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Target 3 Special Report: International Waters

The Cypress Water Treatment Plant is now testing the recycled waste water that Wichita Falls water users will soon be drinking.
The Cypress Water Treatment Plant is now testing the recycled waste water that Wichita Falls water users will soon be drinking.

And as we wait for the final results of the 45-day study, so does a community of waste water engineers from across the country and even overseas.

The emergency water reuse pipeline process Wichita falls is using is unique and has never been tried before.

It's not a new idea. Wichita Falls officials started looking into a waste water reuse project in 1999 and 2000, but scrapped the plan and added a reverse osmosis plant at the Cypress Water Treatment Plant. This allowed salty Lake Kemp water to be used instead.

But as the worst drought in Texas history began in 2010, city officials decided they could not wait any longer to begin recycling the waste water from the River Road treatment plant. No one realized at the time just how complicated pioneering such a project would be.

Under the strict stage 4 water restrictions, about 8 million gallons of water go down the drain and eventually into the Red River every day in Wichita Falls.

But starting this May, most of that water will be treated 4 times and put back into our drinking supply.

It's a ground breaking process which other cities facing water shortages may be watching closely.

“No one's taken treated affluent from a waste water plant before it enters into a stream. No one's captured that and used it as a drinking water source,” says Wichita Falls Public Works Director Russell Schreiber.

Being the first city in the entire world to blend 50% lake water with 50% waste water, while meeting the state of Texas' strict drinking water standards, has been challenging to say the least.

“No one's done it before, you know, it doesn't fit neatly in a box and it doesn't fit neatly into their regulations,” says Schreiber.

Schreiber and Operations Manager Daniel Nix had to find a way to prove to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that they could use the facilities they already had to turn waste water back into safe drinking water.

Connecting all the pieces of such a project was more than just connecting all the pieces of the pipeline.

And as they began to put all those pieces together, another Texas town was utilizing some of its waste water in a slightly different process.

The most similar project to Wichita Falls' pipeline is in Big Spring, Texas, where they've been drinking reuse water for almost a year now.

Big Spring started its research in 2002 and started construction in 2011. But their project only blends 20% waste water and their facility is completely automated.

“We think everyday is learning experience out there, you know, our plant is really automated. It does a lot of monitoring, a lot of testing. As a matter a fact the way our plant is set up is we don't even have to have an operator out there when it's running,” says Colorado River Municipal Water District General Manager, John Grant.

The recycling process puts 1.5 million gallons of water a day back into their pipes. And although still a learning experience, Big Spring officials say their plant has been working so well its first year, they are researching expanding it.

“The potential exists to build a plant in the Midland, Odessa. We believe that plant could produce about 10 million gallons a day,” says Grant.

Wichita Falls' pipeline is expected to add an extra 5 million gallons a day to the water supply, gallons that Schreiber says should help the cities in the system withstand future droughts.

However, he says the city can never be drought proof,  just more drought resistant.

“I hope the drought breaks tomorrow but if it doesn't we've got to get prepared and that's what spurred us into doing what we did. To be honest with you, I had prayed and hoped and wished we would never get to this point. I thought surely to God the drought would break,” says Schreiber.

And Wichita Falls isn't the only city praying for an end to drought, while taking desperate measures until the prayers are answered.

This reuse project could be one answer to water shortages around the world and Wichita Falls city officials are getting questions from near and far.

“We have engineers coming up to us from the Metroplex and say, 'man how in the hell did you get that done so fast?' Well the needs drove it,” says Schreiber.

“From California all the way to Florida and we've also been notified from the government of Israel on what we're doing, how we're doing it, because right now they're working on their 2050 water plan,” says Nix.

But those plans are far in the future. So for now, Wichita Falls city officials will finish out the 45 day verification study on the water quality and wait to see if their ground-breaking work pays off, not only for us, but any city where the shortage of water is critical.

Now there is another similar project in Namibia Africa where water users have been drinking recycled water for over 30 years now.

Wichita Falls water users should be using the reuse water by May.

City officials made a video that explains FAQ's about the pipeline. Click here to view it.

Here you can see our latest story on the water tests at Cypress Treatment Plant.



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