On Wednesday, December 18, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adopted new rules for the disposal of treated wastewater effluent by land application. In 2016, Austin petitioned the TCEQ to consider rule changes that would encourage beneficial use of treated wastewater effluent for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation of parks and medians or for toilet flushing within buildings. Beneficial reuse of wastewater effluent, which is often referred to as “reclaimed water,” helps protect water quality while achieving water conservation. It is also more cost-effective for public and private entities that employ land application for wastewater management.
In some environmentally sensitive areas, treated wastewater effluent has been disposed of by irrigation on fields dedicated for this purpose. This is referred to as land application. Like direct discharges of wastewater effluent to a stream, this practice is regulated by TCEQ. Although cities, utility districts, and developers could also use the effluent or reclaimed water to irrigate other areas like parks and medians, previous TCEQ regulations for land application did not provide any regulatory incentive to pursue beneficial reuse. Wastewater service providers were still required to set aside the same amount of land area for effluent disposal, which was a disincentive for greater beneficial reuse of reclaimed water for non-potable purposes. The new rules allow developers to reduce their dedicated fields if the treated effluent is consistently being used for irrigation of other areas.
The TCEQ Commissioners on Wednesday revised state rules to implement these revisions sought by the City of Austin. Austin’s proposal was developed collaboratively with input from regional environmental advocates, cities and utility districts, developers, and experts in wastewater management. The process leading to the adoption of the rule changes was initiated in August 2015 by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell.
There is more information on the Agenda Item Request (pdf).