History and Current Status of Reclaimed Water Use in Florida1

Gurpal S. Toor and Donald P. Rainey 2


As water is utilized for domestic purposes, a large amount of that water is carried via municipal sewer systems to a wastewater treatment facility. After being treated and disinfected, wastewater is called reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is used for several beneficial purposes, including irrigation of turfgrasses and landscape plants. The use of reclaimed water can result in reduced use of surface and ground water and preservation of water supplies. Florida's projected population growth of about 6.5 million people from 2007 to 2030 (Figure 1), is likely to further stress limited water supplies and create more competition and conflict among major water users in the state. By 2025, demand for fresh water is projected to increase to 8.5 billion gallons per day (Marella 2008). The objective of this publication is to inform Extension specialists and citizens about the history and current status of reclaimed water use in Florida. More information on water use in Florida can be found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FE/FE79700.pdf.

Figure 1. Actual and Projected Population Growth in Florida.
Figure 1.  Actual and Projected Population Growth in Florida.

History of Reclaimed Water Use in Florida

Florida's reclaimed water use program began in the mid 1960s with the use of reclaimed water for agricultural purposes in Tallahassee. This was followed by the development of a landmark reclaimed water system for landscape irrigation in St. Petersburg in the late 1970s. The elimination of wastewater discharge to Shingle Creek and Lake Tohopekalaga motivated Orlando and Orange County to develop the Water Conserv II project in the mid 1980s. Faced with increased water quality concerns and seeing the benefits of reclaimed water use, several other utilities, like Altamonte Springs and the Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District, initiated projects to use reclaimed water in the 1980s. Table 1 lists the major events in the development of reclaimed water use program in Florida.

Current Status of Reclaimed Water Use in Florida

In Florida, 63 of 67 counties reclaim wastewater (or make reclaimed water) from wastewater treatment plants. The four counties that do not reclaim wastewater each have a population under 20,000. The largest reclaimed water use areas are central Florida (Orlando–Lakeland area), the Tampa Bay area, southwestern Florida, and a few counties on the Atlantic coast (Palm Beach, Volusia, Brevard).

According to a 2007 Florida reclaimed water use inventory by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), 475 domestic wastewater facilities treated 1,534 million gallons of domestic wastewater per day (MGD) (FDEP 2009); 43 percent of this wastewater (663 MGD) was reclaimed water, which is used for beneficial purposes on 285,352 acres. In comparison, 206 MGD of reclaimed water was beneficially used in 1986. The major beneficial uses in 2007 were for public access areas and landscape irrigation (59 percent), with the remainder being used for industry (14 percent), agricultural irrigation (12 percent), groundwater recharge (11 percent), and wetlands and other (4 percent) (Figure 2). In the public access areas and irrigated landscape, most of the reclaimed water was used to irrigate 246,841 residential landscapes, followed by 477 golf courses, and 794 parks, and 272 schools. The quantity of reclaimed water used and acreage are listed in Table 2.

Figure 2. Current Reclaimed Water Use in Florida (Adapted from FDEP 2009).
Figure 2.  Current Reclaimed Water Use in Florida (Adapted from FDEP 2009).

The amount of reclaimed water use in Florida varies considerably from one county to another. For example, Orange, and Osceola counties use ~100 percent of treated wastewater while other counties use lower amounts (Pinellas: 63 percent; Hillsborough: 40 percent; Miami-Dade: 6 percent). Readers are referred to FDEP's Water Reuse Inventory for information about reclaimed water use in other Florida counties (FDEP 2009).

The Importance of Reclaimed Water Use

Reclaimed water use is a growing practice and Florida currently leads the nation in using reclaimed water generated by domestic wastewater treatment facilities (663 million gallons per day in 2007). By the year 2010, the official goal is to reclaim one billion gallons of wastewater per day. Using reclaimed water has many advantages, including (i) reduced demand for surface and ground waters, (ii) reduction or elimination of wastewater discharges which can pollute surface water, (iii) recharge of ground water, and (iv) reduction in investment for developing new water supplies. Using reclaimed water offers an environmentally sound means of both wastewater and water resource management in Florida. Reclaimed water use not only reduces environmental impacts due to discharge of wastewater to surface waters, but also helps conserve potable water supplies by providing an alternative affordable water to meet irrigation, commercial, and industrial needs. In addition, many water use land application activities (golf course, agricultural, and residential irrigation; groundwater recharge, etc.) ultimately return water to ground water, especially in north and central Florida.

More information about reclaimed water use and guidelines in Florida can be found on FDEP's Website:http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/reuse/flprog.htm. The guidelines for reclaimed water use in the USA are available from US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA 2004).


FDEP. (2003). Water Reuse for Florida: Strategies for Effective Use of Reclaimed Water. Water Reuse Work Group. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/reuse/docs/valued_resource_FinalReport.pdf (accessed April 2016)

FDEP. (2009). 2007 Reuse Inventory. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Reuse Program. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/reuse/docs/inventory/ReuseInventory07.pdf (accessed 09/28/09).

Marella, R. L. (2008). Water Use in Florida, 2005 and Trends 1950–2005. Report prepared in cooperation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Florida Water Management District Fact Sheet 2008–3080). Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Water Management District Headquarters, Tallahassee, FL. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2008/3080/ (accessed April 2016).

US EPA. (2004). Guidelines for Water Reuse. EPA 645–R–04–108. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. http://water.epa.gov/aboutow/owm/upload/Water-Reuse-Guidelines-625r04108.pdf (accessed April 2016).


Table 1. 

Major events in the history of reclaimed water use in Florida (modified from FDEP 2003).






Spray irrigation: crops


Fiesta Village

Irrigation: golf courses


Vero Beach

Industrial: power plant cooling tower


St. Petersburg

Dual water distribution begins: landscape irrigation



Ground water recharge: wastewater injected into Floridian aquifer


Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District

Reuse program begins



Opens Southeast farm


Orlando–Orange county

Water Conserv II starts: Irrigation of citrus groves and ground water recharge thru rapid infiltration basins



Wetlands begins: 1640 acres in public park and nature preserve


Altamonte Springs

Project APRICOT begins: landscape irrigation


Cape Coral

World's largest residential irrigation program


West Palm Beach

Permit issued for indirect potable water reuse


Hillsborough County NW

Testing of a reclaimed water ASR well

Table 2. 

Summary of reclaimed water use activities in Florida (FDEP 2009).

Reuse Type


Reclaimed water used (million gallons per day)

Area (acres)

Landscape irrigation and public access areas

1. Golf course irrigation

2. Residential irrigation





3. Parks, schools, etc



Agricultural Irrigation

1. Edible crops



2. Other crops



Ground water recharge

1. Rapid infiltration basins



2. Absorption fields




1. Treatment plants



2. Other facilities







Toilet flushing, fire protection




Other uses









1. This document is SL308, one of a series of the Soil and Water Science Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2009. Reviewed April 2016. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Gurpal S. Toor, assistant professor, Department of Soil and Water Science, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; and Donald P. Rainey, GI-BMPs statewide coordinator, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County; Gainesville, FL 32611.