Preserving the Environment

How Texas is Turning Toilet Water into Drinking Water

August 27, 2014
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How Texas is Turning Toilet Water into Drinking Water
In Fairfield, Texas, 2,000 acres of man-made wetlands are naturally filtering out the pollutants from the area's treated wastewater. Paul Moseley via YouTube
In the drought-ridden southwest, a man-made wetland is churning out an additional 65,000 gallons of drinking water per day.

The idea of turning wastewater into drinking water might make your stomach churn, but for the dry American southwest, it’s a smart, economic reality.

As the Associated Press reports, 2,000 acres of man-made wetlands in Fairfield, Texas are naturally filtering out the pollutants from the area’s treated wastewater, slowly converting the muck into 65,000 gallons of drinking water per day.

This system — which, since beginning operations in 2002, consists of a series of sedimentation ponds and wetland cells — is part of the George W. Shannon Wetland Water Reuse project and is the first of its kind in the country.

MORE: Can Wetland Restoration Be Good for Business?

It takes about a week for the vegetation, soils and microbes residing in the wetlands to filter out the phosphorous and nitrates in the water that’s been diverted from the Trinity River (which mostly contains treated wastewater). This naturally-cleaned H2O is then pumped into the Richland-Chambers Reservoir for future use.

The AP notes that at $75 million, it’s far cheaper to build wetlands over traditional filtering infrastructure. (It’s also a win for the area’s wildlife which have taken habitat on the grounds.) According to the report, the George Shannon wetland has already provided about 30 percent more water to the reservoir than it would normally hold. This is only good news for the drought-stricken state and the 1.5 million local Texans that the reservoir serves.

“This is stepping back from dependence on rainfall,” David Marshall, head of engineering services for Tarrant Regional Water District, which operates the wetlands, tells the news organization. “With potential climate change or long-term droughts, we’re at risk, whereas these wetlands firm up a tremendous amount of water supply for us.”

Encouragingly, a similar wetlands project will be built at Cedar Creek Reservoir in the near future.

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