Texas city to help other municipalities learn from its drought survival

It started back in 2010 and lasted five years. The extreme drought that put a dry, dusty chokehold on Wichita Falls forced a number of changes in the lives of its residents.

None of the changes were harder to swallow than the switch to Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) – a process that treats effluent (sewage) for use as drinking water.

The butt of jokes

Wichita Falls generated jokes and headlines around the nation when it became the first U.S. city to rely on recycled wastewater for more than half of its drinking water. “Drought-Stricken Texas Town Turns To Toilets For Water” – read a 2014 NPR headline.

Some of the city’s approximately 100,000 residents referred to the water treatment process as “toilet-to-tap.”

Nevertheless, the city gained hard-won knowledge about drought survival. To help other Texas municipalities avoid the Wichita Falls experience, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a new law that requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to craft a guide for cities and counties that want to develop a direct potable reuse project of their own.

Providing guidance

Daniel Nix, Wichita Falls’ utilities operations manager, said “the hope is that as we advance closer to the next drought in Texas and other municipalities need to develop other resources, that this will provide them the guidance they need.”

Nix said a report last year made it clear that DPR is an important water resource the state needs to develop, but the missive included no recommendations on how to do so.

Sharing knowledge

Nix says the guide TCEQ develops will mean other municipalities won’t have to figure out each step of the DPR development process on their own, as Wichita Falls did.

When the city chose to pursue DPR to resolve its water crisis,  “there were no regulations, there were no standards, there were no guidelines, not only in Texas but in anywhere in the United States,” Nix said. “We did a lot of good work here in Wichita Falls. Now it’s up to us to help the others that are coming up behind us.”