Wastewater Recycled, Used For Drink

West Texas droughts and dropping aquifers have communities, including Lubbock, considering the use of recycled wastewater for drinking.

A public and government affairs manager with the West Basin Municipal Water district said the public is not aware people are drinking purified sewage water.

“When there is a city downstream from another city, that city is drinking sewer water from the upstream city,” said Ron Wildermuth, speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Lubbock earlier this month.

Wildermuth said indirect drinking water is purified water that goes into groundwater or reservoirs to become drinking water, but direct drinking water is purified and then goes into water pipes.

He said direct drinking water is a goal for water in the future, but is not available in the U.S. yet.

George Madhavan was a panelist with Wildermuth at the SEJ workshop, “From Drought Woes to Faucet Flows,” and discussed Singapore’s use of direct drinking water.

“Used water is processed through a membrane filtering system into what we call NEWater,” said Madhavan, director of the Singapore Public Utilities board.

NEWater is mainly used by industries because it is cleaner and cheaper, Madhavan said. NEWater is bottled for public drinking water but is for sampling only and not sold directly, he said.

One of the challenges of creating direct drinking water is overturning the public stigma of drinking sewage water, he said. There is a mindset change needed to get the public to understand that water recycling is a part of nature, and the NEWater process speeds up the natural water cycle, he said.

An associate professor at the University of Florida supported his co-panelists for reusing wastewater.

“The thing you have to understand about wastewater is that we are all responsible for that,” said Daniel Yeh.

Wastewater can be processed and turned into clean, reusable water, he said. Processing wastewater into reusable water has a cost, which is using energy, Yeh said.

He said a step beyond cleaning water is using wastewater to create energy by using bio-recycling. Wastewater can be used to create products like bio-plastic and bio-gas, which has the potential to replace petroleum, he said.

The primary wastewater treatment plant in Tampa, Fla., uses methane gas produced from microbes to power part of the facility, he said.

Wastewater should be looked at as a renewable resource by communities, turning human waste into a commodity, Yeh said.

“Wherever people are living there is going to be wastewater,” Yeh said. “If we can tag this as a renewable resource, we will never run out of it.”


by Tanner Tate
Contributed to The Hub by Jour 3312 


About Tanner Tate


  1. Jerod Foster says:

    This is an extremely important and interesting topic! I appreciate the coverage here. I worked on a couple stories with the Texas Tribune over summer 2012 that hinted at the “recycling” of waste water, including Big Spring, Texas, currently putting into operation a new waste water treatment:


    Nice work Tanner!

    • Tanner Tate says:

      Thank you very much! I went to the session at the SEJ conference and was hooked on the topic. It was really interesting and I thought it would make a great story. I look forward to reading your coverage of it.

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