By Mike Barnett
The certainty for Texans of fresh, unlimited and cheap water is being flushed down the toilet as the recent (and current) drought has left many cities high and dry in a search to provide for their residents.
A growing realization that we must act now to ensure future supplies has cities like Brownwood considering a water treatment system that will recycle what goes down the bowl through the faucet in the kitchen sink.
City leaders admit it will be a tough sell to squeamish residents but they are faced with a water supply that is at record lows because of dry weather. If approved, it would be the most direct reuse of wastewater in the United States.
It’s not the first time wastewater has been treated and reused. Some cities treat it to near drinkable standards, dump it into a body of water and let sit awhile before it is retreated for drinking use. This common process is called indirect potable use. Other cities like Austin use treated wastewater to water golf courses and for industrial applications.
The process under consideration in Brownwood, called direct potable use, puts wastewater in a treatment plant where it goes through many purification processes. After the water meets federal safe drinking water standards, it would pump directly into water pipes.
That Brownwood is even considering the project brings home the fact that water is serious business in Texas.
One of the chief critics of the proposed system, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman, says the city hasn’t instituted strict enough conservation standards, and points a finger at agriculture as a heavy water user.
That’s all too familiar as water issues heat up in Texas.
Three things we need to consider:
- Agriculture is not a water waster as reported by The Texas Water Institute. That report shows irrigation efficiency in much of the state at 88 to 95 percent. Everyone needs to remember it takes water to grow food. Take the water out of agriculture and consider where your food will come from. Take the water out of agriculture and rural communities die, people lose jobs and the state economy takes a huge hit.
- Technology is not a bad word. It has made agriculture more efficient. It can help us make more efficient use of our water through recycling, if we will let it.
- Conservation is important for rural and urban Texas alike. Every drop counts. Millions of gallons of water are lost every day from leaky pipes underlying city streets.
- We must continue to research new sources of water such as desalination.
Kudos to Brownwood city fathers for thinking outside the box in an attempt to solve the city’s water problems. Some residents may have a hard time stomaching the results, until they realize the choice is recycled, purified water or no water at all.
It will take that kind of vision and courage to solve Texas water woes as a growing population places increasing demands on our supply. I hope Texans are ready.