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Alan Forrest: Recycling water for our future
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Alan Forrest: Recycling water for our future

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Tucson Water’s current long-range plan demonstrates that we have sufficient water available to meet demands through 2050.

To ensure longer-term supply goals, and to address the threat of intermittent shortages on the Colorado River, we must continue to develop additional renewable water supplies. To this end we propose expanding the use of recycled purified water to fully integrate this valuable resource into our drinking-water system.

Tucson has been recycling water for 30 years — it is known as “reclaimed water.” Reclaimed water has undergone a standard wastewater treatment process, followed by additional filtration through our Reclaimed Water Filtration Plant or by recharging it into the aquifer. This reclaimed water is appropriately treated to use as an irrigation water source primarily for parks, schools and golf courses. Reclaimed water is distributed through a separate distribution system of wells, pipes, booster stations and reservoirs. It is not suitable for drinking without additional treatment.

The Recycled Water Master Plan provides an analysis of the existing Reclaimed Water system and recommends needed investments to meet the demands of current and future customers. More importantly, it provides direction on how to incorporate unused wastewater effluent into the urban water cycle. Recycled water is vital to the community, as it is our sole remaining renewable water supply, and the need will continue to grow with increasing population.

Further development of this resource will allow us to diversify our water supply portfolio and help prevent shortages of water such as other Southwest communities are experiencing due to drought and climate change.

Why are we considering recycling purified water now? To begin with, recycled water is not a water resource we will be using in the immediate future. It will take a significant amount of time to complete the planning process, identify infrastructure and financial requirements and build facilities. However, the time to start planning is now. We’ll be examining successful programs in other communities to ensure we use best practices for all aspects of producing recycled water.

We’ll also take advantage of our own experience. For example, as with Tucson’s CAP water supply, it’s likely that the water will be blended with groundwater to take advantage of the natural treatment that soaking through the earth provides. Additional purification processes will be included to ensure the water being delivered to our customers meets all drinking-water standards.

The development of recycled water as a renewable resource will help Tucson become more sustainable — not only in the sense of water resources, but also economically. The availability of a reliable long-term water supply will serve to entice corporations that are considering relocating to the Southwest. In a desert city, having sufficient water for the future is crucial, not only for current citizens, but also for future economic development.

Finally, expanding the use of recycled water makes solid financial sense. Tucson Water has invested more than $250 million in facilities to receive, store and distribute renewable Colorado River water, delivered by the Central Arizona Project at the annual cost of $25 million. This cost will only increase over time. Pima County has also recently upgraded two major wastewater and reclamation facilities at a cost of $600 million. Currently 11,700 acre-feet of our treated effluent water is discharged in the Santa Cruz riverbed, and lost to our use forever. Given our significant public investments, it makes sense to retain as much of that water in our community as possible for future use.

Throughout this process, we will continue to provide information and ask for input from you — our customers. This is a community program, and we hope the community will remain involved.

Alan Forrest, director of Tucson Water since June 2012, has more than 25 years of experience in Southern Arizona working in various capacities in the water industry. More information can be found at

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