A panel was gathered at Northern Arizona University DuBois Center to answer questionsabout wastewater treatment techniques and the safety of using or drinking reclaimed water. Flagstaff plans to sell reclaimed water to an Arizona sledding facility for snow making.
The panel included Shane Snyder of the U of Arizona, Chuck Graf of the Arizona DEQ and Guy Carpenter, a water reuse proponent and engineer. Dr. Snyder indicated that there is no litmus test to say for sure of the water is safe and that a risk analysis needs to be done. Mr. Graf felt that the risk was minimal. Mr Carpenter noted that there has been no evidence to date that reclaimed water is causing problems.
The application discussed at the meeting, snow making only creates casual human contact. Studies with mice and other mammals indicate that there is no apparent risk from this use.
Last year, Flagstaff got about 40 percent of its total water supply from Lake Mary, another 40 percent from underground wells and about 20 percent by treating waste water. That waste water is used for golf courses (the biggest consumer), manufacturing and construction, but the majority of this water is sent down the Rio de Flag in central Flagstaff and east Flagstaff, where it ultimately becomes part of the groundwater supply.
A University of Minnesota study finding one of the more advanced sewage treatment plants in the country was releasing material found in drug-resistant bacteria that can sometimes be fatal for people, including Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). No live bacteria were found, however. Public health experts said the finding from Minnesota was noteworthy and that few facilities nationwide were subject to testing that would detect the so-called “superbugs.”
It seems likely that the use of reclaimed water will likely require additional testing and more sophisticated treatment in the future. New treatment will likely involve the use of advanced oxidation processes and ozone to insure that micro pollutants and super bugs do not reach people. Studies of these techniques indicate that they are indeed effectively in cleaning up the water.