The four-year scientific study, estimated to cost roughly $4.2 million, is designed to answer questions about where and how much reclaimed wastewater can be safely injected into the region’s groundwater supplies.
Applicants are sought to join a citizens group that will ensure the study addresses community concerns, said Karla Fowler, LOTT director of community relations and environmental policy.
The sewer partners from Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County have a 20-year wastewater plan that relies heavily on reusing reclaimed wastewater and infiltrating it into the groundwater at sites selected around the county. One such operation already exists in Hawks Prairie.
However, before LOTT can expand the program, it must conduct more detailed studies of the interaction between reclaimed wastewater and groundwater to determine whether it can be done on a larger scale without compromising the region’s drinking water supplies.
Thurston County residents and businesses rely on groundwater almost exclusively for their drinking water.
When the Thurston County commissioners approved revisions to the county’s critical-areas ordinance last month, they decided to delay new regulations about reclaimed wastewater introduced to the groundwater until after the LOTT study is complete.
Earlier drafts of the ordinance would have prohibited LOTT from discharging treated wastewater in the ground in areas with less than a five-year travel time to water wells serving three or more customers. That would have derailed the LOTT wastewater-management plan.
Instead, all the parties agreed to move forward with the study before expanding the wastewater-infiltration program.
One of the areas of concern is minute concentrations of unregulated contaminants such as personal-care products and pharmaceuticals, which have been detected in treated wastewater.
The LOTT board of directors, consisting of elected officials from the four jurisdictions, are expected to pick 12-16 residents to serve on the advisory committee.
Applicants don’t need knowledge or experience with wastewater or reclaimed water, but they should have an interest in the topic and a willingness to learn, Fowler said.
During the initial phase of the study, the advisory group is likely to meet at least five times in the evenings, beginning in October, Fowler said.