Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance highlights more opportunities for water reuse: report

For those monitoring the health of the Edwards Aquifer, Barton Springs serves as one indicator.

Last month, FOX 7 was there when crews stopped by to take inflow measurements.

At that time, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District dodged a move into Stage IV drought, but it’s something they continue to monitor, even with recent rains.

"It was good for the plants and the trees. They definitely perked up, but I don't know that it was enough to really replenish any aquifers," said Tim Loftus, general manager for BSEACD.

The Edwards and Trinity Aquifers, which serve the Hill Country and beyond, are the focus of a recent report that offers a partial solution. 

"Reusing treated wastewater not only safeguards existing water supplies, but it also protects water quality by reducing the drawdown of aquifers and by keeping wastewater effluent out of streambeds in the first place," said Rachel Hanes, policy director for the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.

According to the EPA, sources of water that can be potentially reused include stormwater, agriculture runoff and municipal wastewater.

One action encouraged in the report is creating wastewater reuse districts in Comal County and the Hill Country. 

"A district like this would grant the new district or districts the authority to buy and collect wastewater, treat it, and then distribute it for reuse, selling within or outside the district's boundaries," said Hanes. "It could locate its reuse infrastructure near large water demand industries, or in the fast-growing areas of the county before those areas are built out." 

One specific suggestion would be creating a "purple pipe" network along the quarries in Comal County, reducing the demand for groundwater. Loftus noted that would be a great way to recycle water.

"I don't know, as the report suggests, that we need another new local unit of government or reuse district to make that happen," said Loftus. "It obviously points out at a higher level an important opportunity and need for reuse, and so then it gets to the matter of the devil being in the details - how do we get there? How do we incentivize reuse?"

RELATED: 'Stage 4 exceptional drought' for Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer held off for now

The report noted some Central Texas cities and utility districts that already utilize some form of water reuse.

In Lakeway, the municipal utility district was one of the first in the state to implement a system. 

According to the general manager, Lakeway MUD has 37 reuse customers and has several HOAs reuse water along with two golf courses.

Overall Lakeway MUD saves about 30% of its potable water because of reuse, about 275 million gallons per year.

The City of Round Rock has been using recycled water for irrigation since the late 1990s.

"What we're doing is once we've treated the wastewater, instead of discharging it all into Brushy Creek, we are taking some of it before that and we're treating it," said Michale Thane, director of utilities and environmental services.

At one point, Dell Diamond was the only professional ball field in the country using reclaimed water.

Reused water is no longer used to irrigate the field, but is used for other parts of the stadium. Recycled water is also used by multiple entities throughout the city, including the Kalahari Resort which uses it for its cooling towers.

In August, around 38 million gallons of potable water was used a day in Round Rock compared to about 4 million gallons a day of water reuse.

Round Rock’s wastewater treatment plant is located on the southeast side of the City which limits access, but Thane said the City plans to continue to expand its reach.

"I think this is part of our overall master plan to meet the future needs of our city," said Thane. "It's a good system, and it really adds more resiliency, more diversity to our water supply." 

To read the full GEAA report, click here.

To read a summary, click here.