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Wastewater management report dives into the details

Posted 9/27/23

It is not unusual for people to see the Fountain and the lake in Fountain Park and wonder if this is wasteful use of water in the Sonoran Desert, but this is not so according to Town of Fountain …

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Wastewater management report dives into the details

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It is not unusual for people to see the Fountain and the lake in Fountain Park and wonder if this is wasteful use of water in the Sonoran Desert, but this is not so according to Town of Fountain Hills officials.

“Fountain Hills is a leader in maximizing reclaimed water for our famous fountain, the lake and irrigation,” Community Relations Manager Bo Larsen told the Town Council at a recent meeting. “With our partner, the Fountain Hills Sanitary District, we can safely irrigate various locations for recreation purposes and keep the fountain flowing without using a single drop of potable water.

“Fountain Hills works hard to institute daily practices and ongoing measures to preserve our natural resources and make water-wise decisions for our future.”

In fact, it is the Sanitary District, a separate governmental entity from the town, that manages the treatment and use of wastewater in the community. The district has had that role for more than 50 years and continues to update with technology to assure the safest byproduct of treatment. The district takes pride that it “recycles every drop.”

Fountain Lake is a 100,000,000-gallon reservoir for the treated effluent. From there it is distributed for town use to irrigate Fountain Park, Golden Eagle Park and Desert Vista Park. Using recycled water results in the town saving more than 300,000 gallons of potable water a day. Also, the Sanitary District sells treated water to Sunridge Canyon, FireRock and Eagle Mountain golf clubs to irrigate golf courses.

The Sanitary District treatment plant was first built in 1974 and it has been expanded and upgraded through the years to meet the needs of the growing community. Today the district’s processes include an advanced wastewater treatment plant with a state-of-the-art filtration system. The finished product is graded as Class A+ recycled water that meets or exceeds all Arizona Department of Environmental Quality standards for reuse.

The community generates approximately 700 million gallons of wastewater each year, the three golf courses use nearly 600 million gallons each year.

“Using recycled water instead of fresh water takes the demand off drinking water supplies, which is critical to managing droughts,” Larsen said.

The town has applied for grant funding to be used to repurpose two significant areas of turf currently being irrigated with potable water. They are located at the intersection of Fountain Hills and Shea boulevards where there is several hundred feet of turf area on either side of Fountain Hills Boulevard. This area will be changed to xeriscape with low water vegetation. The second location is in Fountain Park adjacent to the splash pad and the Plaza Fountainside. The plan here is to prepare the site for a picnic area without turf. The splash pad works pretty much like a swimming pool with a 3,000-gallon holding tank with water recirculated through a filter system.

Renovation of the landscaping at these two locations will save approximately 1.2 million gallons of potable water per year, according to Larsen.

The town has also taken advantage of what amounts to a near surface water table and spring running through Panorama Wash. The town installed a pump in the wash to prevent water from flowing across the town boundary onto Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation property. The pump pipes water back to Fountain Lake a couple of hundred yards away. The Panorama stormwater drainage system was recently renovated to replace drainage pipe, and at the same time the pump was upgraded. The pump has delivered nearly 79 million gallons of water per year to the lake, providing a fresh water boost to the treated wastewater. Larsen reported that since 2012, 800,000,000 gallons of water have been pumped back into the lake, enough to fill it eight times.

The Panorama pump station is now being used to distribute water for dust mitigation at construction projects in town. It is estimated that this amounts to 200,000 to 300,000 gallons each year.

Discussion related to Larsen’s report prompted some council members to urge residents to reconsider how they use their water softeners. The typical salt filtration results in significant amounts of sodium making its way into the wastewater, which is not easily treated out. The high salt content results in damage to turf areas in the parks as well as golf courses.

Councilmembers Hannah Toth and Brenda Kalivianakis both urged people to consider using potassium in their water softeners. While it was noted that potassium is more costly than salt, it also lasts longer and does not need replacement as often.

Residents can learn more about water conservation by visiting the websites for the Town of Fountain Hills, fountainhillsaz.gov; the Sanitary District, az-fhsd.gov; and EPCOR Water, epcor.com.