My University of New Mexico Water Resources Program colleague Bruce Thomson loves to point out that Albuquerque’s wastewater treatment plant is, in New Mexico, the second largest tributary to the Rio Grande after the Rio Chama. But as tributaries go, it’s a short one – under 100 yards/meters from the outfall to the main river channel. I’ve long harbored a not-so-secret dream/scheme – what if, rather than a short rock-lined channel, we could route that water through the nearby riverside woods, getting an increased benefit in riparian vegetation and habitat along the way?
Tony Davis in the Arizona Daily Star reports that Tucson is considering just that:
The long-dead Santa Cruz River could flow again within two years.
Tucson Water, which had opposed the idea for years, unveiled a blueprint last week for putting heavily treated wastewater in the river through downtown Tucson. Officials call the plan “Agua Dulce,” Spanish for sweet water.
The idea would be to pump the effluent uphill from a sewage treatment plant northwest of the city via an existing pipeline south to 29th Street. From there, effluent would run downhill through the city’s core; the Santa Cruz flows south to north. Officials don’t know yet know how far downstream the water would run.
There are big differences, but the underlying principle is similar – leverage wastewater for environmental benefit. Lots of hurdles in both cases. In Albuquerque, the most important one would be the water losses – the riparian vegetation my scheme would consume water.