Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment—The Rural Utilities Scenario

It’s a given that most homes today will be provided with full utility services, including electricity, phone, high-speed internet, digital TV, and water and sewer, with some of these amenities coming “wirelessly” to the house. However, many people may still have limited access to available utilities, specifically water and sewer.

Like many engineers, I work on commercial projects that require water supply and wastewater treatment in rural scenarios. Examples of these projects include rest stops, toll plazas, public parks, small residential neighborhoods, and rural commercial facilities—projects that are often remote and not readily available for water and sewer connections. Each rural scenario presents its own challenges, which can be generalized into three categories—potable water supply, fire flow, and wastewater. I describe each of these categories below.

Rural Utilities—Potable Water Supply

Two options typically exist for remote sites: (1) pipe it in or (2) pump it and treat it. Connecting to a distant utility system may be an option but requires specific consideration for water quality, especially for long “dead end” lines where water age quickly becomes a concern. More often than not, a rural site will require a well and treatment system. Depending on the groundwater quality, this system may be a simple pump/chlorinate setup, or it can become much more complicated. Either way, the well and treatment system will require proper design, construction, and operational permitting. And, depending upon the specific use, the permit may define the owner as a “public water system,” requiring licensed operation and routine submission of usage and quality.

Rural Utilities—Fire Flow

In my previous blog post, I broke out fire flow because it often complicates matters and is sometimes separate from rural systems’ potable water supply. As I discussed in that post, fire flow can present significant challenges to any project’s infrastructure needs, but especially in rural scenarios where the potable water supply is typically a small fraction of the required fire flow. In this instance, water supply rate and storage are both limiting factors.

Fire flow alternatives for rural scenarios are numerous, but often may include a combination of these items: (1) long distance pipeline, (2) storage tanks, (3) fire pumping, and (4) alternative on-site storage/supply methods. For example, for a rural park site with a pavilion, the code may require building sprinkler systems or relatively large hydrant flows, resulting in a fire flow system that costs more than the entire project. In these scenarios, it is critical to work with the local fire marshal and seek alternatives, such as adjustments to the building design, site layout, or sprinkler system to greatly reduce the required fire flow. Further, ponds or other means of storage may be utilized, eliminating the need for costly fire systems.

Rural Utilities—Wastewater Treatment

Similar to potable water, two wastewater options typically exist: (1) connect to a utility system or (2) treat it onsite. If a sewer system is present nearby, connecting to that system is often preferable, as this eliminates the need to independently treat the site sewage. However, when this option is not feasible, a large septic drain field or small “packaged” wastewater facility may be the only alternative. Similar to potable water, this option requires proper site-specific design, construction, and operational permitting, particularly for environmentally sensitive areas.

When considering projects that may not have water and wastewater utilities available for development, it’s important to do your homework.

When considering projects that may not have water and wastewater utilities available for development, it’s important to do your homework. I once had a permit reviewer comment on a project, saying, “Why would anyone build out there if there are no available utilities?” This sounds a bit like the old statement, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” While it’s preferable to connect to an existing water or wastewater system, it’s not always an option. So, until we can “wirelessly” provide water and sewer, we have to understand and work to solve each project’s needs by applying modern technologies, while remaining conscious of the environmental impacts those applications may have.

For more information on water, wastewater, or other issues impacting utility systems, contact Senior Engineering Manager Scott Richards, PE at 407.423.8398. Also stop by GAI Consultants’ (GAI) booth at the Florida Section American Water Works Association’s (FSAWWA) Fall Conference in Orlando, FL on November 27 – December 1, 2016 to chat with Scott and GAI’s other water resources professionals!


For related information, check out Scott’s previous blog post:

Water Quality and Fire Flow: A Twist on the Classical Elements | April 21, 2016

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