Tuesday’s Flagstaff City Council statement indicated that it would like to see potential potable reuse options included in the future water strategy.
During discussion of a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation letter of interest (USBR), the topic of potable use, where reclaimed water is used to make drinking water, was brought up. The letter asks for technical assistance from the USBR in order to develop city water projects using federal funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation. It lists water projects that may be eligible for funding.
As presented by city staff, the letter focused heavily on Red Gap Ranch. This large, energy-intensive and expensive project involves piping water from city acreage just south Navajo Nation. There was no mention at all of expanding the city’s portfolio of reuse projects.
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Robert Vane, a Flagstaff Water Group citizen, noticed this unbalanced focus and commented that the city had spent millions studying Red Gap Ranch, and a relative small amount on the options for direct and indirect potable reuse. He felt that this was better from a long-term sustainability perspective.
Vane stated that our aquifer isn’t going to get better. We should reduce the amount of net withdrawals from the aquifer. This is possible through reuse. Red Gap Ranch is not able to pump more.
Michele James of Friends of Flagstaffs Future expressed concern that funding for Red Gap Ranch was being prioritised over funding for development of potable reuse. She requested that Council be more fair in its pursuit of water projects to ensure that the city does not rely solely on Red Gap Ranch’s problematic and costly water.
Brad Hill, former director of water services and advisor to the city, advocated an equitable pursuit for water projects. Hills’s perspective is that all options for future water supplies need to be considered with equal diligence so that Council members and the public can compare them.
He said that it was inappropriate to compare one thing with another without all the information.
Red Gap Ranch could not be replaced by reuse options, said Erin Young, water resources manager. Young explained that potable reuse is not a viable alternative to new water sources. Young said that water recycling doesn’t return 100% of its water intake, so a shift to reuse would still be drying out our aquifer.
She stated that we will need additional groundwater to continue the recycling process.
The bureaucratic hurdle to full-scale potable recycling systems is also present as the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has not yet developed regulations and guidelines for potable use. There is a bill in the Legislature that would direct ADEQ (if passed) to create such guidelines. This would open the door to rural communities to implement potable recycling systems in a more robust manner.
Even if the bill is passed, it could take ADEQ two years to bring guidelines into an operable place.
Young explained that the Red Gap Ranch project must not lose momentum due to the inequalities between potable reused and new water sources. It is a great time to work with USBR and other regional partners who stand to benefit from Red Gap Ranch. This is an opportunity that we don’t want to miss, Young added.
The City of Flagstaff and its taxpayers could be subject to increased costs if the project is delayed.
Young stated that we couldn’t do this on our own.
Council approved the letter of interest to take advantage of federal dollars currently available. However, it was modified to include language that emphasized the city’s interest in exploring potable reuse and specifically requested assistance in feasibility studies for potable reuse.
Kevin Black, a USBR program manger, said that the amendments were appropriate. He said that broadening the requests in the letter was in the interest of the city.
Council unanimously approved the submission of the amended letter pending review by the city’s legal team.
Sean Golightly can be reached at email@example.com
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