From flush to faucet: Drought-stricken Texas town turning sewer water into drinking water

By ALEX GREIG,, 2/27/14

Residents of one Texas city will soon be drinking recycled sewer water as drought conditions reach critical levels.

Three years ago, 88 per cent of Texas was in the 'exceptional drought' category - the worst drought in its history. Today, just one per cent of the state is in that category, including the northern city of Wichita Falls.

The emergency water reuse pipeline process in Wichita Falls has been on the cards since 1999, but as the city entered its fourth years of drought, officials realized it was time to roll it out.

The city is currently at stage four: drought disaster, meaning extreme water restrictions are in place.

Restrictions have brought the city's water usage down from  50 million gallons per day to 12 million gallons each day, but the savings aren't enough and city officials have now decided that recycling waste water is the only way to keep the city hydrated.

The city is currently in the midst of a 45-day test period of turning waste water into drinking water.

It's pumped through a black pipe that runs through the city directly from the water treatment facility to the water treatment plant, where it undergoes four stages of purification.

Once the testing is complete, the results will be sent to the state environmant quality department, which will deem whether or not it is fit for human consumption.

Public utilities operations manager Daniel Nix told CBS, 'We evaluated the waste-water first to see what kind of quality we would be dealing with. The wastewater quality coming out of that plant was very high, so we didn’t have a lot of things to deal with.'

According to KFDX, Wichita Falls will be the first city in the world to blend 50 per cent lake water with 50 per cent waste water to use for drinking water.

'No one's taken treated effluent from a waste water plant before it enters into a stream. No one's captured that and used it as a drinking water source,' says Public Works Director Russell Schreiber told KFDX.

Usually, waste water is treated and released back into the environment. Water to be used for human consumption is then drawn from lakes and reservoirs and treated in much the same way before it comes out of the tap.

According to Earth Magazine, repeated studies have show that many people have an aversion to consuming water they know has once been in a toilet bowl.

The 'flush to faucet' factor applies even when people know the water has been treated and is just as clean as bottled water.

However, as the drought grows more and more intense in Wichita Falls, residents are just relieved to know that there will be water coming from somewhere.

'I’m happy about it because we’re concerned here about our water levels and whether or not we’re going to have water,' Juanita Dean told CBS.

If approved, the program could be in effect by April.

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