By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A portion of Norman’s wastewater could be shifted from the Canadian River to a tributary that feeds Lake Thunderbird in the not-so-distant future.
Recently, legislation encouraging reuse and requiring the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to respond promptly to reuse applications was passed unanimously by the Oklahoma Senate.
Senate Bill 1187, authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, establishes state policy to facilitate water reuse projects and establishes permitting requirements.
“Conservation and reuse can help us make more efficient use of one of our most important natural resources,” said Standridge, R-Norman. “Projects like this will also enable important upgrades to our water infrastructure and expand our supply of safe, local water. This will allow for continued growth and development for our regional economies and help secure our water needs for future generations.”
Norman is at the forefront of municipalities that have shown an interest in reuse as a means of reclaiming water to augment lakes that serve as water sources.
“It’s good to have this legislation introduced and create dialogue between the regulatory agencies and the cities that need reuse,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “We’re very encouraged by the new leadership at DEQ and we’re excited about working with them on this issue.”
The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District that manages Thunderbird for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requested reclaimed water from Norman’s sanitary sewer system to augment the lake.
The water would be treated to a higher level than it is currently treated prior to discharge because of the shorter distance from possible discharge points to the lake.
Currently, Norman’s reclaimed wastewater is discharged into the Canadian River and eventually feeds into Lake Eufaula, which serves as that city’s water supply. As the water makes its way downstream, nature finishes the cleaning process that’s started at Norman’s Water Reclamation plant.
The reclaimed water mingles with water from the river and is diluted even further when it enters the lake, then it undergoes additional treatment before ending up as city tap water — it’s the urbanization of nature’s water cycle.
Other forms of reuse could help cities like Norman conserve precious treated drinking water. Norman already uses reclaimed water at the city’s reclamation facility and the University of Oklahoma uses reclaimed water at the golf course.
Norman also has requested a permit to allow for reclaimed water to be used on the city’s compost. Currently, potable water is used to keep the compost piles damp as required to keep the microbes alive that convert organic matter such as leaves and grass cuttings into compost people can put on their gardens.
Previously, Norman’s application for reuse of water on the compost piles had appeared to hit a dead end, but Komiske said emerging dialogue with the new leadership at DEQ indicates the agency will be receptive to city’s needs and will provide clear feedback on what requirements must be met to ensure the reclaimed water is used safely and appropriately.
Komiske said many states have reuse policies that allow for a variety of applications and Oklahoma doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“We can learn from (other states),” Komiske said.
Standridge said SB 1187 does not mandate reuse but enables water districts to undertake projects more efficiently. The bill now advances to the House for consideration. Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, is the house author of the bill.
Standridge said the bill is a work in progress that could be amended with more input from the experts and officials. Right now, the bill requires DEQ to respond to reuse permit requests within 90 days. Some officials fear that may not be enough time for the agency to respond appropriately.
“This is about finding a solution,” Standridge said. “What has been fostered in this process is a spirit of working together.”
Standridge has said he is committed to “get people in the room (who) actually know what they’re talking about and don’t micromanage them.”
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