Water In, Cash Out

Purcellville Explores Water Reclamation Strategies

– By Valerie Cury

The Town of Purcellville, working with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is actively exploring ways to innovate its approach to municipal water managment, through water reclamation.

Water reclamation is a process whereby a municipality’s treated water is captured or managed in a way to allow a second bite at the apple – before it is absorbed back into the natural water cycle. Treated water that would be normally be returned to nature via safe discharge into a stream, for example, is diverted for a secondary use. Sometimes the water is treated and reused at a potable level – for drinking. But, in most cases the water is treated and reused for irrigation or recreation, to maintain and clean school buses and safety vehicles, for manufacturing, by highway systems workers, even at construction sites.

Depending on the specific strategies used, the secondary use may give the municipality an opportunity to generate revenue through sales, to reduce overall water management costs, and/or to better manage its water resources during times of drought or times of high usage. In this way, water reclamation can help lessen the pressure on groundwater resources and the environment.

In 2010 the Town invested tens of millions of dollars in a new and upgraded wastewater facility, anticipating that the growth to come – in the form of new homes and new tap fees – would not only absorb excess capacity, but pay for the new plant itself.

In recent years, however, the Town has tempered its taste for growth, with the result that – even at peak times – with an average daily wastewater flow of 575,000 gallons per day, the 1.5 million gallons per day plant is 60 percent underutilized.

Purcellville has also lost its taste for the plant’s massive $41 million debt – and the excessive water and sewer fees this over-capacity represents. Mayor Kwasi Fraser sees water reclamation efficiencies, not as an outright solution to that debt, but as an important tool the Town should consider in bringing balance back into the system. Municipal water is a Town asset, like any other. Fraser intends to maximize its value to the taxpayer. Said Fraser, “With over $115 million in assets owned by Purcellville, we are well positioned to pursue strategies to significantly reduce our debt burden and invest in our community without dependency on high taxes and out of character development. The more our assets can generate revenue, the less taxes and fees will be needed from our citizens.”

Purcellville currently discharges approximately 500,000 gallons of fully treated water into the natural bodies of water that serve the treatment plant. According to the DEQ – keeping in mind environmental considerations and other factors – 50,000 to 100,000 of that one-half million gallons of water may be available for reclamation; sold or otherwise reused as opposed to being discharged.

Conservative estimates put the value of that water to the Town at anywhere from $8 to $15 per 1,000 gallons, depending on the volume being purchased – by the hops farmer who needs water for her vines, or by the construction company that needs water for the production of cement or for dust containment.

At least one local agricultural operation has expressed an interest in purchasing Purcellville water. And, Fraser is of the opinion that a Town water reclamation effort built around service to the local agricultural community would be a win-win; economically, from a fiscal point of view, and culturally – as a way to show support for traditional ways of life in western Loudoun.

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