Where Water Flows Underground

This photo is from the LOTT reclaimed water website. http://www.lottcleanwater.org/reclaimed.htm

This photo is from the LOTT reclaimed water website. http://www.lottcleanwater.org/reclaimed.htm

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance in Olympia is at the intersection many serious water issues in our region.

  • The Thurston County population continues to grow and therefore produce more wastewater.
  • For the health of South Puget Sound, LOTT is limited in how much wastewater it can discharge to Budd Inlet.
  • In order to avoid discharging treated wastewater into Budd Inlet, LOTT treats wastewater to almost drinkable quality (“Reclaimed Water”), and infiltrates it into the ground at a site up near Hawks Prairie.
  • A growing population requires adequate sources of water for drinking and many other uses.
  • Most basins in Thurston County are closed to new water rights, and some streamflows are low compared to historical levels.
  • Groundwater is connected to surface water.

Once reclaimed water infiltrates into the Hawks Prairie site and to two other proposed new sites, it will move with groundwater and into the vicinity of drinking water wells.  Reclaimed water will be treated as it moves underground, and it will eventually find its way to nearby streams and to the Deschutes River.  This could be very beneficial for augmenting stream and river flows.  However some residual chemicals may remain in reclaimed water.  These chemicals would come from household products like medicines, shampoos, and cleaning products.  Imagine you are a fish swimming in the Deschutes River.  You could be swimming in the last traces of ibuprofen, Mr. Clean, and Dial soap left in LOTT’s reclaimed water. Imagine pouring water from your tap.  Though drinkable, it could have the smallest trace of other people’s antibiotic prescriptions, bathroom cleaner, and Head and Shoulders.   These chemicals may already be in groundwater and surface water, because thousands of septic tanks are in the ground in Thurston County.  Septic tank waste is not nearly as thoroughly treated as reclaimed water, but it too will eventually connect to groundwater.

Reclaimed water could be a very good tool for water conservation, but it is a new tool in Thurston County.  LOTT is currently planning a study to determine if residual chemicals remain in reclaimed water as it moves through groundwater and eventually to streams.  You can find a link to the study plan at http://www.lottcleanwater.org/pdf/groundwater.pdf.  As a representative of the Tribe, I sit on the science task force for the reclaimed water infiltration study. The role of the science task force and also a community advisory group and independent peer review team is to provide input on the planning and implementation of the study.

To support the tribe’s treaty reserved right to harvest, salmon need good spawning habitat and an adequate supply of clean water.  In some streams, there is not enough water. LOTT’s reclaimed water may help increase flows, but the chemical content of that water when it reaches streams is unknown. Also unknown are the potential effects on animals and plants in the water and on humans. The results of this study will turn those unknowns into solid information and answers.