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City of Phoenix seeks to make wastewater into drinking water

Scottsdale has been making wastewater drinkable for more than 20 years, but the water has yet to make it to taps as the state works on regulations.

PHOENIX — The City of Phoenix is the latest municipality seeking to treat wastewater and make it into drinking water. It comes as the state is working to formulate regulations to allow this kind of water to be used in taps. 

Once Phoenix's facility is built and up and running, the goal would be to pump out 60 million gallons a day.  

"It's almost half of what we would normally serve for the Colorado River," said Troy Hayes, water services director for the City of Phoenix.

The city still has years to go to make the idea a reality, but is planning to start taking steps to get other cities involved, and mapping out what the likely multibillion-dollar facility would look like. 

"Essentially, what we would be doing is taking water that we would normally be discharging to the Salt River, pipe that to an advanced water treatment facility, treat that to levels, you know, that are comparable to bottled water, and then deliver that to customers," Hayes said.

Right now, the goal is 2030 to get the facility capable of that up and running. 

However, the idea of turning wastewater into drinking water isn't new. It's been done in Scottsdale since 1998.  

"Traditionally, what we've been doing is putting that back into our aquifer," said Brian Biesemeyer, executive director of Scottsdale Water. 

Right now, Scottsdale is treating 20 million gallons a day out of its water campus, but it's not going to taps yet. 

After a prohibition was lifted in 2018, Biesemeyer said Scottsdale was the first facility to get a permit for direct potable reuse. 

Part of the efforts to spread the word on recycled, drinkable water led to Scottsdale giving water to breweries to make beer. 

RELATED: Recycled Scottsdale water brewed into beer for Canal Convergence festival

Biesemeyer said the process the city goes through to clean the water, is just speeding up what's a natural process. 

"We always have a few folks that are really hesitant. But normally at the end of the day when we introduce it, and we talk to them about how we treat it, all the safeguards -- we win them over," Biesemeyer said. 

As for when it could come to taps, Biesemeyer said it could be as soon as 2025.

That will depend on the regulations that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) said are in the works. 

"We've been working for almost a year now to ensure that direct potable reuse is an option for Arizona," said Trever Baggiore, director of the ADEQ Water Quality Division. 

Baggiore said other states like Colorado, Texas, and California have or are working on direct potable reuse regulations.

A technical advisory group has been working for a few months to put details into place for the rules and regulations in Arizona. After their report is out, and a draft framework is released in mid-2023, Baggiore believes the final rules will be in place by the end of 2024. 

Those rules will make sure the recycled water meets certain standards. 

"That means there needs to be engineering controls in the system to prevent cross-contamination, there needs to be specific standards that they constantly monitor and measure against to protect public health. There also needs to be operated regulations, right, the people who are running these systems need to be trained appropriately," Baggiore said. 


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