Council Reevaluates Costs of Reclaimed Water Program

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While city councilors approved installing a reclaimed water line to the Lonnie Poole Golf Course on Centennial Campus, it will be the last project that is completely funded by the city.

Reclaimed water is water that has been treated and released by a water treatment plant and can be returned to lakes and rivers. The golf course will use the reclaimed water for irrigation.  In short, the golf course will be using reclaimed water instead of drinking water to water the lawn.

Historically, the city would foot the bill for the installation of these connections for large-scale water users, like hospitals and golf courses. The Centennial Campus connection has a $4.9 million budget, which the city will finance through a loan from the North Carolina Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

But, going forward, the city will look at applications on a case-by-case basis and request that a public-private partnership be put in place to minimize city costs. The city is now in negotiations with the Carolina Country Club to install a reclaimed water extension.

A map of Raleigh's reclaimed water line to Centennial campus. Image courtesy the City of Raleigh.

At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Councilor Thomas Crowder questioned public utilities staff as to why these systems – water, sewer and reclaimed water – aren’t at full cost recovery.

Councilor Russ Stephenson echoed Crowder’s comments, questioning why residents are paying one price for water, while commercial customers are paying less for reclaimed water. He said the city is telling people to use tap water so that it can recover costs, while subsidizing costs for reclaimed water customers.

While Crowder and Stephenson wanted to move forward with the Centennial Campus connection, both councilors thought that the issue deserved more discussion and ultimately voted against it.

Assistant Public Utilities Director Kenneth Waldroup explained to the Record that at the current rates, none of the systems will cover the installation costs or the costs to replace or maintain Raleigh’s aging infrastructure.

Read more about Raleigh’s water conundrum here.

The Water Utility Transition Advisory Task Force (WUTAT) has recommended that the city put its water, sewer and reclaimed water rates on a path that would eventually lead to not only paying for existing systems but to replacement of old systems.

As part of that goal, the task force also recommended that the irrigation reclaimed water rates be increased to $2.54 per 100 cubic feet, which is half the regular irrigation rate.

“We are trying to make good business decisions and we are reacting to changing economic conditions,” said Waldroup. “In essence we are remolding our reclaimed water program to better thrive in these changing economic conditions.”

The city will also be working with the state to change the laws that dictate how reclaimed water is used. According to state laws, reclaimed water cannot be returned to a primary water supply source – like Falls Lake – to be used to supplement drinking water.

But, Waldroup said that despite the state laws, this is already happening.

After reclaimed water leaves a water treatment facility, Waldroup said that it is as clean as drinking water, but legally it can’t considered potable and is released into lakes and rivers.

“The minute you put it back into a river, it changes legal status,” said Waldroup. “It becomes non-potable water that can become a source for drinking water.”

Ultimately that water ends up in someone’s water supply. For example, Waldroup said, Durham’s treated waste water is pumped directly into Falls Lake, which is one Raleigh’s primary source of drinking water.

The city would like to get the go-ahead from the state, and the public, to channel some of its own reclaimed water back into the water supply to prove that it would not have any adverse affects on public health.

“This is duplicating what happens every day in North Carolina,” said Waldroup.

2 thoughts on “Council Reevaluates Costs of Reclaimed Water Program

  1. 4.9 million… to water a golf course. Will they EVER make that back?

    At what point does it cross someone’s mind to just dig them a couple wells and call it a day?

    Raleigh seems to be truly conflicted with their water service. They seem unable to decide between running the department as a profit center – or using it to subsidize business. Clearly what’s best for the environment is of little concern.

  2. Sorry — this is all about what’s best for the environment. Using reclaimed water for irrigation is far better for the environment than either using scarce, expensive, potable, treated water or digging wells and ravaging already depleted aquifers. Raleigh processes 40 million gallons and more of wastewater every single day. Most of it goes right into the Neuse. This is a great use of reclaimed water and a great way for the city to become greener and encourage water conservation. The water system would pay its own way if we raised water rates to a level that truly expressed the value of the public resource, but that will never fly — it would be like raising the gasoline tax or expecting the roads to pay for themselves. Sensible ideas that would help citizens understand the true costs of actions that people prefer to pretend are inexpensive or free.