County Could Become Test Case For Purple Pipe System

SNOW HILL – One of two local jurisdictions might be host to a test case for treated wastewater re-use in Maryland, county staff told the County Commissioners this week.

“There’s a lot of talk about it,” said Sandy Coyman, Worcester County’s Director of Comprehensive Planning, at Tuesday’s meeting. “Wastewater is a resource. It’s not a waste anymore.”

Maryland has been slow to embrace the residential and commercial re-use of treated wastewater for irrigation and industrial purposes through so-called purple pipe systems, despite the apparent success of the practice in other states.

Given the recent drought, that may soon change.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), said Coyman, is actually interested in pursuing purple pipes. Although the state agency has taken a conservative approach to wastewater recycling, MDE held a workshop this past spring to explore the idea.         

“They want to do some additional research and make sure there’s no health questions,” Coyman said.

Both Berlin and Snow Hill are looking at new approaches to wastewater treatment and disposal through spray irrigation.

Berlin has already expressed some interest in a purple pipe system, which would provide highly-treated effluent to residences and businesses for lawn and garden irrigation, saving the use of new water and disposing of the effluent in the most environmentally friendly fashion.

“I think you’ll be seeing a test case here in the near future,” Coyman said.

With only one jurisdiction in Worcester County, Berlin, already using spray irrigation, the public must be educated on the practice, the commissioners said this week.

Misconceptions and questions on the spray irrigation site proposed for Snow Hill’s Summerfield project prompted county staff to propose a series of meetings to explain the more environmentally friendly wastewater disposal method. 

A recent Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) hearing revealed that neighbors of the Summerfield spray site had many concerns about the practice.

Coyman concluded that the public needs to be educated on this type of effluent disposal, he told the County Commissioners Tuesday.

Coyman recommended holding an information meeting on spray irrigation for residents in the vicinity of the new spray site, to give those people a chance to ask questions.

The meeting would also provide the County Commissioners feedback to help in their decisions on spray irrigation disposal, he said.

“I think that’s a great idea,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Informational meetings for every area of Worcester County would be beneficial, Coyman said.

The commissioners have repeatedly expressed support for spray disposal versus water disposal when it comes to treated wastewater.

The Comprehensive Plan approved in 2006  strongly endorses spray irrigation as well.

Coyman said that the state expert on spray irrigation, the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Dr. C. T. Tien, has already been contacted about attending an educational spray irrigation meeting.

“He has offered to come and speak to us,” Coyman said.

The date of the meeting is not yet set, however.

Those who testified at the BZA hearing should be sent a letter notifying them of the event, Coyman suggested.

The commissioners felt that the entire area around the Summerfield spray site should be alerted to the event, and Commissioner Louise Gulyas suggested holding it at the Snow Hill High School auditorium.

The Summerfield spray site would handle effluent treated thoroughly at the proposed new Snow Hill treatment plant, which would be built to process wastewater to enhanced nutrient removal standards.

“There’s no treatment plant in the state of Maryland that would treat it to a higher standard,” Coyman said.

Commissioner Linda Busick strongly supports spray irrigation.

“Education of the public is really very key to making [spray irrigation] happen,” said Busick.

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