In Dry Texas, Recycled Water Looks Better and Better
As the drought in Texas continues with no end in sight, some cities are turning to innovative water alternatives in an attempt to maintain quality of life as they know it. The new mindset includes viewing waste water as an asset.
In San Antonio, in south-central Texas, one of the main tourist attractions is the charming and beautifully landscaped River Walk area in the city center. Over the past fifty years, about 2.5 miles of the meandering river and its tributaries have been developed for walking, boating, dining, shopping, culture, and entertainment. In the current drought, however, by rights the river would not be running – it would be dry as a bone. What would a river walk be without a river? They haven’t had to find out.
A recent report by NPR explains where the water comes from; San Antonio is using treated sewage water to fill the San Antonio River. The city used to pump 5 million gallons a day from the underground Edwards aquifer to keep river flowing through dry periods, but the city and the surrounding area depend on aquifer water for virtually all domestic, agricultural and industrial uses. Every gallon of recycled water is a gallon that can stay in the ground until needed.
San Antonio also uses recycled water for golf courses, parks, theme parks, university landscaping (including Trinity University, my alma mater), and industrial cooling. Some major businesses with local facilities, such as Toyota and Microsoft, are using water from the state of the art sewage treatment system initiated in 1996, instead of groundwater.
Water conservation awareness and regulations mean that average citizens are doing their part, too. Even though they don’t have access to recycled water for home use, they have reduced average per person consumption of potable water from 200 gallons a day to 130 gallons.
San Antonio isn’t the only city in Texas taking advantage of recycled water. El Paso, Austin, Amarillo, Lubbock, and others are using recycled water for landscape and industrial purposes. Some of the largest metropolitan areas, though, such as Dallas and Houston, are doing little with water reuse.
So far none of the Texan recycling systems are producing water for human consumption. If the drought continues as predicted, they may have to follow California’s example and complete the cycle, returning treated water to the kitchen tap. The city of Big Springs, Texas, is currently constructing a $13 million treatment plant that will process waste water to a potable standard. Can the rest of Texas be far behind?