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Reclaimed Water: Is It Safe?

Reclaimed water: Is it safe?

The City of Flagstaff has been a leader in the direct use of reclaimed water since the 1960s. In fact, reclaimed water accounts for about 20% of our total water use each year. We have made significant investments in our treatment technology to provide the highest quality reclaimed water. Still, many people have questions and concerns about the safety of this resource.

As a result, the City has undertaken several efforts to develop a water policy for the community and explore the potential issues associated with using reclaimed water. One such issue is the presence of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) — pharmaceuticals, personal care products, endocrine disrupters, and antibiotic resistance genes — in reclaimed water. In 2013, we convened an Advisory Panel to help us understand what CECs mean to Flagstaff. The Panel, which consists of 12 local, state, and nationally recognized researchers, scientists, and industry professionals, released an Interim Report outlining its findings and recommendations and is expected to release an update in 2017.

CEC concentrations are very, very low in Flagstaff’s water — as they are in most communities. To put this into perspective, you would have to drink tens to hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of glasses of water to get the equivalent of a single medical dose (one pill) of a pharmaceutical compound. Nevertheless, the City organized a panel presentation in 2011 to help answer some key questions:

  • What risks does the use of reclaimed water pose to human health?
  • What are the best management practices regarding the use and management of reclaimed water within Arizona and around the U.S.?
  • What is the regulatory framework (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) for reclaimed water quality?
  • What are the new advances in treatment technologies for reclaimed water? What are the benefits and costs associated with these technologies?
  • What do we know about trace concentrations of compounds that have been found in reclaimed water but are not regulated by ADEQ or the EPA?

Advisory Panel Update

Click here to view the May 2014 CEC Advisory Panel Update. This document summarizes our our review of findings in the Interim Report, provides a status update from the Research Subcommittee, and presents the "next steps" for the Advisory Panel.

Presentations from December 2011 Water Forum