Arizona looks to wastewater to augment water supplies

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April 13, 2023 — With cuts in Colorado River water looming for Arizona, uses of wastewater may augment water supplies.

Phoenix to recycle wastewater into drinking water.

On Wednesday, the city of Phoenix revealed its plans to recycle wastewater for drinking purposes in response to the decreasing Colorado River. The city aims to implement the plan within the Valley by 2030, according to the state’s ABC news affiliate.

Phoenix has been operating a wastewater treatment plant for decades and currently recycles water for cooling purposes at the Palo Verde nuclear facility, which returns it to the Salt River for agricultural or habitat use.  The city will now expand the treatment plant and introduce new treatment technology to recycle more water.

Following approval by the city council, Mayor Kate Gallego said that once completed, the treatment plant will recycle around 60 million gallons of water per day. Other Valley cities have expressed interest in collaborating on the project, as the dwindling Colorado River makes this option highly attractive.

For people worried about consuming wastewater, the recycled water will meet safe drinking water standards.

On-site industrial wastewater treatment.

A proposed bill, SB 1660, could allow Nestlé to treat wastewater at its new Glendale plant and pump it into the aquifer to earn long-term storage credits.  Glendale is a city in the Valley located about 9 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix.

Nestlé plans to build a $675 million creamer production plant in Glendale, but the amount of wastewater generated by the plant is too much for the water company EPCOR, the water company that would serve the Nestlé site, to handle. If SB 1660 passes, industrial plants will be allowed to treat their wastewater on-site and earn storage credits for water they put back in the aquifer. Companies can use these credits later to draw out 75% of the treated water they put in the ground.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, sees it as a net gain of 25% in groundwater for other users and calls it “the best aquifer management program the state will have.” However, critics of the bill, including water utilities, home builders, and the city of Phoenix, among others, believe that it will create a fragmented system and overburden the state Department of Environmental Quality. They are worried that Nestlé will be the first of many industrial users that will take advantage of the new law if the bill passes.

The opponents of the bill argue that once the doors open for one facility, more manufacturers will want to treat their own effluent, and this could create a system that is unfair and discombobulated. They also raise concerns about water quality and believe that private industry could compete with the public for drinking water.

The planned 630,000-square-foot Nestlé factory is expected to be operational in 2024. The bill passed the Senate on March 21 Opens in a new tab.and is currently being considered in the House. Fifty-five individuals and organizations favor the bill, and 295 are against it, including EPCOR.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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