Solving the Aquifer Dilemma: Turning Waste into Water

I am always disappointed by the argument that we must compromise our concerns for the environment when jobs may be adversely affected. I am the mayor of a small city in Louisiana where an underground aquifer (Sparta aquifer) serves as the major source of fresh water for our community and for all or part of 14 additional parishes (counties) in our state. An extensive engineering study published in 2001 documented the danger that the Sparta aquifer had a much larger daily drawdown than its recharge capability, resulting in rapidly declining levels in our water wells. The largest single user of water from the aquifer is a paper mill that is also our largest provider of high-paying manufacturing jobs.  Faced with the threat of irreparable damage to this precious natural resource, we began a search for a solution to the problem, a solution that would preserve the aquifer and also protect those essential jobs.

Although the engineering study of the aquifer offered a variety of suggested solutions, none were within the financial capability of our community. We took an approach not mentioned in the study. We began a search for an acceptable alternative source of water to meet the mill’s needs. Because the product produced by the mill came in contact with food, the alternative water had to meet EPA primary and secondary drinking water standards.

After more than 5 years of experimentation and full-scale testing, our employees and our engineering firm, Energy Ventures Analysis, developed a process that converted water from our wastewater treatment plant into water that meets the applicable EPA standards.  Using a combination of local, state, and federal stimulus funding for innovation techniques, we designed and have just completed construction of a recycle plant that has the capacity to recycle up to 10 million gallons per day of effluent from our wastewater treatment plant into water that meets the EPA standards. 

The recycle plant and the paper mill are connected by an underground pipeline. The plant is currently in the start-up phase, with full-scale operation scheduled for April, 2012. Our present agreement with the mill is that we will supply 7 mgd of water, reducing the overall deficit in the Sparta by 40% at the onset. This project will serve the critical environmental objective of helping to preserve an invaluable natural resource and will also support one of our most valuable job creators. In addition, the technology developed for this project can be used in other parts of the region to alleviate the overall problem with the overdraw of the aquifer. Working as partners with our local industry has proven to be a cost-effective method to protect both jobs and the environment.                

In 1978, Dave Norris was elected Mayor of the City of West Monroe, LA, and continues to serve in that position. Norris helped ensure a clean and sustainable water source for his city of 13,000 residents and surrounding communities.

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