Healdsburg giving recycled water away for free
It will help keep gardens growing and lawns from going brown. And it’s free.
In a first for Sonoma County, Healdsburg has obtained permission for people to haul highly treated recycled water from its sewer treatment plant and use it on vegetable gardens and ornamental landscaping.
With California in the grip of an epic, four-year drought, there is a push to expand the use of recycled water for irrigation, something that has been done for decades in parts of the county to grow hay and grapes and keep office parks and sports fields green.
But Healdsburg, along with an increasing number of communities, is taking it one step further with a program that allows residents to haul away reclaimed water - in this case ranging in amounts from one to 300 gallons - and use it on their turf and plants, including fruits, vegetables and herbs. The only caveat is that anything eaten be washed with drinking water prior to consumption.
There are similar reclaimed water hauling programs established in Dublin and San Ramon that have proven highly popular, with residents lining up to bring home the purified wastewater.
The Sonoma County Water Agency also is pursuing a similar programs in Sonoma Valley and at the wastewater plant that serves the county airport and Larkfield-Wikiup area. Those are expected to gain approval within the next couple of months.
And the North Marin Water District last month opened a residential recycled water fill station at its treatment plant in Novato.
“It’s a good drought response and it helps with recycled water acceptance,” said Chris DeGabriele, general manager of the North Marin District. “Some folks may be a little leery of using recycled water. This helps more people get accustomed to it. They see their neighbors using it and there’s less concern.”
Reclaimed water until now has pretty much been delivered through purple pipe networks, whether to irrigate vineyards in the Carneros region, water lawns in a Windsor subdivision, or to flush toilets at Windsor High School and River Rock Casino near Geyserville.
It’s hauled off in tanker trucks to control dust at construction sites and on logging roads and is also mixed into compost. And reclaimed water also has been employed to restore two huge salt ponds near the Napa River to marsh habitat.
But with state residents under a mandate to cut water use by ?25 percent, and many cities imposing tight restrictions on outdoor water use, it’s being eyed increasingly as a substitute for potable water in irrigating lawns and gardens, which can account for more than half of household water use in summer.
“Recycled water is essentially our only new source of water during a drought,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency. “This is a fantastic way to utilize the recycled water we are producing at our local treatment plants and put it to immediate good use.”
He added that it is “an immediate offset from our Russian River water supply, which we are carefully managing during the drought.”
Healdsburg, which draws most of its municipal water from wells along the Russian River, recently cut back the days residents are allowed to water their yards and plants to two days a week. But recycled water is exempt.
“The beauty of recycled water is you use it twice, or more than twice,” said Healdsburg Mayor Shaun McCaffery. “The more we can use recycled water, the more we can offset potable water use.”
The city two weeks ago received approval from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board for the residential trucking program, which debuts Wednesday at the city’s treatment plant at 340 Foreman Lane.
Healdsburg had to submit engineering reports and other studies to show water regulators the “near-drinkable” recycled water - which is processed through three levels of treatment and disinfected with ultraviolet light and chlorine - is safe for residents to use.
The bureaucratic delay initially frustrated city officials who wanted to start the residential hauling program earlier in the summer and believed the state already had plenty of data on the quality of the effluent after approving an earlier vineyard irrigation program.
Healdsburg Utility Director Terry Crowley said “it’s not allowed to be used as drinking water. But it’s very clean water.”
He said that if tested in a lab, it would meet federal and state drinking water standards, although it has a level of chlorine that is lower than what is typically in drinking water.
“We’re still a ways away from going directly from treatment facility to the tap,” said Matt St. John, executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, who said the primary concern is pathogens in the treated water.