As in other retirement villages, the yards of the Homestead at Mansfield boast lush grass and clipped shrubs. But unlike the lawns of any other community in New Jersey, they will soon be kept green by recycled toilet water.
MANSFIELD, N.J. As in other retirement villages, the yards of the Homestead at Mansfield boast lush grass and clipped shrubs. But unlike the lawns of any other community in New Jersey, they will soon be kept green by recycled toilet water.
Each day, about 140,000 to 160,000 gallons of flushed toilet water, along with water from shower and sink drains, will be cleansed at the village's upgraded sewage plant before being pumped into Homestead's irrigation pond, which feeds its system of underground sprinklers.
"When we have a dry spell, it (the pond) kinda runs out, so this is a good thing for us," said Joe Lawrence, president of the homeowners association.
That happened as recently as last year when a lack of rain deprived the pond of its only source of water.
Lawrence, a former business administrator for Bordentown when it built a sewage plant, approached Homestead's sewage plant operator several years ago with the idea to use recycled water.
The pond, which now is replenished by rain and runoff from the street, could be filled with treated wastewater by next summer, Lawrence said. Treated wastewater that is not needed for the pond will be discharged into a nearby creek, the same creek where all of the water goes now.
The treated water contains less bacteria than storm water runoff and will be tested regularly to ensure compliance with permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to the operators of the sewage plant, Applied Water 4Management Inc., a unit of American Water.
Treated wastewater, also known as reclaimed or recycled water, has been used to preserve scarce drinking water in the arid Southwest for decades, as well as in California and Florida.
Voorhees-based American Water, among the nation's largest providers of water and treatment services, said reclaimed water is a tiny but growing part of its business.
Environmentalists, however, said reclaimed water raises concerns about sprawling development and potential contamination to groundwater.
Reclaimed water is often used for irrigating golf courses and for industrial cooling systems, but not as drinking water in the United States, said Mark F. Strauss, president and CEO of Applied Water Management, based in Hillsborough.
"There are public health concerns that you would have to work through before you use it for human contact," Strauss said during a recent visit to Homestead, which has 1,050 homes on 295 acres in Burlington County, about 25 miles east of Philadelphia.
But residents shouldn't worry if they get splashed by a sprinkler and swallow some of the water, Strauss said: "I wouldn't recommend it as a steady diet, but it wouldn't hurt you."
Although Homestead will represent the first residential use of reclaimed water in New Jersey, similar systems are being used elsewhere in the state, including for flushing the toilets and urinals at the Sussex Skyhawks minor league ballpark in Frankford and for irrigating the course at Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington.
Still, the procedure is not common in New Jersey because the state has an abundant water supply, making it relatively cheap and often not worth the extra expense of recycling, Strauss said.
"The cost of taking water that's already been used ... costs more than taking it out of a stream and pumping it out," Strauss said.
It works at places such as Homestead because of a "coincidence of need," he said. The plant was scheduled to be upgraded, and two-thirds of that cost was covered by a state grant and motivated homeowners, he said.
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, is not enthusiastic about the prospect of more reclaimed water.
While the Homestead system is unlikely to send industrial waste onto lawns, Tittel said, it could lead to a buildup of fertilizer and flushed medications trickling into the aquifer, which supplies drinking water for the region.
The larger issue, as Tittel sees it, is that there is pressure to develop this area of Burlington County despite limited groundwater. If recycled water is considered a solution that frees more drinking water, that could encourage further development, leading to more asphalt, which would keep rain from soaking into the aquifer -- "which in long term could make things worse."
"One of the things we need to do is plant more native grasses that use less water," he suggested.
Tittel supports the use of recycled water for cooling power plants and flushing the toilets in large buildings.
"To me, that makes a lot more sense. Spraying it on lawns and putting it back in the environment, when it can carry chemicals even if it's treated to a higher standard, doesn't make as much sense," he said.
DEP Assistant Commissioner Nancy Wittenberg dismissed Tittel's concerns of aquifer contamination.
"It's a win-win for us," she said. "Since we can't control the weather, perhaps we can control the use."
Source: Associated Press