El Paso, Texas will be the first major city in the United States to treat its sewage and send it right back to people’s taps. For years one of its primary sources of water has been the Rio Grande, supplying nearly half of the city’s water.
Climate change has produced a 25% decrease in snowmelt feeding the river for a growing population. Rising temperatures have led to more evaporation and less snowpack to draw from and all of this is expected to get worse in time. As temperatures increase the region will become more vulnerable to drought.
What’s happening to the Rio Grande is happening throughout the Western United States. Studies have shown that snowmelt runoff, which is an important source of water for much of the western United States, has come consistently earlier due to rising temperatures.
Government projections forecast temperatures rising as much as an additional 8 degrees Fahrenheit in the region. For cities like El Paso, that rely on these rivers, alternative water sources must be found out of necessity.
Assessments by the Texas Water Development Board projected that El Paso would run out of water by 2020 if it continued to rely on pumping groundwater. So El Paso is building a closed loop system that will treat sewage water and turn it directly back into drinking water, or what water professionals call “direct potable reuse.”
El Paso; Orange County, California; Scottsdale, Arizona, and several other utilities across the country already treat sewage water and pump it back into the aquifer to ultimately drink. And many cities pump excess sewage back into the supply source.
In a closed loop facility like El Paso is building, instead of being pumped back into the aquifer, the treated sewage water will be sent right back into drinking water pipelines.
Wastewater produced in large cities can represent 50% to 60% of the total water supplied, a massive potential resource, according to the Potable Reuse Compendium released by the EPA.