In response to the drought — lake levels in Wichita Falls, Texas dropped below 40 percent capacity last week — several Texas cities are pursing projects to turn treated sewage into millions of drinking water per day, the New York Times reports.
Wichita Falls, for example, hopes to produce 5 million gallons of potable water daily through reuse technology, and by the spring, a $14 million treatment plant in Big Springs will turn sewage into drinking water and distribute some 2 million gallons daily to the Midland-Odessa area. Other Texas cities moving ahead with the technology include Brownwood, Abilene and Lubbock, according to the Times.
The Big Springs plant will be the first project of its kind in the US because it will use direct potable-reuse technology – that is, the treated wastewater will not be sent through an aquifer before use.
In 2007, Orange County, Calif. opened the world’s largest sewage purification system to increase drinking water supplies, according to GrowingBlue, a water awareness group whose members include IBM, Veolia Water, The Nature Conservancy, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate and others.
El Paso also treats its wastewater to produce potable water. There, as in Orange County, the treated wastewater is sent through an aquifer before being pumped and receiving additional cleaning.
While turning sewage, or “blackwater,” into drinking water is a more novel approach to conservation and reuse, greywater has long been used for landscaping purposes, commercially and in at-home systems. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in spring 2012 began issuing permits for the reuse of greywater for landscaping purposes. The rules, however, forbid the water from touching the edible parts of food plants.
Kansas City’s Water Services department in January announced it has generated $2.1 million in net income over the past six years by reusing human waste as fertilizer on its own city-run biofuel farm – turning an expense into a revenue generator.