If you are a wastewater utility, and you create a high quality effluent product that can be used for industrial purposes, irrigation or aquifer recharge, who “owns” the water? If the utility is sending to a golf course pond for discharge, the answer seems obvious – the golf course owns it. Not so fast.
Now let’s day you are recharging and aquifer. You pump it into the ground with the intention of recharging the aquifer to benefit your wellfield. Or you pump it into an aquifer storage and recovery system with the intent of recovering it when you need it. Quick impression is that you should own it, but what about the people that sink walls along the way? Or have existing wells in the vicinity that can tap your injected water? Can you keep people from pumping it out? Not as clear.
What about discharge to a stream with the idea of capturing it downstream in an intake system for your water system? Much less clear. The ecosystem, farmers, irrigation users, etc. along the stream could use the increased flows. Can you keep them out? Very unclear.
Now assume you are a water rights state and there are people who have rights to the aquifer or stream that are more senior to yours. Can you clip their claim to the water by claiming the water is yours? Really not clear and the subject of ongoing regulatory discussion and legal proceedings.
There are no clear answers to these questions but they have major long-term impacts of water resource planning in much of the US. The problem is the rules assume facts not in evidence at the time of the permit (or claim). Conditions can change – permits and rules may not (or have not). Maybe the water regulations and that the changed condition should perhaps obviate the prior claim? A very tough legal issue and one bound to make a bunch of people unhappy. The concept of reclaiming water from waste was not a consideration in the past, so clearly the rules that cover reclaimed water need to be revised. I can’t wait to see the results.