply is huge and infinite. This assumption is false. In fact, of all the water on Earth, only 2.5 percent is fresh water, and available freshwater represents less than half of 1 percent of the world’s total water stock. The rest is seawater, or inaccessible in ice caps, ground water and soil. This supply is finite.”

–from The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply, A Special Report issued by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), by Maude Barlow .

Wars of the future, some analysts say, will be fought over water, not oil. Even now, however, many parks and recreation professionals–especially in the Southeast and Northwest–are battling drought conditions, in some cases, of epic proportion. Huge capital investments in sports fields and landscapes are in jeopardy of being lost. Entire youth and adult athletic programs could be suspended due to unsafe field conditions. Parks could become barren and deserted because water and flora have dried up.

Many of these professionals are looking for alternate sources of water to irrigate sports fields and/or landscaped park areas and possibly perform other maintenance functions, such as washing vehicles. Urban reuse water, (a.k.a., reclaimed water in some references), is one of the sources that deserves serious consideration.

Nowhere in the United States is the subject of alternate water sources more vital right now than in the Southeast, an area experiencing drought conditions that most people have never seen in their lifetimes. More than a quarter of the Southeast is baking in an “exceptional” drought–the National Weather Service’s worst drought category. With water levels low and no serious rain in sight, many residents are under conservation orders–such as a ban on all outdoor watering. More stringent water conservation measures are on the horizon if relief doesn’t come soon. Many large areas in the northwest and southwest United States are under “extreme” drought conditions, which the second worst. In this environment, a closer look at the viability of reuse water is clearly warranted.

Reuse Vs. Effluent And Gray Water

Urban Reuse Water is domestic wastewater that has received treatment at or beyond standards established by state and/or federal regulatory agencies, making it suitable for use in areas of unrestricted public access. People often confuse reuse water with “gray water” or “effluent.” Professionals in the water industry are quick to point out that they aren’t the same thing.

Gray water is a term given to wastewater originating from households with the exception of toilet wastes. These wastewaters originate primarily from sinks, dishwashers and washing machines. Effluent is the discharge from wastewater treatment plants after receiving treatment to meet state and/or federal mandated standards. Urban reuse water is treated beyond those limits.

Peachtree City, Ga., 37 miles southwest of Atlanta, is smack in the middle of the exceptional drought area. Georgia’s governor placed a total ban on outdoor watering in October. He has since asked that residents and businesses attempt to cut their daily water usage by 10 percent. That’s a request, not an official order … yet.

City parks and recreation officials have been looking at reuse water for several years now, but have chosen not to pursue it due to infrastructure costs and public perception. Even though Georgia has been in some level of drought conditions for several years, it has never been extreme enough to drive a decision, until now.

“We believe that the extreme drought conditions justify a serious look at how urban reuse water can help save our investment in sports fields and keep them open for play even in the middle of a severe drought,” said Scott Christopher, Recreation Facilities Manager in Peachtree City. Reuse water is being considered for the city’s two largest active sports complexes with a total of eight soccer fields, nine baseball fields and seven softball fields.

The first hurdle to negotiate is public perception. Recreation department staff knew from experience that their public was concerned not only with providing physically safe and attractive fields but also a safe environment for their children.

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