Texas` Oldest Living Reuse System Tells All

Odessa initiated reuse of its wastewater effluent in 1949. Over the last 57 years, the program has grown to incorporate industrial, irrigation, and residential customers. Through reuse of the effluent, billions of gallons of water have been conserved for the potable water system.

Odessa is a city of approximately 100,000 people located in West Texas. The climate is arid where approximately 13” of rainfall is received in good years. Often the annual rainfall is less.

Odessa does not have any local water resources sufficient to meets its water needs. All water is purchased from the Colorado River Municipal Water District. The City’s major water source is Lake Ivie which is 160 miles from Odessa. With water resources so limited, the need to conserve water resources has been apparent and has resulted in Odessa taking the necessary steps to use as much of its treated effluent for more nonpotable purposes. The history of Odessa’s
reuse program is the subject of this paper.

In the late 1940s, Odessa began its reuse program when it built its first wastewater treatment plant, South Dixie Water Reclamation Plant. A condition of the sale of the property for the wastewater plant was provision of 3 MGD of the primary treated wastewater to the landowner for irrigation of alfalfa.

In the 1950s, the petrochemical plant next door to the wastewater plant signed a contract for use of 4 MGD of the primary treated wastewater. This customer required higher quality water for use in its cooling towers and agreed to construct a secondary treatment plant at the South Dixie Plant.

In the 1980s, several factors resulted in Odessa investigating expansion of its reuse program. Two of these factors were due to the discharge of the treated wastewater into an effluent dominated stream, Monahans Draw. Downstream landowners had contested issuing Odessa’s wastewater discharge permit. After weeks of hearings, the state issued the permit but the permit included recommendations for Odessa to expand uses of its effluent. This recommendation resulted in a study conducted in 1985, which identified several reuse alternatives including:

  1. Agricultural where irrigation with reuse water could be substituted for irrigation with groundwater.
  2. Nonpotable urban uses including irrigation of golf courses, parks, cemeteries, makeup water for recreational ponds, and dual water distribution systems.
  3. Industrial uses including use of the water for cooling tower makeup water, boiler feed water and process water.
  4. Indirect potable water use in which highly treated effluent could be used to recharge the aquifer.
  5. Direct potable use where the effluent would receive additional treatment and then be blended with the City’s lake water prior to treatment at the water treatment plant.

Before a decision was made concerning the direction the City would take with its reuse program, a very unusual situation occurred. In 1986, Odessa received approximately 34” of rainfall over a relatively short time period. The runoff from these rains overwhelmed Monahans Draw and flooded farms, structures and equipment that had been established in the normally dry playa lakes along the Draw. As a result of the flooding, three lawsuits were filed by downstream landowners. The City was unable to convince the juries which heard these cases that the flooding was caused by the unusually high rainfall and not due to its discharges to Monahans Draw. The potential for additional lawsuits expedited the City’s decision to move forward with expansion of its reuse program.

The third reason for the progress of Odessa’s reuse program in the 1980s was directly related to the Director of Utilities, Bob Derrington. He understood the need of water conservation in West Texas and was a strong advocate for reuse long before reuse was popular. His vision for beneficial use of treated effluent not only impacted Odessa’s reuse program, but reuse throughout Texas as he served on committees which led to the expansion of reuse in Texas

As a result of the 1985 study, Odessa determined that the most feasible reuse alternative was nonpotable urban uses. A study was conducted in 1987 which identified three golf course, Texas Department of Transportation right of ways, university grounds and a cemetery as potential customers. Due to the low cost of the reuse water and extensive educational efforts which overcame the stigma of using wastewater effluent, contracts were signed in 1992 with all of these entities except the cemetery.

Finding uses for the effluent was only one of Odessa’s challenges. Since Odessa had selected a reuse which would result in irrigation of grounds where public access was not restricted, upgrades at the wastewater treatment plants would be needed to meet the quality requirements for Type I reuse water established in Texas. In addition, a means of transporting the treated water to the customers had to be addressed.

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