Chandler-Intel pact preserves city’s water resources as drought lingers

Chandler recently signed a reclaimed-water agreement with Intel to preserve the valuable resource. — Chandler photo

Chandler has entered into an agreement with Intel for construction of a reclaimed-water interconnect facility, critical because it saves and reuses the desert’s most-precious commodity.

“It’s a win for Chandler, it’s a win for Intel and it’s a win for us,” said Chandler City Councilmember Matt Orlando. “We won’t waste water and it’s a great way of reutilizing our natural resource.”

City officials say the partnership with Intel is designed to optimize use of the city’s water resource.

“Currently, the city and Intel execute an annual reclaimed-water agreement to meet Intel’s yearly projected needs,” said Matt Burdick, Chandler’s communications and public affairs director. “This agreement was only possible as long as the city had adequate reclaimed-water volumes to fill Intel’s request while still meeting our other obligations.

“This new agreement with Intel for the Reclaimed Water Interconnect Facility allows for additional water resources to be treated and delivered through our reclaimed-water system to meet their future industrial cooling water needs long term.”

Key to the agreement is a construction project, to begin in the fall after design is complete.

“The city will construct a small-membrane water-treatment facility, which will treat our surface-water supplies received from SRP and from the Colorado River to A-plus reclaimed water standards,” said John Knudson, director of public works and utilities for Chandler.

The 10-million-gallon per day treatment facility will be at Chandler’s Airport Water Reclamation facility at 955 E. Queen Creek Road, adjacent to Salt River Project’s Consolidated Canal.

This A-plus reclaimed water will then be used by the 5-million-gallon per day portion of the project, which is the city’s to recharge the aquifer beneath Chandler.

Unknown to many residents is that Chandler sits atop a large natural aquifer, which is a body of porous rock or sediment that’s saturated with groundwater.

“It’s like a huge bathtub or a huge pool,” Orlando said.

The agreement with Intel entails recharging that additional water into the groundwater aquifer, which will be key in case of continued drought conditions. The natural aquifer contains groundwater, but the city plans to add to it with its innovative plan.

Savings add up

Knudson said one of Intel’s largest needs is water for its cooling towers. It need not be drinking-water quality.

“And so, rather than bringing it through the potable system at great cost, we are going to bring it through our reclaimed system and deliver it to their cooling towers,” Knudson said.

Intel, the city’s largest employer with 12,000, uses billions of gallons of water each year in its manufacturing process. The agreement with Chandler means the city can provide reclaimed water rather than drinking water to the computer-tech giant.

“We invited Intel to join us in this project and Intel was very excited to join,” Knudson told Chandler City Council. “Their five-million per day allotment will be piped through our existing infrastructure over to Intel where they will use this water for their new cooling systems that they’ll need for their current and future projects. So it’s a great project for Chandler and a great project for Intel.”

The partnership also spells a savings for Chandler residents.

“By doing the joint project with Intel and then using treated water rather than potable water, we save the rate payers about $100 million in designing and building a new potable-water plant,” Orlando said.

“In addition, our energy costs are reduced due to not pumping ground water, and finally our treatment cost for reclaimed water will be reduced. The rate payer will see more stable utility rates that will not be as high as once projected.”

In the fourth quarter of 2020, Intel used about 1.8 billion gallons of water. The company treats and discharges about 80 percent of that water back to the city for further treatment and reuse. It also voluntarily discloses environmental information quarterly at its Explore Intel website.

“Water is a vital natural resource here in Arizona, and Intel and the city of Chandler have collaborated on water conservation and recycling for decades,” said Linda Qian, Intel’s communications manager for global public affairs and sustainability. “Using reclaimed water in our cooling towers is a great way to responsibly manage our water use.”

Last summer, West Chandler residents saw hundreds of trees die from the extreme heat and lack of rainfall with Arizona is in the midst of a drought. Rainfall is below average and lake levels are low.

“Chandler’s water supply is secure,” Knudson said.

The huge aquifer beneath the city along with extensive wells and careful planning have the city in a good position, he said.

Where is the aquifer?

“It’s everywhere. We exist over quite a bathtub,” Knudson said.

Then there’s the water the city purchased.

“We, the city, about five years ago went out and did another water purchase to even further secure the water resource here in Chandler and actually gave us the ability at that time with the additional water that was purchased, for an expansion opportunity like this for Intel,” Knudson said.

Additional Colorado River water was purchased from the Gila River Indian Community and entails an exchange agreement.

As the city continues to grow, it begs the question: Is there going to be enough water?

“The answer is yes,” Knudson said.

The city has more than 30 wells in addition to its natural aquifer.

“The city has a tremendous aquifer … and we have the ability to recover water from that aquifer. And that’s why the aquifer-recharge systems we have are so important.”

According to the city’s Drought Management Plan, a 30 percent reduction in Colorado River water deliveries and/or a 60 percent reduction in SRP water deliveries would have to occur before implementing mandatory city-wide water-demand reductions.

The Drought Management Plan ensures that the basic water needs for Chandler residents and businesses will be met during extreme water shortages.

Chandler does a supply-and-demand study periodically. The most recent was done in 2018. The city looks at the updated General Plan, which addresses every land use in the city and attributes a water volume to every land use within the city at buildout.

“We look at all the different buildout scenarios that the General Plan envisions and we look at the water volumes necessary to take care of those different scenarios,” Knudson said. “We have adequate water resource for all of those scenarios at buildout and beyond.”

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