Global Warming Up Close: It's Time To Drink The Toilet Water

Global Warming Up Close: It's Time To Drink The Toilet Water

Brantley Hargrove at the Texas Monthly with the story of one city that will soon be drinking its own toilet wastewater. Don't laugh, this may be in your future, too:

None of these measures have turned out to be enough. When the lakes dip below 25 percent—and they will soon—the city will move from Stage 4 Drought Disaster water restrictions to Stage 5, the precise details of which were a matter of conjecture until April, when the city government decided upon them. Among other things, the city’s outdoor swimming pools won’t be filled from the municipal supply and the car washes around town will be forbidden to use city water two days a week—or seven days a week if levels dip below 20 percent.

It’s a set of restrictions that, like this drought, are without precedent in Wichita Falls. The residents have been asked to change the way they live—to leave behind the days of plenty and adapt to a new reality. A city may survive for a time without electricity or natural gas, but water is the lifeblood of civilization. We need it to drink, cook, and flush away excrement, the public health hazard that bedeviled our ancestors for millennia and continues to kill millions every year in the undeveloped world. The extremity of need in this part of Texas is so profound that Wichita Falls plans to turn this ancient relationship with human waste on its head—by drinking treated toilet water.

On an early April morning, Schreiber strides across the grounds of the River Road Wastewater Treatment Plant in size fourteen ostrich-skin boots, explaining how he plans to keep the city from becoming a ghost town. This is his corner of Texas—he grew up in the German farm country just to the south, in Windthorst—and he feels the weight of his responsibility acutely. Schreiber walks to a basin that is churning with chlorinated water from Wichita Falls’s toilets, showers, dishwashers, and sinks. “We don’t have an aquifer we can tap and get fifteen million gallons a day out of,” he says. The city draws its water exclusively from the nearby lakes. “Every lake within a one-hundred-and-fifty-mile radius is in the same shape ours are.”


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[...]If there’s any squeamishness about drinking treated toilet water, the city isn’t hearing about it. “My first response was ‘Oh no, I won’t be drinking it. We’ll use bottled water,’ ” says Mike Mason, who services water pumps around Wichita County. “But assuming it passes all the state tests, we’re at a point now where we have no other options.”

“They understand they’re running out of water,” says Daniel Nix, Schreiber’s utilities operations manager. “We don’t have anybody standing up in council meetings and saying, ‘No way.’ What we are hearing is ‘Why isn’t this done already?’ ”

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