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Desperate Times … Drought in the Southwest Causes Water Reuse to Slough Its “Toilet to Tap” Label

With ways to increase water supplies hard to come by in the drought, water reuse is shaking its old “toilet to tap” label and gaining popularity across the Southwest. Two recent columns provide a snapshot of some of these projects and their promise as key elements of a more sustainable future for water:

Texas State Representative Bill Callegari highlights water reuse projects in his state.  Some cities, like Wichita Falls and Big Springs, have implemented programs to treat wastewater and reintroduce it into their drinking water supplies, and other areas use recycled water for other purposes.  Callegari calls for the state government to take the lead in promoting more water reuse programs through incentives and regulatory streamlining.

Jim Madaffer, a member of the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors, focuses on reuse efforts in California.  He discusses San Diego’s Pure Water Program, which will process 15 million gallons per day by 2023 and 83 million gallons per day by 2035, as well as the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System, which treats 70 million gallons per day to recharge groundwater supplies.

As these examples show, water reuse is a promising and growing practice.  A 2012 white paper from the National Water Research Institute looked at the potential benefits of reuse, focusing on Southern California as a case study.  The report found that in addition to increasing the water supply in the region, recycling would provide higher-quality water (in terms of mineral content) than the State Water Project or Colorado River.  It could also result in substantial energy savings by up to one terawatt-hour per year by reducing the need to transport water from those projects.

While water reuse for purposes other than irrigation is still a relatively rare practice in much of the United States, other parts of the world have implemented it with considerable success.  Singapore first attempted water reuse in 1974, but shelved the program until 2000, when innovation had increased reliability and decreased costs.  Singapore now derives up to 30% of its water from its reuse program, called NEWater, and plans to scale up to meet 55% of its demand by 2060.  NEWater is primarily used for industrial applications, but some is also added to the city’s reservoir

Read more on the San Diego Pure Water Program:

More on the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System:

Written by Stratecon Staff