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South Jordan Journal

The State of Desert: SoJo initiates pilot project for water re-use

Jun 04, 2019 04:02PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Mormon pioneers leveraged the word “Deseret” from the Book of Mormon to describe Utah. “The State of Desert” might be today’s depiction for a thirsty state in need of water re-use and conservation. (Photo Credit: Runt25/Wikimedia Commons)

By Jennifer J. Johnson| [email protected]

When Mormon pioneers leveraged the religious word “Deseret” to describe Utah as “The State of Deseret,” even modern-day agnostics would agree that, during parched years with low snowpack, the word is, linguistically, close to a fit.

Today, Utah is widely recognized as the second driest state in the country, reminding Utah religious and secular residents alike that the homophones “Deseret,” and “desert” are but a single letter apart. South Jordan leadership is looking ahead, seeking to provide the city and, ultimately, help guide the state with a water-secure future.

Moving beyond one source for SoJo water security

True to its values of safe, sustainable growth and fiscal responsibility, South Jordan has been researching and strategizing SoJo’s water security for more than a decade.

SoJo Director of Public Works Jason Rasmussen recalls stories of City Manager Gary Whatcott’s discussing water scarcity and how it could make the city vulnerable with former Mayor Kent Money.

The takeaway? “We have one source of water, which is the Jordan Valley District,” Money said. “We should really find a secondary source.” 

This secondary source would be one which SoJo could manage itself and not be compromised by a year of poor snowpack or water rationing by the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, which services the thirsty water needs of more than half of Salt Lake County.

Mayor Ramsey – Time to ‘hit the idea hard’ and move from plans to prototypes

What a lot of South Jordanians may not realize is the water they use to douse begonias, make pebble ice and keep the new car sharp--that water is not local to SoJo. According to Rasmussen, water comes to the District, which, over the next 50 years, plans to tap sources as distant as the Bear River for water.

“In an effort to look ‘big picture’ for our city and the entire state of Utah, [we] have been working on fine-tuning plans for a water-reuse project,” said South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey. 

The time for fine-tuning, under Ramsey’s ambitious administration, is moving from plans to prototypes.

“This year, our staff and I decided to hit the idea hard,” Ramsey said.

Doing what she is earning a statewide reputation for, Ramsey lobbied statewide leadership to gain what she characterizes as “strong support” of everyone from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to numerous state agencies.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of our staff, elected officials and our legislators, we have been able to secure the funds necessary to build this pilot project,” she said. 

Ramsey’s comments on the water re-use project came as a project prelude, in March’s “State of The City” speech to the SoJo Chamber of Commerce.

Studying best practices from coast-to-coast water re-use models

Since beginning studying water re-use in 2012, Rasmussen said he has studied many municipalities’ strategies.

Wichita Falls, Texas, was a city “going to run out of water” until officials successfully leveraged water re-use.

Starting in 2021, San Diego’s wastewater will be “treated to drinking standards, then held as a reservoir.” Once in the reservoir, the water will undergo a normal water-treatment process and will then be incorporated into the San Diego water supply, he said.

And in the vaunted “O.C.” or Orange County, wastewater is brought to drinking-water standards, then injected into the ground and put through further filtration” a few miles away.

“We see this (water re-use) as a viable source of water, down the road,” said Rasmussen. 

Pure SoJo – a long plan for the long-haul

“Pure SoJo,” the working title for the city’s demonstration project, seeks to ultimately treat water, leveraging a four-step process, for re-use as irrigation or even, potentially, down the road, as potable drinking water.

Pure SoJo may end up being a permanent secondary or even primary supply for the City.

It may even be a local supply for many cities in Salt Lake County.

That, however, is the long game, a timeline Rasmussen anticipates being 10 or even 20 years out.

For the immediate future, Pure SoJo is all about a responsible, reasoned journey to the long game of water re-use for today and for what Rasmussen estimates will be a period of five years, testing and demonstrating.

Rasmussen anticipates that city leaders, in partnership with the South Valley Sewer District, will break ground on a demonstration facility in fall 2020. 

The demonstration facility will comprise “a small building,” which will be located proximate to the Jordan River and will serve as the location where SoJo and the SVSD will, daily pipe 30,000 gallons of treated water through the building, conduct water-quality testing, and then distribute the treated water into the Jordan River.

Rasmussen explained that, right now, the SVSD treats and then deposits 15 million gallons of treated wastewater to the Jordan River.

The questions that perhaps keep him up at night are how might those 15 million gallons of water be leveraged for SoJo residents and businesses? And how might the state ultimately benefit from water re-use strategy?

Pure SoJo – Is it safe? Is it economical?

“Over the next few years, we will be collecting data and providing re-use education to state agencies, other cities, legislators, the business community and our school kids, as South Jordan leads the way for Utah in looking for ways to sustain our long-term water needs,” said Ramsey.

“In the future, if we would move it full-scale, we would put in improvements,” said Rasmussen.

In such a circumstance, he indicated  city officials would need to undertake a major infrastructure project, adding piping necessary to bring the water from the source to the city.

The overriding issues at that point? “Does it make economic sense?” Rasmussen reasoned.

Pure SoJo – Will the public bite…or drink?

Brad Barlocker, an entrepreneur residing in unincorporated Salt Lake County, whose Riverton-based company specializes in industrial non-potable process water treatment, said he is bullish on the project’s cost-efficiency but wonders if Utahns as a whole and South Jordan residents as a specific constituency are ready to accept treated wastewater as secondary water or drinking water.

“I fully believe that such a processed water can easily and safely meet our drinking-water standards,” he explained. “The question lies in the public acceptance of that processed water.”

“SoJo leadership is a little ahead of some of the other cities in the Southwest Valley as far as understanding the importance of water conservation,” said Nick Schou, conservation director with the Utah Rivers Council. “There are, actually, quite a few communities, internationally and in the West, that rely on treated wastewater primarily or for most of their supply,” he added, citing Las Vegas as a prime example.

Right now, the SoJo project is flying under the radar of regulation. As SoJo has no plans anytime soon of even considering treating water for drinking, Rasmussen said “no approvals are needed at the state level.”

However, SoJo, doing what Ramsey has done in the political sphere, has already met with some state water stakeholders, including Division of Water Quality officials. 

“They thought it was a good project,” Rasmussen said.

“You’re going to see a lot more re-use in Utah,” said Schou, who added, “If it were me at the helm of the city, I would be throwing more money at water conservation and incentives, because conservation is way cheaper than re-use.”