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Reclaimed water helps Nevada City reduce 1.4 million gallons of water monthly (VIDEO)

Teresa Yinmeng Liu
Staff Writer
Chief Plant Operator Howard Schmitz takes a quick break amid a busy schedule at the Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nevada City.
Teresa Yinmeng Liu/tliu@theunion.com |

What some proponents are calling “recycled water,” and opponents are labeling “toilet to tap,” has made its way into the innovative hands of operators at the Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant of Nevada City.

It is also playing an important role in the community’s water conservation effort, officials said.

“We saved 1,372,044 gallons of water a month,” said Howard Schmitz, chief plant operator at Nevada City. “Instead of using city water, we are using reclaimed water to run our operations here at the water plant. That’s what contributes to the nearly 41 percent of water usage reduction by the city of Nevada City.”

City Manager Mark Prestwich said recycling sewage water is an endeavor to meet the state mandatory requirement issued by Gov. Jerry Brown to reduce water by 25 percent.

“So it’s a smart way of reusing our water,” said Prestwich, “and the more we reuse, particularly at summertime, the less we have to buy from Nevada Irrigation District.”

Schmitz and his coworkers started using reclaimed water this summer. Since then, the treatment plant has processed and treated about 390,000 gallons of sewage water every day.

Employees found creative uses for the water that are coming from people’s sinks, toilets, hoses, and washing machines. After treating the water, they use it do things such as cleansing the basins and purifiers, as well as landscaping the vegetation at the treatment plant.

The effort contributed to the saving of 51,747,424 gallons of water for Nevada City during the months of May through September, a 39.4 percent reduction from the water usage during the same months in 2013.

The reclaimed water methodology is a rising trend throughout California, where the drought continues to pose an ongoing threat.

It’s especially prominent in Southern California. Orange County Water District, which serves 2.4 million residents in central and north Orange County, is one of the first in the state to carry out recycled water usage.

It has provided reclaimed water for irrigation, landscaping and even industrial purposes for residents in the county.

But people are wary of reclaimed water for different reasons.

Some are concerned about the household chemical elements that might remain in the water after the purification process.

Some could not get over using sewage water for psychological reasons.

Operators at the plant use a process called Tertiary Treated Activated Sludge Plant, to filter the sewage water in Nevada City, Schmitz said.

The purifying process involves the development of a floc, or mass, which contains bacteria and protozoa, Schmitz explained. The bacteria consume the organics and nutrients present in the wastewater.

The floc then undergoes a purification process and then is returned to the aeration basins for further processing.

Finally, the clarified water goes through a dual filtration process, after which it is disinfected.

“This water would be safe to drink; it’s disinfected and it’s cleaned up,” said Schmitz, pointing to the water running from a basin used for reclaimed water. “Not everybody is comfortable with that yet, but it’s clean water.”

Recycled water use is limited to the Wastewater Treatment Plant at this point. But Schmitz said he hopes to expand it to the community.

“I’m hoping at some point we may be able to use that,” Schmitz said. “It will involve some infrastructure upgrades.”

Though it’s unlikely that recycled water will be used for potable purposes in Nevada City soon, Schmitz said a long-term project the employees hope to tackle is the establishment of a completed reclaimed water system.

“We are working on a capital improvement plan,” said Schmitz, “and a completed reclaimed water system is high on the list right now.”

In the meantime, he said he has his coworkers to thank for carrying out the water conservation effort at Nevada City.

“I would like to thank my crew for the hard work and dedication that they have shown in their efforts to save and conserve water; it really did create a lot of extra work for them,” said Schmitz. “But they all accepted it as a challenge and a goal, and they were all quite proud of the savings they have achieved and the job they have done, and rightfully so.”

To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, call 530-477-4236, or email tliu@theunion.com.

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