Oklahoma Communities Want To Convert Sewage Water Into Drinking Supply

Thursday, October 31st 2013, 10:40 pm
By: News 9

Part of our state's still in a drought and the need for water remains. That's why some Oklahoma communities want to invest in a controversial idea to increase our water supply for years to come, turning toilet water into tap water.

"It's a finite supply" Norman utilities director Ken Komiske said. "It doesn't keep growing as our communities grow."

Several Oklahoma towns, including Norman, depend on Lake Thunderbird for its water. The lake is better now, just a few months of dry weather drastically lowers lake levels. Norman's ideal long term water shortage solution: recycling sewage water back into its drinking water supply.

"We're not inventing something," Komiske said. "We just want to incorporate our version of what we think would be good for Oklahoma."

Learn more about water treatment solutions at A Thirsty Planet.

A good idea of what that might look like can be found in hot, dry El Paso, Texas. Water is a valuable resource there, but thanks to a very aggressive water treatment program, they hardly have to worry about the supply. El Paso has been turning sewage into drinkable quality water for 28 years. Plant superintendent Vic Pedregon showed me how they do it.

"This plant is one of the few in the nation capable of taking raw waste water and converting it to potable quality water," Pedregon said.

The water goes through a vigorous 14-step cleaning process, from brown and stinky to clear and clean. Pedregon said getting over the gross factor begins with education.

"All water has been recycled at some point," Pedregon said. "There may be some water that's never been touched by man, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been touched by something."

By the end of the tour, I can clearly see a difference in the water quality. Forty hours later, from the toilet to the tap, I try it myself. It tastes just like Oklahoma City tap water. El Pasoans like it too.

"When I was told I was kind of disgusted, but it tastes better," El Paso resident Eric Meza said.

Even though El Paso's treated wastewater is drinkable quality, they still dilute it with other water. Some businesses, however, buy the treated sewage water directly for irrigation at a discounted cost of 40% less than the cost of regular water.

The state is currently conducting studies and focus groups to discuss allowing recycled water in drinking water in Oklahoma.

Learn how El Paso's Treatment Center works.