Don’t Let Wastewater Go to Waste

If we want to see more developments use better ways to treat wastewater, it helps to give them incentives to do so. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently did just that when it created a new credit for the beneficial reuse of wastewater for landscape irrigation and other purposes.

Beneficial reuse is especially important in areas with limited options for getting rid of wastewater. The most common way to dispose of sewage is to pipe it to a central plant, which then dumps partially treated wastewater into the nearest stream. But this option, direct discharge, is banned in some areas because it could contaminate drinking water or harm sensitive ecology.

Alternative treatments for wastewater must be used in these areas.

In the Hill Country, this includes a 10-mile zone around Lake Travis, as well as parts of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In these areas, many developments dispose of their wastewater through an option called land application. Under previous TCEQ rules, they were required to set aside large fields of vacant land for the sole purpose of being irrigated with wastewater. But as land prices have soared in Central Texas, this option has become increasingly expensive.

The new TCEQ rule address this problem by encouraging new developments to use another way to dispose of wastewater: beneficial reuse. Many developments already use wastewater to irrigate landscaped grounds, including golf courses, athletic fields, parks, and street medians. In fact, wastewater can be reused for many purposes — such as toilet flushing or fire protection — that don’t require drinking-quality water.

Developments that take advantage of the new reuse credit won’t be required to set aside as much land for wastewater application. If they take full advantage of the credit, they can reduce the required amount by up to 50 percent. The credit is available to developments that want to use both land application and beneficial reuse anywhere in the state.

Texas is facing increased demand for our water supplies because of population growth and climate change. It doesn’t make sense to use our best water for purposes that don’t need it. By reusing wastewater for purposes like parks and toilets, high-quality water can be conserved for purposes like drinking and bathing.

For more information on TCEQ’s new beneficial reuse credit, read this press release from the City of Austin, this article from the Austin Chronicle, and this explainer from TCEQ.