December 2011, Issue 55: Editors’ Notes

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This editorial is from the December issue of M&A’s Arizona Water Policy Update.

Last month, we looked to California for an indication of Arizona’s next bucket of water, which may include brackish groundwater supplies that are plentiful but poor in quality. This month, we again turn to California, with a guest editorial by Michele Robertson, M&A’s environmental permitting specialist.

Could California’s aggressive measures to increase the use of reclaimed water influence Arizona’s future policies and regulations?

Some arid states are just beginning to jump on the bandwagon, but Arizona has a long history of using treated wastewater for beneficial purposes. The first documented use of treated wastewater occurred at Grand Canyon Village in 1926. The reuse of treated wastewater—or “reclaimed water”—was unregulated until 1972; these regulations were updated in 1985. The current rules, promulgated in 2001, represent a comprehensive approach to regulating the use of reclaimed water. They address permitting, water quality standards, allowable end uses, and technical standards for conveyance systems. Since 2001, reclaimed water use has grown throughout the state. Even so, the direct reuse of reclaimed water accounts for only a small portion—3 percent—of Arizona’s overall water use.

Two recent reports examined the role of reclaimed water in Arizona. Published by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability (November 2010) and the Water Resources Development Commission on (October 2011), these reports recognize that reclaimed water is an underutilized resource. They further conclude that it will play an important, ever-increasing role in Arizona’s future water supplies. The final GBRP report lists 18 recommendations and 63 subrecommendations to improve water management, education, and research capabilities. More than half of these recommendations are intended to remove impediments and thereby increase the use of reclaimed water. Of these recommendations, most focus on expanding or modifying the existing regulations or on researching the fate and human health effects of emerging contaminants that often occur in reclaimed water. ADEQ, ADWR, and the ACC have been tasked with implementing the GRBP recommendations; however, it is likely to take many years before significant results are achieved.

California has long been viewed as a bellwether state regarding the promulgation of environmental regulations so it is interesting to see the state aggressively pursue policies and regulations related to the reuse of reclaimed water. How does California’s approach compare to Arizona’s current programs? Like Arizona, California is focusing on implementing a statewide water-recycling policy that establishes goals for increased reuse.

This year, the California legislature adopted statutes setting two deadlines: a 2013 deadline for regulations that would create uniform criteria for indirect potable reuse for groundwater recharge, and a 2016 deadline for a final report with recommendations on direct potable reuse. Meanwhile, Arizona has not revised its reclaimed water regulations in over 10 years and is unlikely to do so under the continuing moratorium on new rulemaking. Strained budgets have reduced available staff resources, challenging the agencies tasked with implementing the GRBP recommendations to remove impediments to reuse. Time will tell if California’s precedent in setting regulatory deadlines will influence Arizona’s future reclaimed water policies and regulations.

Juliet M. McKenna, MS, PG | Taylor D. Shipman, MS | Mark H. Myers, MBA