Use recycled water to help meet growing demand

Posted Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Economic growth, quality of life and environmental sustainability all revolve around clean, ample supplies of water.

The recent drought has caused cities, businesses, individuals and organizations to increase their emphasis on water planning. The Texas Legislature has named water one of its top priorities, and the State Water Plan has generated much discussion with a variety of proposed solutions.

Which are the best strategies to provide water for our future needs?

Bills in the Legislature propose moving up to $2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, popularly called the Rainy Day Fund, to finance water projects. The idea is to lend money to public utilities, municipalities and other water providers to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

It's proposed that 10 percent to 20 percent of the new funds be earmarked for "conservation and reuse." However, conservation and reuse (water recycling) need to be considered as separate items.

Conservation saves water. That is a simple and powerful truth, and planners agree that conservation is a key part of the mix. But we must think of recycled water differently.

As our population grows in Texas, we will need more water. We will also use more water, so we will have more water to recycle. Some of that has to be allowed to run downstream to keep rivers flowing. A burgeoning Texas, however, offers the promise that recycled water can become a major source of supply.

Water recycling projects often have the lowest cost per unit of water of any source of new supply. They can be implemented more quickly than other water supply projects and scaled to fit the needs of individual communities.

A common-sense approach mandates cost-effective projects able to provide both near-term benefits and long-term supply.

Recycling and reusing the water that goes down our drains is an effective practice that has become increasingly important and more widely used. The Tarrant Regional Water District has been a leader in creating man-made wetlands to filter water for additional supplies. The Fort Worth Water Department is doing excellent planning to recycle water.

In times past, filtering used water caused some people to turn up their noses. Technology, though, has changed the world. We recycle everything from paper to motor oil, and we can now use high-tech filters to safely recycle water.

El Paso; Anaheim, Calif.; Melbourne, Australia; and other cities employ a technology called ultra-filtration to return the water that goes down the drain to high-quality, drinkable standards. Ultra-filtration uses high-tech filters, along with ultraviolet light and chemicals commonly used to treat drinking water, to make this reclaimed water safe for human consumption. After it is filtered, the water is put back into an aquifer or lake and later withdrawn and put into the municipal water system.

The Texas Conservation Alliance recommends that we start with the most efficient and least expensive methods for meeting our state's water needs. Building ultra-filtration plants, and continuing to build man-made wetlands, are intelligent, low-cost ways to provide more water in the near-term.

As the Legislature creates programs to provide dollars for water infrastructure, it's important to establish parameters that will steer funding to the most cost-effective projects.

We built this great state on two things -- abundant natural resources and Texas-sized confidence. By implementing the right strategies, we can be confident we'll have the water we need to keep our economy strong and healthy.

David Marquis consults with the Texas Conservation Alliance on water issues.

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