With Senate Bill 536, the Florida Legislature is starting a process to quantify and recognize the important role of recycling our water supply in the overall management of our water resources.
Audubon has some concerns about this study including excess surface water and stormwater, but the fact is that we need to know how much water we have, how much we can expect and what sources it comes from.
Florida leads the nation in the amount of reclaimed water produced, but we could do so much more. As much as we are using we are also sending too much usable water to tide. In other words, we are throwing it away.
Today our reclaimed water is used primarily for irrigation, both agriculture and landscaping. We also have a few rehydration projects, where reclaimed water is used to rehydrate wetlands or other natural bodies.
This proposed study, due in December 2015, will help us understand how much reclaimed water we have, how it can be used and what needs to be done to help educate the public that treated right, water is just water. The water management districts have done much to encourage water recycling, but more can be done to increase the efficient use of this precious resource.
And they are sources of water that will help us ensure that we do not overuse our traditional ground or surface water. Because, however we decide to use those resources — including recycling our reclaimed water into drinking water — we still have to be mindful of the need to protect natural systems and public health. All of these sources are limited and all need to be used wisely. Although we have not come to the end of our resources, we can look to California to see the many ways that reclaimed water — they call it “purified” — has been applied to create desperately needed drinking water supplies.
California has been recycling its water supply for years and gained widespread acceptance. Even with this efficient use of water, they are still subject to the hardships of periodic drought, as is Florida.
In order to decide what we want to do, we need to know what we have. This study will help define our reclaimed resource. It will not tell us how to use it.
Mark Farrell, PE, is a former assistant executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and principal at WRA Engineering. He is the president of WaterReuseFL.