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]