Fairview treated water is just right for irrigation
Ultra-efficient water treatment turns reclaimed water into a resource
By James Tilson
FAIRVIEW—The city of Fairview uses a method of treating its waste water that makes the end product work “just like Miracle Grow.”
Justin Jackson, the water superintendent for Fairview, says the filtering system Fairview uses is so efficient that the water that comes out of the system, which has too much phosphates and nitrates for culinary water, is ideal for irrigation.
“In order for the city to meet the state’s phosphates limit rule, the city could chemically treat the water, or it could land-apply the water, where the plants in the ground eat the phosphates,” says Jackson. “The water that comes out of our treatment facility is just like Miracle Grow.”
According to Jackson, Fairview decided to use its treated water to irrigate city property a year and a half ago. The water will be applied to the city cemetery and the sports and recreation parks. At this time, the water will not be available for use anywhere but city property.
The reason Fairview’s treatment facility is so efficient comes down the filters they use in their treatment facility. Jackson says the facility uses a membrane bio reactor (MBR), which filters the waste water down to 1 micron. A micron is equal to one millionth of a meter. One inch has 25,000 microns.
The MBR was installed in 2004. The MBR is so efficient, it cleans the water to a level that is significantly lower than most Utah cities’ drinking water levels. In fact, MBR was developed in Japan, where it is used to reclaim waste water for use as drinking water. However, MBR is not used for that purpose in the United States.
Six other locations in Utah also use MBR. One of those is the Norbest plant in Moroni. The city of Santaquin uses MBR, and also uses the reclaimed water to irrigate its city property. Santaquin then will sell its extra water to Young Living Farms for their irrigation purposes.
The MBR is the preferred method by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). According to Jackson, the DEQ likes that MBR allows cities to use the reclaimed water in irrigation, and not put the phosphates and nitrates into rivers. The only addition the DEQ requires is the use of chlorine to rid the water of any pathogens.
The DEQ also likes the water conservation aspect of the MBR. By using the reclaimed water for irrigation, it alleviates demand on other sources of water. This makes it better than chemical treatment, which cannot be reused. Jackson says chemical treatment also runs the risk of dangerous error.
Jackson notes most other U.S. cities using the MBR have turned their reclaimed water into a commodity, for example, by having farmers lease city property to use the water. “The sewer treatment plant produces a commodity,” says Jackson. “Why are we not utilizing all of our resources?”
Jackson tells how cities outside of Utah, such as San Diego, Denver and Texas, have taken their reclaimed water and, by adding a reverse osmosis system to their treatment, have sold their water to beer breweries. “These cities have turned their waste water into a next-level commodity, instead of a burden on the community. Ideally, these systems will eventually pay for themselves.”
Jackson notes the decision to use the reclaimed water for irrigation of city property is still in its first steps, and has not been utilized yet. Fairview is currently in the final stages of engineering, and scheduled to finish in 2022.
The plan is to apply the water to city property only. If there is any left over, the city “may” sell it to area farmers. However, to do so would require a “best practices” contract, with supervision, in order to eliminate phosphate and nitrate saturation. And the water could only be used on city property.
Jackson says one irrigation company has approached the city for use of the reclaimed water. The city is hesitant to go forward with sale of the water to an irrigation company because of “a lot of legal stuff to work out.”
However, Jackson thinks having a hydroponic farm lease property from the city would be ideal. The farm could be placed on leased city property, and would use only a limited amount of water. Jackson even thinks a medical marijuana farm would offer the best return on investment, even though he hasn’t received much positive feedback from the city.