Population growth linked to potential for consumptive use of reclaimed water

By Zach Gray | gargoyle@flagler.edu

St. Augustine resident Michael Shirley is no stranger to stringent water conservation efforts.

Originally from an arid part of west Texas, Shirley understands that water is a finite resource. What he does not understand is what he considers to be wasteful habits by many in St. Augustine.

“Back home, people were so conscious about their usage,” he said. “Here in St. Augustine, people have their sprinklers on when it’s raining.”
Shirley is not alone.

A growing population, coupled with bad habits, has local officials concerned that at some point, reclaimed waste water will be needed for consumptive use.

According to The New York Times, the “toilet to tap” idea is inevitably the new direction in United States water regulation, especially in states like Nevada and Arizona, where populations have exploded and natural water sources are limited.

Locally, natural sources are more abundant. However, Florida’s population is expected to continue its usual growth pattern over the next several years. The state currently ranks fourth in total population. Additionally, Florida, California and Texas will account for about 46 percent of the nation’s population growth between 2000 and 2030, according to ProximityOne’s demographic projections.

Reuben Franklin, a project engineer for the City of St. Augustine, says that local water habits are more liberal because the “toilet to tap” notion is not yet a pressing issue. However, Franklin also noted that if more responsible conservation efforts are not made, consumptive use will quickly become a major discussion.

“We do have regulations through the St. Johns Water Management District, and right now it’s really only used locally for irrigation purposes,” he said. “But if current trends in population and conservation efforts continue- and they probably will- people will have to get over the big stigma attached to consumptive use.”

Additionally, Franklin says that as Florida’s drinking water supply becomes more of a concern, reclaimed waste water for consumptive use will more than likely trump more stringent conservation measures.

“There is no question that technology can produce reclaimed water to fit state and federal standards for consumptive use,” he said.

Currently, finances are the only thing preventing local consideration of consumptive use, says Melissa Southwell, an assistant science professor at Flagler College.

“The question is whether or not it is better to institute more strict conservation efforts or finance technology,” she said.

Southwell agrees with Franklin’s opinion that the consumptive use of reclaimed water is probable in Florida.

However, the former Texan believes that a more conscious approach could solve the problem.

“It seems like people here think that because the state is blessed with natural resources, it is okay to be more unaware of how much they use,” he said. “We should at least make a more concerted effort to see what happens. I certainly don’t want to be drinking toilet water.”

Unfortunately for Shirley and others like him, it appears that toilet water will one day be flowing from our taps.

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