- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - A city-initiated pilot project will determine whether sewer water can be effectively used to keep grass green.

The test project, started earlier this month by employees in the Columbus Public Works Department, currently uses effluent water to irrigate a portion of the yard at the wastewater treatment plant.

But a long-term vision includes the possibility of reusing the wastewater from sinks, showers and toilets on the greens and fairways at Quail Run Golf Course.

Marty Eaton, the city’s wastewater treatment plant supervisor, told the Columbus Telegram the project was initiated as a way to keep grass green at the 759 S. 14th Ave. property through the hot, dry summer months.

“We get compliments on how the treatment plant looks,” he said, but the grass there tends to burn up around the time the calendar turns to July since a sprinkler system was never installed.

The solution to this problem might be right under their feet.

An average of 3.5 million to 4 million gallons of wastewater flows from local residences and businesses to the treatment plant each day. This water is disinfected to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality standards and pumped into the Loup River.

Eaton and other public works employees believe a portion of this water can be diverted and used for landscaping. So they built a makeshift irrigation system earlier this year to test that theory.

The system, pieced together using materials from multiple city departments, includes several sprinkler heads strung along about 600 feet of pipe stretched across a piece of the property. A small gasoline-powered pump and hoses feed water from the treatment system to the sprinkler setup, making the project a low-cost experiment.

“It’s water that we’re either going to pump down the river or we can try to utilize it and keep it here and put it back into the ground,” Eaton said.

One benefit provided by the pilot project is it doesn’t pull additional water from the city wells or deplete the municipal supply, which can be a precious commodity during drought years.

Eaton said the wastewater, which is treated further using an ultraviolet system during the months of May through September, when recreational activity on the Loup River is at its highest level, also contains valuable nutrients that promote plant growth.

These nutrients could reduce the city’s fertilizer costs at Quail Run if the project is expanded to the nearby golf course, said Annette Griffith, a laboratory technician at the wastewater treatment plant.

Columbus Public Property Director Doug Moore also supports the possibility of reusing water from the treatment plant to irrigate the 18-hole golf course.

“If we can make it work, that’d be great,” he said.

On average, it takes about 55 million gallons of water to irrigate Quail Run each year, according to Moore. That water comes from a small lake on the south side of the Loup River levee that also serves as a hazard for golfers.

Moore said the reclaimed water would likely be pumped into that lake if it’s used at the golf course.

Employees at the treatment plant plan to evaluate the pilot project at the end of the summer before a decision is made on whether an expansion is feasible.

Eaton said the treatment plant property includes about 29 acres of grass that could be irrigated.

However, that area will shrink over the coming years as the city moves forward with a multiphase plan to increase the plant’s treatment capacity and move additional equipment to the protected side of the Loup River levee.

An underground sprinkler system that irrigates the entire property using reclaimed water could be added as part of the treatment plant upgrades, according to Eaton.

“We’re always kind of looking into the future,” he said.

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Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com

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