Would you drink recycled waste water if you had assurances it was safe?
BIG SPRING –– In a parched corner of Texas four hours west of Fort Worth, water supplies are drying up. But ideas to replenish them are not.
Near Midland lies what used to be a peninsula, a spot that was once nearly surrounded by a sprawling reservoir. But almost the entire lake has evaporated. Years of drought have created a desperate thirst; the area remains in an extreme drought.
Is it desperate enough, though, for residents in Odessa, Big Spring, Snyder, Midland and Stanton to accept a solution that some find hard to swallow?
The Colorado River Municipal Water District recently began recycling millions of gallons of sewage.
After the sewage is scrubbed at the wastewater plant in Big Spring, the liquid is pumped into a new $12 million washing warehouse where it goes through micro-filters and reverse osmosis. Then, it’s disinfected with hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light.
"You are basically looking at bottled water quality water,” said operations manager John Womack. He contends what once went down a drain is pure enough to drink.
But for those who aren't so confident, the water will be treated again before it's consumed by the half million customers down the pipeline.
Still, Womack and his boss have heard all the wisecracks.
"We've been titled 'from toilet to tap,'" Womack quipped.
"I heard somebody say they get to drink their beer twice now," said general manager John Grant.
He expected some of that. As far as he knows, his is the first water district in the country to directly recycle effluent back into the reservoir. But he knows of other utilities that are seriously considering it.
"We have to get creative. We have to look for new sources and supplies," Grant said. "It’s drought-proof. As long as the city is still there, the source will be there, and if the city grows, the supply grows."
Ultimately, this recycling tactic may have the unintended effect of encouraging water conservation.
"I won’t drink it," exclaimed Big Spring resident Pete Rosenbaum, “I am going to buy bottled water."
Some locals still can’t get past the image that part of what’s in their cup may have once been swirling down a bowl, said resident David Jansch.
“The state even says it's pure," he said. "I understand that, but I know where it came from.”
For those who are concerned about pharmaceuticals, water district managers say the technology will get the bulk of any disposed medicines out of the water.
"Does it get it all? Maybe not,” Grant conceded.
But he adds that the heavily-cleansed water product is greatly diluted with "raw" water in the environment before it is piped to member cities, which then treat the water again.