The LOTT Clean Water Alliance wants its customers and the general public to view reclaimed wastewater as a resource, not something to dispose of at the end of a pipe.
Within the next decade, the amount of highly treated wastewater produced at the LOTT treatment plants in Olympia and Lacey could nearly double.
Already, the regional utility serving Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County sewer customers has committed to wastewater reuse and reclamation in a big way – more than 12 percent of the 4 billion gallons of effluent flowing through the two treatment plants last year met the state standards for Class A reclaimed water.
Community surveys conducted by LOTT more than 10 years ago showed that South Sound businesses and residents supported water conservation and wastewater reuse.
But LOTT officials are convinced there’s still a lot of public education and outreach required before the public grows really comfortable with multiple uses of water they once flushed down the toilet.
“We need to create a whole new level of strong acceptance of reclaimed water as a resource,” LOTT executive director Mike Strub said the other day. “We’re still in the early stages of doing that.”
The next big education campaign will come in the form of a more than $3 million project – financed by past and future sewer customers – in the East Bay Redevelopment area in downtown Olympia.
One piece of the project is the East Bay Public Plaza, a 0.7-acre parcel next to the Hands On Children’s Museum. The museum is under construction and set to open next year.
The public plaza will feature a shallow, recirculating stream of highly treated wastewater from LOTT’s nearby treatment plant. The public will actually be invited to wade in the water.
It’s LOTT’s way of showing people that the water is safe for public contact once it’s gone through a series of steps to filter, treat and disinfect it.
In fact, Class A reclaimed water has many uses. It’s a useful source of water for irrigating parks, ball fields and landscapes. Just about any use short of direct drinking water is applicable.
For instance, reclaimed water can be used to bolster groundwater supplies, wetlands and stream flows. The habitat values of reclaimed water will be on display across Jefferson Street from the public plaza at an 0.4-acre demonstration habitat site next to the LOTT headquarters.
Here a reclaimed water feature will be planted with a variety of wetland vegetation. The simulated wetland won’t be for wading, but it will reinforce the fact that reclaimed wastewater can help support natural habitats.
The LOTT project, which should be under construction in June, also is designed to remind people of the importance of water conservation. By utilizing reclaimed wastewater in a variety of ways, South Sound communities will be able to stretch their drinking water supplies, matching the type of water they use to actual needs.
It’s appropriate that the reclaimed water features will be built in close proximity to the children’s museum and LOTT’s new wastewater education center.
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s water and sewer customers. If they learn the importance of water conservation and reuse now, they will incorporate these practices into their adult lives.
Sitting here in the middle of a wet and soggy March, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Pacific Northwest has finite water supplies.
But as the community continues to grow, it will need to be increasingly water wise, leaving enough water in our streams and rivers for fish and keeping enough water in our aquifers to meet growing demand for potable water.
LOTT’s strategy of treating wastewater as a resource meshes well with stated community goals. It will be interesting in the years ahead to see how quickly and completely words turn into action.