HD92 - Land Application, Reclamation and Reuse of Wastewater

Executive Summary:
House Joint Resolution 662 (1999) charged the Department of Environmental Quality to study issues surrounding land application and reclamation and reuse of wastewater.

The resolution requested the study to include, but not be limited to, (i) the environmental soundness of reclamation and reuse of wastewater for irrigation of golf courses, athletic fields, forests, and farmland, as well as for snowmaking and fire protection. in the Commonwealth; (ii) the potential environmental benefits and risks of using reclaimed wastewater for the purpose of recharging ground water aquifers; (iii) whether the Commonwealth should encourage and promote the use of such technology and, if so, under what conditions; and (iv) options, including, but not limited to, establishing a general permit for reclamation and reuse, modifying the Virginia Pollution Abatement Permit or modifying other regulations, so as to provide a predictable and certain process for the approval or denial of requests for the reclamation and reuse of wastewater. An advisory group was convened to conduct the study.

The study reveals that water reuse is already widespread both in the U.S. and the world. Much of this precedent recently established in Florida and North Carolina, whose water related issues are similar to Virginia's, may be applicable to Virginia. It also indicates that a high quality reclaimed water could be used for many purposes for which we are now employing potable water. Uses that may not require the same level of treatment as is required for drinking water include irrigation of landscapes (e.g., residential lawns, golf courses, and greenbelts), agricultural irrigation (e.g., fodder, feed, fiber, food and nursery crops), certain industrial processes (e.g., cooling, boiler feed, stack scrubbing, and process water), non-potable urban (e.g., fire protection, street washing, and vehicle washing), environmental (e.g., stream flow augmentation/fishery sustainability, and wetlands restoration), ground water recharge for certain purposes (e.g., saltwater intrusion control), and miscellaneous (e.g., snowmaking, dust control, and construction). The study determined that properly treated reclaimed water can be utilized, when properly managed, in water reuse projects that are fully protective of both public health and the environment. Water reuse is a beneficial method, which is underutilized in Virginia, to meet water demands with less than potable water and to reduce increasing water withdrawals from already strained sources.

Because Virginia is a party to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement which has a stated objective "to evaluate and institute, where appropriate, alternative technologies ... such as land application" of treated wastewater effluent, and given the huge expense faced by industry and local governments in upgrading wastewater treatment plants to reduce nutrient pollution, and given the frequent water supply problems throughout the Commonwealth and the competing needs of its citizenry, the need to preserve green space, and the desirability of drought-free farming, it is incumbent upon the Commonwealth to encourage and promote reclamation and reuse.

The advisory group recommends the Commonwealth encourage the reclamation and reuse of wastewater effluent by developing a new regulation or amending existing regulation (i.e., Virginia Pollution Abatement Permit Regulation, 9 VAC 25-32-10 et seq.); and developing interim guidance, that are protective Of the health and safety of the Commonwealth's waters. Thus, water reuse could be, to the extent possible, economically competitive with other forms of effluent disposal. Water reuse should be encouraged through incentives, little or no fees, and monitoring requirements which are limited to the level necessary to ensure protection of public health and the environment.

The advisory group further recommends that the Commonwealth conduct a detailed review of other states' regulations and guidelines, the EPA Process Design Manual for Land Application of Municipal Wastewater (1981) and other relevant documents, and produce Virginia specific regulations for reuse of reclaimed water. While a general regulatory framework currently exists for land irrigation of reclaimed water, it is lacking in many specifics. Development of new water reuse regulations for land irrigation and other categories would probably take several years. Thus, the advisory group recommends development of a comprehensive regulation in the long term and revised guidance in the interim to expedite practical and beneficial reuse of reclaimed water in the short term. The comprehensive regulation should be developed as expeditiously as possible from a broadly focused stakeholder perspective that includes as many of those potentially affected by reusing reclaimed waters as possible, and initiated immediately. Statutory authority could be sought from the General Assembly, but the regulation can be promulgated under existing authority. The regulation should include definitions and standards for varying quality of reclaimed waters.

The advisory group concludes that both general and individual permits should be considered for reclamation and reuse. General permits should be considered for only the highest quality reclaimed water whose specific use would not endanger the public health or safety of the environment. Such a permit could prescribe the design, monitoring, and reporting requirements that must be met for a facility to qualify as a water reuse operation. The Department would confirm the prerequisites and provide general permit coverage. This would be a consistently predictable process for approval or denial of a permit. A general permit would expedite the permitting process while ensuring that facilities are properly designed and managed. Coverage under the general permit would also result in reduced permit fees for the owners. Individual permits would be issued for all but the highest quality reclaimed water. Individual permits would be required in such cases because of site specific differences that could impact public health or the quality of the receiving ground or surface water. Furthermore, the individual permit provides the public with the opportunity to comment on projects that influence their environment.

The study also includes an examination of the potential environmental benefits and risks of using reclaimed water for the purpose of recharging ground water aquifers, directly and indirectly. The advisory group concludes that more information regarding the occurrence and quality of ground water statewide should be obtained before considering any direct ground water recharge projects. The group also concludes that the Virginia Ground Water Standards (9 VAC 25-260-190 through 9 VAC 25-260-240) should be evaluated, and potentially revised, to clarify their application to projects which involve indirect ground water recharge.

The advisory group recommends that the Commonwealth initiate statewide ground water characterization efforts chat are necessary to determine whether direct ground water recharge projects are feasible. The group also recognizes that this effort is not as high a priority as issues related to indirect ground water recharge.

The advisory group concludes that indirect ground water recharge has the potential to produce positive environmental results when the quality of the percolate (the portion of reclaimed water recharging ground water) is higher, for all constituents, than the naturally occurring ground water quality at the site of concern. In addition, indirect ground water recharge has the potential to improve ground water quality on sites where existing ground water quality has been degraded. In these cases, consideration must be given to the potential that indirect recharge may move existing ground water contamination off of the site of concern to other ground water or surface water receptors. The group recommends that the Virginia Ground Water Standards be evaluated, and potentially revised, to clarify their application on sites where the native ground water has been degraded due to previous acclivities.

The advisory group notes the previous interest of the General Assembly in one other type of wastewater reuse and recycling: that of gray water reuse. Past sessions of the Assembly have indicated their interest in this specific type of reuse, adopting HJR 587 (1997) and HB 912 (1998). The latter action, in part, directed the Virginia Department of Health to develop guidelines for the use of gray water. The advisory group believes that the logical next step for the implementation of those guidelines is for the Virginia Department of Health to develop a comprehensive regulation, revise an existing regulation, or establish formal guidance which will address the mechanism for issuance of permits for gray water systems, with input from appropriate stakeholders.