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The Challenge Of Getting Credit For Water Reclamation: Focusing On The U.s. Army Corps Of Engineers

Congress: 2015
Author(s): John Echeverria (Vermont, USA)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 15: Water law,
In many locations, increasing competition for limited water resources together with declines in natural water supplies due to climate change are creating incentives for investments in reclamation of sanitary water flows in order to increase the total water supply available to water users. The economic viability of water reclamation projects depends in significant part on project sponsors being able to reap benefits from their investments. Project sponsors can derive benefits from reclaimed water generated by such projects if they can market the water to water consumers or incorporate the reclaimed water into their own water operations. On the other hand, if the applicable legal regime forces project sponsors to return the reclaimed water to the water commons, the economic incentive for reclamation projects disappears and fewer useful reclamation projects are constructed.

This paper examines the challenge of creating appropriate incentives for the construction of water reclamation projects in the context of the management of water storage projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basins in the southeastern United States. While this case study focuses on water management in one portion of the United States served by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the conflict examined is representative of a management conflict that involves many Army Corps reservoirs. Water managers around the world face similar challenges.

The paper proceeds by examining the particular water management challenges facing this region of the United States and the complexities of the legal regime governing allocation of rights to reclaimed water. Water suppliers in the Atlanta metropolitan area, including the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, have embarked on expensive projects to increase water supplies available to the rapidly expanding population in the region by constructing water reclamation projects. These projects include the Noonday Water Reclamation Facility, the Northwest Water Reclamation Facility, the South Cobb Water Reclamation Facility and the RL Sutton Water Reclamation Facility, which cumulatively generate over 130 million gallons per day in potable water. In order to make effective use of this water, however, the Authority has a need to store the reclaimed water in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dam for release in future periods. The Authority is one of several non-federal entities that has contracted with the Army Corps for the utilization of the storage space in the reservoir Based on established Army Corps national policies, the Army Corps has taken the legal position that all inflows into the reservoir, whether derived from natural flows or reclaimed water, must be allocated in accord with the relative ownership of storage space in the reservoir by the Authority and other owners of storage space. As a result of this policy, the Authority reaps only a fraction of the water produced by reclamation projects, even though the Authority bears the entire cost of constructing and operating the projects. The net effect of this policy is to create a significant disincentive for the Authority to construct water reclamation projects. The Army Corps of Engineers policy, applied nationally, creates a widespread disincentive for the construction of reclamation projects, despite the self-evident national interest in promoting water reclamation.

Results and Discussion.
The paper explores the historical and policy basis for the Army Corps of Engineers' longstanding position on accounting for inflows into Army Corps reservoirs. The Army Corps position appears to reflect a simple preference for accounting for all inflows on the same basis, avoiding the need to differentiate between different types of water based on its source. It may also reflect a concern that reclaimed water consists in part of water that would otherwise be included in natural flow, meaning that the developer of a water reclamation project should not necessarily be entitled to credit for 100% for the volume of reclaimed water. Whatever the basis for the Army Corps policy, it does not appear to take into account the social and economic value of promoting additional water reclamation. The paper provides a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the origins of this Army Corps' position and its advantages and disadvantages from a public policy perspective,

The paper concludes with a set of recommendations to the U.S. Congress and/or the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the future management of Army Corps reservoirs in order to promote additional water reclamation. This specific study and analysis should provide insight into the obstacles to water reclamation efforts generally, in the United States and elsewhere, and help promote policies that will encourage water reclamation in other contexts.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin