Saving Nature Reclaimed water is the Number One Environmental Success Story on Hilton Head Island


Restored Whooping Crane Conservancy. Photo by Marianne Ballantine

DO YOU WONDER where the water goes once you turn off the tap? Step out of your shower? Or flush? Besides delivering water to you, the Island’s two largest utilities Hilton Head Public Service District and South Island Public Service District treat this “wastewater” to strict quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But don’t think of this water as waste. It’s a valuable resource waiting for the right place to go. Happily, Hilton Head Island is just the right place.


In the early 1900s, many American cities discharged poorly treated and even untreated wastewater into river, lakes, and oceans. Los Angeles County was first to irrigate California golf courses with such wastewater. Problem: this water contained pollutants harmful to people and the environment.  Passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act established standards for eliminating pollution in waters of the U.S. A key quality standard set the goal that surface waters must be “swimmable and fishable.” That goal improved water quality for humans. But what about plants and animals?

Reclaimed water is advanced-treated, or “tertiary treated” domestic-use water. It’s sometimes called “reuse water” or “recycled water.” I call it LIFE.

The reclaimed water process adheres to water quality standards and just as important, to the best practices of ecological restoration, right here on the Island.

  • The water meets all standards for nutrient and toxin removal.
  • The water is distributed to the six largest freshwater wetland systems on the Island.
  • The utilities provide reclaimed water as lower cost irrigation on local golf courses.

This aqua-recycling program in the first sustainable technology created and successfully implemented on Hilton Head Island. Distribution of this water rectifies past impacts from development. Reclaimed water restores old growth forest, and enhances biodiversity. This in turn creates new opportunities for nature-based ecotourism—the fastest growing sector of tourism in the world.


Hilton Head Island is the only community in the U.S. to have SIX reclaimed water restoration projects. In future blogs, we’ll explore these Green Sanctuaries:

  • Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy
  • Cypress Conservancy
  • Boggy Gut
  • White Ibis Swamp
  • Sawgrass Savanna
  • Blackgum Bottomland

These names are intriguing enough. Wait until I show you who lives there!