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In Drought-Stricken Texas, They're Drinking Water Recycled From Urine

Don't think you'd drink water recycled from pee? Well, you may not have a choice. Processed waste water is totally clean and is the best solution for cities faced with water crises.

Would you drink recycled urine? Residents of Big Spring, Texas may not have a choice—the local water district is breaking ground this year on a $13 million treatment plant that will direct 2 million gallons per day of thoroughly cleaned sewage back into the regular water system. It's a practical solution for a drought-stricken state that is hunting for water wherever it can.

It's not as if wastewater recycling is a new idea. Texas has, in fact, used reclaimed water for over a century. But generally, the recycled water doesn't go to the tap; it's used in parks, golf courses, outdoor fountains, and more. The state has plenty of indirect sewage recycling plants—one of the newer plants filters wastewater through a wetland before sending it out to the facilities that want this so-called "raw water".

In contrast, the Big Spring plant will use sewage that has already gone through a traditional wastewater treatment plant, clean it out further, and combine it in a pipeline with lake water before sending it out to be used by residents in their sinks, toilets, and showers. This is, according to KDAF-TV, the first plant of its kind in the state—and one of the only plants like it in the country.

Los Angeles, another drought-prone city, is working on a similar system—a $700 million plan to purify up to 30,000 acre-feet of treated wastewater each year, or 5% of the city's annual water use. Orange County already has a "toilet to tap" system in place, and Singapore actually sells bottled water that comes from its treated wastewater plants. Delicious.

These projects will become increasingly common as droughts increase. So you might as well get used to it; you're going to be drinking pee soon. Recycled wastewater is coming to a tap near you—if it isn't there already.

[Image: Flickr user markhillary]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Mark Ballard

    There are company's out there that offer Water from Air technology also known as atmospheric water generators. These systems generate water that is 100% free of chlorine, fluoride, lead, recycled water, effluent and other toxic wastes. Most filtration systems remove all trace minerals from the water, thereby producing clean water. However there are systems that are specifically designed to retain the beneficial minerals that keep you healthy whilst removing impurities. So not only does an atmospheric water generator eliminate the need for plastic bottle the water generated with these dispensers costs in the neighborhood of 6 cents per gallon. 

  • Mogwai

    This isn't news in ROTW: London and Singapore, for starters, have been doing this for decades. A drought-stricken city in regional Australia a couple of years ago elected to not to. Trick is not to let it get to a referendum.

  • LadyKat

    I don't see how this is any different from what most places already do.  For example, City A draws water from a lake on a major river. Wastewater is treated and put back into that lake. City A will continue to draw water from that lake, and it makes sense to assume some of the water they draw will include treated wastewater.   Then some of the water flows past the spillway downstream to another lake on the same river. Cities B and C draw water, use it, and put treated wastewater back into the lake. This process repeats itself the length of the river until it finally flows into the sea.  What's the big deal?

  • Bette Boomer

    Jim-you're right. So all we need is a hot-shot ad agency to do some pro bono creating to change public thinking - Ad Council, are your listening???

  • Jim Call

    High School Chemistry, we learned that every breath we take contains
    molecules of air that Caesar breathed 2000 years ago. Same is true of
    drinking water.

    This is a small planet with a long history. Everything you eat and drink today once was something - or someone - else's poop and/or pee.

    Mother Nature takes this recycling thing seriously. Get over it.

  • Bette Boomer

    All we need to make this fly faster is a public awareness and education campaign - ok young gens, this job's for you!

  • Joel Lopez

    Reich is right!

    We must convert our politicians into potable water... Or something... I got got lost in the over reaching analogy.

  • Chris Reich

    It is only logical we drink 'pee' to wash down the fecal matter our elected officials are cramming down our throats.

    If we don't get over the myth that costs are just too high to produce goods in the U.S., we'll be importing waste from China to make our daily bread.


    Chris Reich