Hammonton’s Municipal Utilities Department will be the first in New Jersey to use drip irrigation to send treated wastewater from houses and businesses onto public property if final approval comes from the state Department of Environmental Protection this month.

The project would use as many as 875,000 gallons per day of treated effluent to irrigate 26.5 acres of woodland and at least 7.5 acres of playing fields at the Boyer Avenue/Seventh Street Recreation Area, said Councilman Ed Wuillermin, who is heading the project.

The project will conserve drinking water while allowing the town to stop sending its treated water into Hammonton Creek, as the Pinelands Commission has demanded for years, he said.

The town will become a leader in beneficial reuse if the plan goes forward. Although several other entities in southeastern New Jersey have gotten permission to reuse wastewater, many projects — such as a plan by the Lower Township Municipal Utilities Authority to irrigate a golf course with treated water — have never come to fruition. Others have fallen short of goals.

The Cumberland County Municipal Utilities Authority got permission to irrigate some of its property with treated wastewater, but didn’t go ahead with it because it wasn’t worth the additional monitoring and reporting that would have been required, Assistant Director Mike Fernandez said.

Fernandez said the plant, which handles 3 million gallons per day of wastewater from Bridgeton and the surrounding area, discharges into the Cohansey River and has not been under pressure to stop doing so.

The Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority was one of the first in the state to start a beneficial reuse program in 2010, to irrigate county and municipal properties in Middle Township. But the most wastewater it has ever reused was at the height of the irrigation season in 2013, when it used less than 25 percent of the 300,000 gallons a day it was approved to handle, said Thomas Lauletta, wastewater program manager for the MUA.

About 30,000 gallons per day have been used for irrigation during the growing season and 50,000 gallons a day for cleaning equipment at the treatment plant, Lauletta said.

The Cape May County MUA spent $2.5 million to retrofit its Seven Mile Beach/Middle Region Wastewater Treatment Plant, in Middle Township, to clean 300,000 gallons a day to a higher standard for irrigation. The county spent another $1.5 million for the distribution lines and hookups, while Middle Township acquired $300,000 in grants for its share of the project.

“Our main goal is saving potable water,” Lauletta said. “It’s also drought resistant. When there’s a drought, most people are restricted from irrigation. We can still use (wastewater). It’s a positive.”

The treated wastewater also supplies specially designated purple fire hydrants in Middle Township, Lauletta said.

The plant handles about 7.6 million gallons a day, and the rest is released into the ocean, he said.

Just last summer, the sprinkler system on the playing fields at the Clarence Davies Sports Complex in Middle Township hooked into the system, Lauletta said. The Cape May County Zoo also hooked up for its irrigation needs, and this winter the irrigation project was extended to more areas of the Cape May County Park near the zoo, said Cape May County Assistant Parks Director Jean Whalen.

But the zoo hasn’t yet hooked up to the wastewater system for cleaning animal enclosures, said Parks Director Edward Runyon. He anticipates that will happen by the end of 2014.

Atlantic Cape Community College in Middle Township and parts of the county’s Crest Haven Complex will soon hook into the system, County Engineer Dale Foster said.

In Hammonton, the playing fields are next to the wastewater treatment facility, which includes a storage lagoon and several trenches. The water is treated to a high degree at the facility and disinfected with ultraviolet radiation.

For years, the Pinelands Commision has been asking Hammonton to stop releasing its wastewater into the creek, saying nutrients in it have degraded the water downstream of the plant. It recently put Hammonton on a “construction pause,” meaning no large projects could be approved until the creek issue is settled, said Mayor Steve DiDonato.

The plant, which came online in 2004, was designed to recharge its wastewater on site through rapid infiltration trenches. But the underlying earth was too dense, and instead of 1.6 million gallons a day being able to recharge, only about 0.6 million gallons a day could do so, said Pineland Commission Environmental Technologies Coordinator Edward Wengrowski at the commission’s March 14 meeting, where the commission gave approval for the plan.

The first phase of the project will require 500,000 linear feet of drip irrigation piping, to be installed on top of the ground on 26.5 wooded acres. That will handle at least 660,000 gallons a day, Wuillermin said.

The town has introduced an ordinance to bond $500,000 to pay for it, and there will be a public hearing March 24.

Installation of the first phase of the project must begin by April 30 and be complete by Sept. 30, under Pinelands Commission approval, Wuillermin said.

The second phase, which the commission wants started by April 30, 2015, and finished by Sept. 30, 2015, will install the piping underground on about 7.5 acres of newly constructed soccer fields.

After the second phase — which may also be extended to future fields, said Town Business Administrator and Public Works Manager Jerry Barberio — the system should handle as many as 875,000 gallons a day. That is the total current output of the plant, he said.

The drip system will be turned off from mid-December to early March, Wuillermin said, and the plant will rely on 46 million gallons of on-site trench and lagoon storage during those freezing months.

The plan should help the town reduce its overall water usage, which has historically been so high the Department of Environmental Protection required the town implement a conservation plan in 2012.

The state started a program for reusing treated wastewater in 2002, said Ben Manhas, principal engineer with the DEP Bureau of Surface Water Permitting.

“Beneficial reuse came about because of the drought in 2002,” Manhas said. “We were trying to get a way where industries or facilities could use water that didn’t meet the quality of drinking water, for other purposes.”

Statewide, 23 utilities and businesses have permission to reuse wastewater, according to state DEP documents, with Hammonton and Woodbine close to getting permission to do so.

Woodbine’s package sewer plant is not yet online at the Woodbine Airport, but when it does come online, the borough wants to be ready to use treated water for irrigation or other purposes if there is interest in it, said Mayor Bill Pikolycky.

The Landis Sewerage Authority recharges its 5 million gallons a day of treated wastewater into the ground through infiltration basins, Executive Director Dennis Palmer said. Wastewater has been handled that way since 1929, he said.

Since 1989, the authority, which serves the city of Vineland, has also irrigated wooded areas with treated wastewater, shooting it through large spray guns, he said.

Most authorities do not have enough land for groundwater recharge, or the extremely sandy soil needed, Palmer said. His authority has a total of 1,800 acres and also recycles biosolids as fertilizer on a 388-acre farm that grows crops for animals such corn, hay and straw; and on a 150-acre forestry area that grows southern yellow pine.

Big population states with water-supply problems, such as California and Florida, have much more robust water reuse programs.

In Florida, up to 22.5 million gallons of treated wastewater is reused per day at Walt Disney World Resort, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and agricultural crops have been irrigated with treated effluent since the 1960s.

Recycled water has been used for years to irrigate vineyards in California, and Gallo Wineries and the City of Santa Rosa recently completed facilities for the irrigation of 350 acres of vineyards with recycled water from the Santa Rosa Subregional Water Reclamation System, according to the EPA.

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