Flush it and forget it is no longer the attitude in East Valley cities.
While residents may think little about what happens to the water they use to wash dishes, clothes or the dog, water officials are clamoring for more ways to treat and reuse wastewater.
Every East Valley city is either expanding existing reclaimed water plants or building new ones to keep up with the increasing rush of wastewater from sewer pipes.
"We clean it up and use it in as many ways as we can," said Dick Bradford, Mesa's assistant water division director. "It is a commodity we want to keep in Mesa as much as possible."
Instead of sending wastewater down a river or wash, East Valley cities are investing millions of dollars to treat and deliver reclaimed water for a multitude of uses. By recycling treated effluent for use on golf courses, parks, roadside landscaping, and even indoor fire sprinkler systems, communities are trying to conserve limited drinking water.
"You're in a desert. Why waste it?" asked Jim Clune, director of water quality treatment for Scottsdale, where the city's water campus is undergoing a more than $15 million expansion. "It's a valuable resource."
Gilbert and Chandler have no choice but to find uses for wastewater. Both municipalities lack access to a major river or wash where they could discharge wastewater. As a result, Gilbert and Chandler have two of the most extensive distribution systems for reclaimed water in the East Valley, and they are getting bigger.
Chandler is two years into a project to build about 25 miles of pipeline taking treated wastewater to subdivisions, parks and golf courses. The city also is building an 80-acre recharge facility off of Lindsay and Chandler Heights roads. Gilbert continues to expand a system that is already 25 miles long and is projected to more than double in size, said Kathy Rall, Gilbert's water resource manager.
Before 1996, Gilbert relied totally on groundwater, a road block to conservation efforts, Rall said. But today, Gilbert has ordinances that require effluent to be used in all developments with more than 5 acres of turf.
"The fact that we are replenishing the aquifer is the main benefit here," she said. "Reclaimed water is not dirty, it is very useful and it plays an important role in the (water) supply."
Besides shipping treated wastewater off for landscaping purposes, communities store the water in recharge basins or pump it into wells in the ground. The practice can earn communities credits from the state, which they can use to pump drinking water from the ground in the future.
Chandler is digging the last two of its nine aquifer recharge wells to accommodate high demand for treated wastewater. As growth continues, boosting daily wastewater flows by about 1 million gallons each year, developers want that low-cost water treated and sent back to them for use on common areas in their subdivisions.
Next year, however, Chandler will begin sending more wastewater to the Gila River Indian Community in exchange for Central Arizona Project water, an agreement that will further reduce the supply of effluent.
"We need to make sure we have enough water," Siegel said. "We just don't want to over-commit."
Exchanges like the one between Chandler and Gila River reflect how valuable treated wastewater has become, city water officials say.
In Tempe, where the city plans to expand its water reclamation plant, treated wastewater used on Ken McDonald Golf Course allows the city to supply Town Lake with CAP water. In Mesa, wastewater is being exchanged for land that will be used to build a massive water reclamation plant off of Greenfield and Queen Creek roads, which will be shared by Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek.
The plant, which will be completed in 2007, will treat 16 million gallons each day, and could expand to 56 million gallons in the next 40 years, Bradford said.
Mesa will use the plant to exchange reclaimed water with Gila River for CAP water, he said. Gilbert officials say they plan to send wastewater to a recharge basin on site that will resemble the wetlands project Gilbert built near Greenfield and Guadalupe roads for wildlife and recreation. Queen Creek officials haven't decided how to handle their reclaimed water.
"Reclaimed water is the next water resource that has to be developed to maintain our quality of life," said Paul Kinshella, wastewater engineering superintendent for Phoenix, which operates a plant on 91st Avenue in Phoenix that is shared by Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale, Glendale and Phoenix. "It's the right quality of water for the right purpose."