Drought drives Texas town to a toilet-to-tap water reuse program

Wed, 2014-07-23 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

Wichita Falls, Texas has been dealing with unprecedented drought conditions since 2011. Earlier this month the West Texas city of about 105,000 launched its Direct Potable Reuse Project that involves blending treated wastewater with the municipal water supply. It's being called one of the biggest direct reuse programs in the U.S.

According to a story in the Scientific American, city public works director Russell Schreiber said there wasn't much choice. Lakes that supply the city's water -- lakes that were 97% full in 2010 -- have dropped below 25% of their capacity.

The city has tried just about everything:

    • Rationing water for more than 1,000 days now
    • Banning lawn watering
    • Using bath water to flush toilets
    • Seeding clouds to generate rain (which didn't work)

Conservation efforts have helped. The city has cut its typical daily water use in July from 40 million gallons to 12. But as City Manager Darron Leiker told CBS News, "We can't conserve our way out of this."

Rest of Texas is watching

So now the city has approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to try the reuse program for up to six months. The wastewater is purified to meet government drinking water standards and has been tested extensively.

Schreiber said there wasn't much of an option; all the other lakes in the area are in pretty much the same shape.

Other cities in drought-stricken Texas are also using treated wastewater, but so far just to irrigate crops, not as part of the drinking supply.

"We believe the rest of the state is watching what we're doing, and this may be a viable water source," Schreiber said in the Scientific American story.

More on water management…

San Francisco turns to smart water meters during drought

Video: Using cellular technology to improve water management

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.