Drinking Water of the Future May Come Increasingly From Toilets

In the face of climate change, recycled water could be a solution
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 3, 2022 7:00 AM CDT
Toilet-to-Tap Water May Be Losing Its Ick Factor
Russell Schreiber, director of public works for Wichita Falls, Texas, speaks to a group of utilities directors from across the state during a tour of the Cypress Water Treatment Facility on March 6, 2015.   (AP Photo/Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

Garden hose bans are in place across much of Britain, where rivers and reservoirs are at unusually low levels following months of low rainfall. In the future, part of the solution will be "to reprocess the water that results from sewage treatment and turn it back into drinking water," James Bevan, head of Britain's Environment Agency, writes in the Sunday Times, urging Britons to become "less squeamish" to the concept, which is "perfectly safe and healthy." Though recycled drinking water isn't used in Britain, it is in Australia, Singapore, Namibia, and parts of the US, reports the New York Times. And with climate change triggering more severe droughts, more US cities are looking to sign on.

For decades, cities have used water derived from a system called indirect potable reuse, or IPR. Here, sewage water goes through a wastewater treatment plant, an advanced purification facility, then an environmental buffer, like an underground aquifer. Direct potable reuse, or DPR—legal in Texas and "on a case-by-case basis" in Arizona, per CNBC—skips this final, expensive, and time-consuming step. According to experts, the water that exits the advanced purification facility already meets or exceeds state and federal drinking water quality standards and can be sent directly to a drinking water system. Residents of Big Spring and Wichita Falls quickly got over the ick factor as the Texas cities utilized DPR in response to severe droughts in 2014.

Some 96% of citizens who toured a demonstration facility in El Paso in 2016 were also on board, leading to plans to build a large-scale facility, which will produce 10 million gallons of drinking water daily, by 2026. "It's a way to make sure that El Paso will thrive 50 years out from now," Christina Montoya, communications and marketing manager at El Paso Water Utilities, tells CNBC. "We can't just be planning when an emergency happens. We need to be planning all the time for the future." Other states, including California, Colorado, and Florida, are formulating regulations to legalize DPR, and Los Angeles plans to open a demonstration facility in 2024. In Britain, there will be a public consultation on wastewater recycling proposals in November, per the New York Times. (More drinking water stories.)

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