The Parks and Recreation Department in Lawrence, Kan., has trucked more than 1 million gallons of potable water to trees, flowers and grass in landscaped medians, roundabouts and other areas this summer.
Soon, under a plan developed by the city's parks and utilities departments, those watering trucks will fill up at the wastewater treatment facility in east Lawrence instead of a fire hydrant. The trucks will be filled with effluent, or treated, wastewater instead of potable water.
The Kansas Department of Health and the Environment recently approved the use of treated wastewater for municipal irrigation needs.
''We have four trucks hauling 1,000 gallons of water each,'' Mark Hecker, the department's assistant director, told the Lawrence Journal-World. ''They probably fill up four or five times a day, depending on the weather.''
Lawrence isn't the first city to recycle its wastewater. Many Kansas towns pump their effluent water to golf courses, and Wichita pumps effluent water from the Cowskin Creek Water Quality Reclamation Facility to recreational ponds used for fishing and boating. In San Antonio, Tex., recycled water augments the flow of the San Antonio River so tourists on the famous River Walk aren't faced with a dry creek bed.
Human contact with effluent water isn't harmful, though ingestion is discouraged. For plants, however, the additional elements in the water should be beneficial.
''There's a little nitrogen in there - not very much, but what's in there should actually be good for the plants and trees,'' said Jeanette Klamm, the city's utilities program manager.
In the final stages of treatment, wastewater is infused with sodium bisulfate to soften the effects of a chlorine application before it is released into the Kansas River. The wastewater facility has been using effluent water in its own sprinklers for more than a decade, though other sprinkler systems throughout the city connect to the potable water system.
''This is something we've had on the shelf for years,'' Klamm said. ''The drought this summer has spurred us into action and allowed us to get this approved pretty quickly.''
Lawrence's 2012 city budget allotted more than $45 million (27 percent of the total budget) to water and wastewater treatment, more than $33 million above what the city spends on any other single utility. Incorporating effluent water in the irrigation plans, however, is not expected to affect the city's water bill.
''It's still a good thing,'' Klamm said. ''The city has to buy water, and the amount probably won't change. But the city also spends money treating and pumping water. The parks and rec department has had to use water we've treated for drinking purposes to water all the flowers and trees. It'll just be a little water every day that we won't have to treat and pump.''