A pipe at the Westport Wastewater Treatment Plant in Port St. Lucie is painted purple to indicate it carries reclaimed water. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY jENNIFER TOMES, PORT ST. LUCIE UTILITIES)

Using fertilizer and reclaimed water together wastes money and pollutes Indian River Lagoon

Florida - Everyone agrees: Using reuse water is a great thing. Everyone also agrees: Using it incorrectly can harm natural water bodies, including the Indian River Lagoon.

So Florida has designated May 19-25 as Water Reuse Week to educate the public.

Perhaps the most important things people need to know about using reuse water is:

  • Don't use fertilizer at the same time. Reuse water contains enough nitrogen and phosphorus to make your grass green, so all the nutrients in fertilizer will just wash off into waterways, wasting money and possibly causing toxic algae blooms.
  • It's significantly cheaper than using potable water.
  • It conserves drinking water reserves in our depleting aquifers.
  • It's the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of wastewater.

Know the basics

First things first, what is reuse water?

  • Water from our homes and businesses that's received at least secondary treatment and basic disinfection at a wastewater plant and is reused.

How is reuse water used?

  • Mostly (55%) for irrigating golf courses, residences, highway and street medians and other landscaped areas
  • By cities to wash cars, flush toilets and maintain ponds and fountains
  • By industry and businesses for water at power plants and processing and/or washing needs
  • Irrigating crops and pastures
  • Creating and enhancing wetlands
  • Recharging groundwater

How is it not used?

  • Drinking, cooking, bathing, watering pets or livestock, filling swimming pools

Beats alternatives

The booming population also is producing more wastewater; and reusing it is better than the alternatives:

  • Sending it 3,000 feet underground via deep injection wells, which many utilities do in addition to reuse
  • Sending it into the ocean, which six Florida utilities — two each in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — still do, although they're supposed to stop by 2025 according to a law the Legislature passed in 2008

Florida leads the nation in water reuse, with 813 million gallons used per day:

  • The South Florida Water Management District, which includes Martin and St. Lucie counties, produces 295 million gallons of reuse water per day.
  • The St. Johns Water Management District, which includes Indian River County, produces more than 223 million gallons a day.

See:SFWMD's presentation on Water Reuse Week

Expansion of the North Hutchinson Island Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2016 increased reclaimed water storage from 1.5 million gallons to 2.55 million gallons.

Expansion of the North Hutchinson Island Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2016 increased reclaimed water storage from 1.5 million gallons to 2.55 million gallons. (Photo: Photo contributed by St/ Lucie County)

The Vero Beach Water and Sewer Department, for example, treats about 3.2 million gallons of water a day, said Director Robert "Rob" Bolton, and between 88% to 95% of it is reused.

"The only time wastewater isn't reused is when we have a lot of rain and there's no demand for it," Bolton said. "Otherwise, all of it gets reused — most of it by our city parks and by residences and golf courses on the barrier island."

Treatment at sewage plants doesn't remove the water's nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus.

"It's basically water with free fertilizer in it," Widder said.

Treatment cuts the amount of nitrogen in reuse water, Bolton said, "to about the amount IFAS (the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) says you need on most grass."

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