Preparing for Economic Development

Cities can play an important role in creating a positive environment for economic development in their community. By preparing properly and ensuring the city is ready for growth, city leaders can help retain current businesses and attract new ones. One of the key aspects of economic development for a city is its infrastructure.

Prospective industries usually want to move quickly and cities may feel compelled to make decisions before they are ready. Elected and administrative officials want to do the right thing, but many times water and wastewater staff are brought into the decision-making process too late. Then it is discovered that the city will not be able to handle a particular type of industry. Working together with economic development leaders and city councils, utility staff can provide valuable assistance in these situations.

Industries are generally considered either wet or dry. A wet industry will need a significant amount of water and wastewater capacity. A dry industry will use little or no process water and generate wastewater associated only with the sanitary needs of the workforce. Most industrial growth will entail an increase in water and/or wastewater needs. While a city does not want to be discouraging, it is important to ask the right questions and give accurate information when a potential industry is considering a location. While encouraging growth, city officials want to be careful to protect their community from surprises like a shortage in water supply and treatment capacity or permit violations.

A forward-thinking, responsible industry will want to understand both the limitations and the opportunities available to them. Water is often fairly easy to talk about, while wastewater is something that is discussed less. Don’t assume that the industry will tell the city what it needs to know. City officials should be proactive by asking questions and providing data. If they show that they are aware of the regulations and requirements associated with water and wastewater, the industry will feel reassured that there will be no surprises down the road.

Cities should consider having a one-page handout that briefly describes the existing and the potential capacities of its water and wastewater facilities. Industries need to understand clearly what a city can provide now, what it has the potential to provide in the future, and what it will cost them.


Industrial needs for water will often differ from domestic and commercial needs in quantity and quality. While domestic needs tend to peak in the mornings and evenings, and commercial during normal work hours, industrial needs can be extremely variable. It is essential to ask a potential industry about the details of their use. They may have level demand most of the day and a large clean-up once per day, or they may provide batch processing that varies a great deal from day to day and week to week.


Large communities, with an average daily flow of more than 6 million gallons, generally have an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required pre-treatment program which clearly delineates the requirements to discharge anything to the sanitary sewer system other than domestic-type wastewater.

Smaller communities need to be careful to ask enough questions of a potential industry to be sure both the city and the industry understand the details of wastewater to be treated. It is recommended to ask questions such as:

  • What type of industry is it?
  • Is it a Categorical Industrial User per EPA definitions?
  • How much water will be used?
  • How much wastewater will be discharged?
  • What contaminants will be in the wastewater?
  • What else could be discharged to the environment from a spill or accident?

No reputable industry wants to be known as a polluter, but it is essential that a community understands the details of the wastewater that will be discharged to your treatment facility. Your National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit explicitly delineates what you can discharge – both in quantity and quality – from the facility. If an industry discharges wastewater that is not typical domestic in nature, the city needs to determine if it is a Significant Industrial User (SIU). An SIU is one that discharges more than 25,000 gallons per day, is more than 5 percent of the hydraulic or organic load, discharges a toxic pollutant, or is determined to have or potentially have a significant impact to the treatment. An SIU must have a Treatment Agreement (TA) with the city that is incorporated into the NPDES permit. The agreement sets limits on what can be discharged to the plant to prevent pass-through or interference with the plant, and allows for sampling and inspection to determine compliance.

Information provided by Winnie Gleason, P.E., a Project Engineer with FOX Engineering.

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