By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – It may not be potable (drinkable) but Safford’s reclaimed water is good for a number of uses, which will reduce the consumption of potable water for non-drinking purposes.
The city is working on expanding its reclaimed water pipes to be utilized at more places than just the Mt. Graham Municipal Golf Course and is less than a month away from having a pipeline connected to Firth Park.
According to Safford Planning and Community Development Director Dustin Welker, about 130.5 million gallons of Class A-plus full-body contact reclaimed water created at the city’s water treatment facility has been historically piped into the Gila River. Instead of basically tossing the water away, the city wants to use and offer it to schools and businesses for use. According to “An Arizona Guide to Water Quality and Uses” study by the University of Arizona (UA) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the city of Tucson utilizes Class A reclaimed water to be used at golf courses, schools, the UA and multiple- and single-family homes.
Currently, Safford’s wastewater treatment plant produces roughly 1,100 acre feet of reclaimed water per year. Of that, the golf course uses about 700 acre feet. An acre foot of water is the amount of water necessary to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, which is about 326,000 gallons.
In 2014, Freeport McMoRan gave the city a $135,000 grant as part of its Community Investment Fund to start the process.
“That was the big kickoff – the grant from Freeport – a couple years ago,” Welker said.
On Thursday, city workers were busy trenching and installing 12” C900 PVC purple pipe along 1st Street behind the Mt. Graham Shopping Center. The line will connect the wastewater treatment facility with an existing line going out to the golf course to bypass an aged out line that is in the cotton fields to the north. The pipeline will also be available for any future business along the proposed new business corridor of 1st Street.
“That’s our first order of business, to get it tied into here and to get it to Firth Park,” said Water Division Manager Gale Hedges.
Welker said the city had to obtain some right-of-way to trench behind some businesses along U.S. Highway 70 before it could start work on the pipeline to Firth Park. That has been accomplished, and the work should be finished in the next few weeks, according to Welker.
After the pipeline is completed to Firth Park, it will eventually be brought over to Safford City Hall and could also be used to water the lawn at the Graham County Superior Courthouse and other businesses as well as area schools. The main pipe from the treatment facility to Firth Park heads down 14th Avenue and could easily be extended to Safford High School.
The main idea is to use the water instead of using drinking water for irrigation.
“It’s definitely the direction we want to go,” Welker said. “This is just the first steps in setting it up . . . It’s going to be a long process.”
While getting the pipeline to Firth Park and along 1st Street is part of phase one, the other part is having somewhere to store the water instead of dumping it into the Gila River.
To accomplish that goal, the city is cleaning out its old sewer ponds north of the treatment facility and will reline them so it can store the excess treated water there.
“That’s where the reclaimed water will be stored, and then we’ll pump it out of there to put it into the pipe and send it where it’s going to go,” Welker said. “That way we won’t be losing any water into the river. We’ll just be storing it in that pond.”