The city of El Paso, Texas, has announced plans to be the first major American city to embrace direct potable reuse, which is often referred to as “Toilet-to-Tap.” El Paso will lead the nation in the treatment of sewage water to be returned directly to homes and businesses as drinking water.
Tapping into the wastewater supply ensures greater access to water long-term
Once you have gotten over the initial “ick” factor involved with the thought of “Toilet-to-Tap,” understand that this process has been in place for years. Consider that astronauts have existed on recycled water in space for almost half-a-century. Naturally, water reuse is the reclamation of wastewater through advanced treatment methods that allow its use for numerous purposes, such as providing a water source for basic crops or landscape irrigation. Today, through an advanced wastewater treatment process known as direct potable reuse we are now able to use that recycled water as a supply resource for people.
Incidences of direct potable reuse can be found around the globe, but mostly where necessity dictates. America is considered to be the land of plenty, but as conditions change and populations grow, we as a nation will need to rethink our positions on water use and reuse in the same way the city of El Paso is doing to guarantee our water reserves will meet future demand.
El Paso has Seen the Future, and it is Direct Potable Reuse
El Paso is a desert community and gets about half of its water from the Rio Grande river. Even though there is currently ample water available in the Hueco Bolson aquifer there, according to El Paso Water’s hydrologists, drought conditions are becoming more prevalent and less snow melt is feeding the Rio Grande from Colorado and New Mexico. The city of El Paso has evaluated their situation and chosen to put themselves on the path to long-term water sustainability by adopting direct potable reuse. City leaders and officials are taking a proactive stance and not waiting for actual shortages to manifest before taking the steps necessary to guarantee their water supply for future generations.
The city of El Paso is investing in its future and its ability to deliver clean water to its citizens. Direct potable reuse is not the cheapest way to secure water. In fact, sewage water costs nearly ten times as much to treat. But sewage water has the advantage of being one of the most reliable sources of water in America. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has documented that the amount of wastewater generated in large cities can represent over 50% of the total water supplied. Reclaiming this vital resource is a significant step towards achieving long-term water sustainability.
The Big Picture
Direct potable reuse is in its infancy in the U.S., but the advantages the process presents for protecting the overall water supply are vast looking forward. Long-term water sustainability is a necessary goal for America to reach and El Paso is helping to pioneer direct potable reuse to prepare their city for the future. This project, if successful, could serve as a model for other cities and states facing the reality of dwindling water resources. For now, the clean water industry will keep a close eye on El Paso as it embarks on its journey to expand its essential water supply.