- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia is preparing to initiate a water-recycling program to irrigate parks, lawns and crops, cool industrial equipment, wash cars and streets, and flush toilets.

The state is drafting water-reuse regulations after consulting with engineers, health specialists, environmentalists and golf-course superintendents.

The draft regulations are expected to be considered in December, with a permitting system in place as early as next spring.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time, but we’re very supportive of the concept and believe it’s going to happen,” said Ellen Gilinsky, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s director of water programs.

Under the system, sewage plants would remove pathogens and other health risks from tainted wastewater.

The reclaimed water would be piped to industries, farms, golf courses, local governments and other customers for a fee. They then would use the water for many daily tasks, but not for drinking or cooking.

Recycled water would cost less than drinking water, and less water would have to be withdrawn from lakes, rivers and wells, thus conserving these raw supplies and better protecting the state from drought.

In addition, sewage plants would discharge less wastewater into public waterways, such as the Chesapeake Bay, which already suffer from too many nutrients and other pollutants found in treated effluent.

“If you want a silver bullet for the Chesapeake Bay, this could be it,” said Donnie Wheeler, general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, a public agency that each day handles millions of gallons of household and industrial sewage in southeastern Virginia.

Mr. Wheeler noted how Florida, a national leader in water recycling, virtually has stopped discharging treated sewage — with powerful ecological results.

In California and Florida, reuse programs started more than a decade ago primarily as environmentally friendly ways to irrigate farms and cropland.

Raw water was becoming scarce in both states, and they needed a method to feed their substantial agriculture bases.

Virginia, too, is a farm state but hasn’t experienced serious water shortages.

“It’s still cheaper to tap into a nearby creek or stream” than to invest in a water recycling project, said Tim Coughlin, manager of capital programs for the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority and former chairman of the Virginia Water Reuse Committee.

“Economics are not on our side yet,” he added. “But that, too, is changing.”

Mr. Coughlin said several projects at golf courses in Northern Virginia and one at a chicken farm in the Shenandoah Valley died because the costs proved too high.

But when state rules take effect and provide some predictability to investors, “I think you’ll see things start to move a lot faster,” he said.

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