Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the reclaimed water program?
The Town of Cary recognizes that water resources in the Triangle region are becoming increasingly scarce. New means are needed to improve the efficiency with which we use our existing sources. Cary’s reclaimed water program is an initiative to recycle a valuable resource. The program is intended to provide an alternative to using valuable drinking water for some water needs that is safe, cost effective, and beneficial to the public.

In Cary, as much as 10 million gallons of drinking water per day are used for irrigation during the summer. Under this program, reclaimed water is available via bulk distribution and through pipes to certain areas of the town. Reclaimed water is provided as a replacement for certain types of water use where it is not necessary to have drinking water quality water. Reclaimed water is less expensive than drinking water. Reclaimed water use will extend the service life of the drinking water plant, recycle a valuable resource, save energy and money for the taxpayers and reduce the amount of treated wastewater sent to the Neuse River.

When did this reclaimed water irrigation system project get started?
The Town of Cary first began a reclaimed water feasibility study in 1997.

Public Health and Safety

How will reclaimed water affect people if it gets on their skin, in their eyes, or if they accidentally swallow some of it?
There will be no negative effects. However, if you are sensitive to chlorine - which is added to the reclaimed water - you may want to rinse your eyes with saline or eye drops.

Can people drink reclaimed water instead of potable water?
No. While reclaimed water is appropriate for irrigation, cooling towers, and other limited outdoor uses, reclaimed water does not meet North Carolina’s high standards for drinking water. While there's nothing to suggest that drinking reclaimed water should hurt people, reclaimed water is distributed under regulations set by the state of North Carolina that do not allow it to be consumed.

Can people "hose off' with reclaimed water? Can our children play in reclaimed water?
No. Since reclaimed water does not meet our high standards for potable water, you should not look for opportunities to use reclaimed water for anything that entails prolonged skin contact.

How will reclaimed water affect people if it gets on their clothes?
There will be no effect. You should simply wash your clothes as you normally would.

When is it safe for people to go where reclaimed water has used?
It is safe to walk on grass that is being irrigated with reclaimed water. Incidental contact with water of this quality is not harmful. Practice good hygiene – wash with soap and water from a potable faucet if you come in contact with reclaimed water.

Does reclaimed water become safer over time or when it's exposed to sunlight, heat, or air?
Reclaimed water is safe as it goes through the system. Exposure to the elements will have no further effect on it, one way or the other.

How will reclaimed water look or smell differently from regular potable water?
Reclaimed water looks the same as potable water, but does not have the same distinctive chlorine smell as potable water.

Some sprinklers spray a very fine mist of water. What effects on our air quality will reclaimed water mist have?
There are no effects.

Uses of Reclaimed Water

Are things that get wet with reclaimed water contaminated?

Can we use reclaimed water to wash our cars?
Yes, as long as the spent water does not drain to the street or to a storm drainage pipe.

Can I wash my house and deck with reclaimed water?
Yes, as long as the spent water does not drain to the street or to a storm drainage pipe.

What should we do if reclaimed water gets on our house, cars, or outdoor furniture?
Nothing. There will be no negative effects.

Can I use reclaimed water in my home building projects, such as making concrete? Can I rinse out my paint brushes or clean lawn tools with the reclaimed water?
Yes, as long as the spent wash water is not discharged to the street or drainage pipe.

Once a container has held reclaimed water, should it be used for any other purpose?
Containers used to store reclaimed water should not subsequently be used to store potable (drinking) water. Storing reclaimed water will not preclude use of a container for other uses.

Our sprinklers are close to our pool/hot tub. What should we do if reclaimed water gets in our pool or hot tub?
No action is required. However, it is always a good practice to adjust sprinklers to minimize over-spray.

Some of the sprinklers in my neighborhood cause the street to get wet, and the extra water drains into the storm drain. Will the water that goes into the storm drain, and eventually into our creek, be a problem?
State regulations require that sprinkler systems be adjusted to limit over-spray onto paved surfaces. This is consistent with Town laws that prohibit over-watering into the street.

Regulating Reclaimed Water

If reclaimed water is really "safe", why do we have to treat it any differently than other water?

While reclaimed water has been used safely in this country for years, the concept is still somewhat new to North Carolina. As with many new ideas, Cary and the state are moving deliberately but slowly for now.

What government agencies are responsible for making sure that Cary's reclaimed water is safe?
Just like with your drinking water, the safety of the reclaimed water is regulated at many levels. The first level is the oversight provided by the N.C. Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, which has developed criteria and standards for reclaimed water. agency requires the Town of Cary to continuously monitor and design control strategies that ensure reclaimed water consistently meets criteria.

The Town of Cary provides a second level of quality control, incorporating all required safety measures with levels of redundancy to ensure against system failure. The system is fitted with automatic monitoring equipment that will shut down the system and warn plant operators of the problem if water quality does not meet the criteria.

The third level of control is provided by the expert operation of the system. The North Cary Water Reclamation Facility is supervised and controlled by highly trained operators who have been given additional training in the safe operation, supervision, and monitoring of reclaimed water systems. Routine testing and monitoring of critical water quality parameters within the reclaimed water system provide additional quality assurance.

Where else in the United States is reclaimed water used the way Cary is using it?
States include Florida, California, Washington and Arizona.

How long has reclaimed water been used in the capacity that Cary uses it?
In some communities, reclaimed water has been used in this way for more than 20 years.

Irrigating with Reclaimed Water

Will reclaimed water hurt my lawn, plants, or trees?
No. irrigation is an appropriate use for reclaimed water.

Since the reclaimed water has a different chemical/nutrient base than potable water, will it help my lawn, my plants?
The difference in nutrient levels is so miniscule that any benefit that there might be are unperceivable.

Will the reclaimed water hurt my garden?
No. Reclaimed water is used in other states for this purpose, however, North Carolina regulations do not yet allow reclaimed water to be used to irrigate edible vegetables in North Carolina.

Will the reclaimed water hurt my pets or the birds and other wildlife that are in my yard?
No. There will be no effect on wildlife from irrigating with reclaimed water.

What should we do if our pets or wildlife get the reclaimed water on them or accidentally swallow some of it?
Nothing. There will be no negative health implications for your pets or wildlife.

Can we use the reclaimed water as drinking water for our pets and wildlife?
No. Although we know dogs sometimes drink out of puddles and other unsanitary places without apparent ill effects, Town of Cary recommends providing household pets with drinking water from your indoor faucets. While reclaimed water is appropriate for irrigation and other limited outdoor uses, reclaimed water does not meet our high standards set for drinking water. While there's nothing to suggest that drinking reclaimed water should hurt animals, reclaimed water is distributed under regulations set by the State of North Carolina. These regulations do not allow the consumption of reclaimed water.

I usually wash my dog outside with the hose. Can I wash my dog with the reclaimed water?
No. This use is not permitted at this time under State regulations

Our sprinklers are close to our fishpond. Will the reclaimed water hurt the balance of the pond? Will it hurt the ducks, fish, and geese who swim in the pond?
No. However the State regulations require that a 25-foot buffer be maintained between an area sprayed with reclaimed water and any surface water

Can we eat the fish we catch from the pond if the reclaimed water has gotten into the pond?
Incidental Reclaimed water entering a pond should not affect any decision to eat fish from surface water. However, it is recommended that the North Carolina Division of Water Quality be consulted regarding the quality of any surface water before fish are consumed.

Benefits of Using Reclaimed Water System

What benefits are there for me to use reclaimed water?
First, reclaimed water helps us all preserve and protect our finite natural resources. By using reclaimed water, you don’t waste our limited supply of potable (drinking) water on uses like irrigation that are perfectly suited for recycled water. Second, our current supply of reclaimed water is much larger than the demand in the service area, so during dry periods, reclaimed water customers are not restricted from outdoor water use. Reclaimed water customers are exempt from the alternate day watering ordnance. Third, you’ll save lots of money: (1) you pay a reduced rate for reclaimed water, and not charged a sewage disposal fee; (2) reclaimed water costs $3.28 per thousand gallons, which is currently about $2.05 less than water from an irrigation connection (depending on whether the customer was using a dedicated irrigation meter or a standard household meter connection – note this cost is subject to annual review); (3) reclaimed water extends the life of the Town’s potable water system and it delays the expansion of the water reclamation facilities due to the decreased discharge to the Neuse River Basin (the plants have a cap on the total amount of nutrients discharged to the river system);

What are the benefits of the Reclaimed Water System to the Town?
The reclaimed water system reduces the peak demand on the potable water system during summer months when demands are typically at their highest level. This reduces the sizes of the facilities required to treat and deliver potable water to the Town’s customers.

Town Policy Issues

What happens if I don't want to tie onto the system - can I still use Town potable water to irrigate my yard with my irrigation system?
No. Once reclaimed water service is provided to a property, this service must be used as the water source for the irrigation system. An optional hose bib is available for customers who wish to connect an above-ground sprinkler to the reclaimed water system. The cost is absorbed by the homeowner.

Will alternate day watering apply in the reclaimed water area?
No. However, Reclaimed water customers are held to Town ordinances against wasting water. Customers will be required to have a rain sensor and to comply with the water waste ordinance.

How was the initial reclaimed water area selected?
Current supply, demand storage, system engineering alternatives, and cost dictated that the reclaimed piping systems be near the Town’s water reclamation facilities. This was later refined in a study by Camp Dresser & McKee, performed in 1997 and updated in 1999, which reviewed the Town’s customer billing records to determine target areas for the use of reclaimed water. This analysis considered the proximity to the water reclamation facility and high irrigation demands as criteria for providing reclaimed water service to areas. The Weston Parkway area and Wessex neighborhood, because of their close proximity and their high irrigation demands, were rated as the highest priority for the initial phase of work

Are there plans to serve the entire Town with reclaimed water?
No. Unfortunately, because of supply, storage, system engineering alternatives, cost and consumptive uses of water by customers, there would never be enough reclaimed water to serve the needs of the entire Town of Cary. Therefore, only areas with the highest potential demand for reclaimed water will be targeted. The Town continues to evaluate future expansion areas for the system to provide the most benefit.

Project Costs and Metering

How much did the project cost?
The total project including two major phases of construction associated with the North Cary Water Reclamation Facility and one major phase out of the South Cary Water Reclamation Facility cost approximately $11 million. A number of the elements of these projects (the pump station, storage tank, and transmission mains) are sized to allow future expansion of the system to adjacent areas of town.

How was the project funded?
The project was being funded through the capital improvement budget of the Town. Revenue from the sale of reclaimed water will offset the cost of construction.

How much will the reclaimed water cost and how will charges be made to me?
The price of reclaimed water has been set to be equal to the Town’s tier 1 water use rates, which are currently $3.28 per 1000 gallons. The policy of the Town is that the reclaimed water usage rate will remain the same as the tier 1 water usage rate. Charges will be made on the normal monthly Town of Cary utility bill.

How were reclaimed water rates set?
Reclaimed water rates were set based on an evaluation of several factors including a desire to keep the rates less than those for potable water while recovering a substantial part of the Town’s investment in the pumping, storage, and piping facilities associated with the reclaimed water system. The extent to which the Town’s investment will be recovered by the rates will depend on the overall use of reclaimed water.