I’m Drinking What?

Tap water has traditionally been sourced from natural aquifers, but in Orange County, California, a new “Groundwater Replenishment System” purifies wastewater for its residents at a rate of 70 million gallons per day. (Photo by Easah Shamih; CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Toilet to tap” is the very unappealing appellation applied to treatment systems that recycle wastewater into tap water without ever passing the effluent back through a purifying natural aquifer. To date, predictable public reaction has kept the idea on the back burner for the most part, despite the fact that new technologies are often better than traditional remedies at filtering out the chemicals that seep into our water supply.

However, the recent years-long drought across much of the U.S., coupled with increasing demand across Texas, California, Colorado and elsewhere, driven by booming populations and new industrial needs, like hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” (you can read both sides of that debate here and here), has put this once unthinkable idea into play.

Several Texas municipalities are in fact just waiting for an official stamp of approval before letting their already installed flush-to-faucet solutions flow.

Please Keep the Power Flowing

Since new high-tech treatment systems rely on electricity, not Mother Nature, to filter water, engineers will soon be under extra pressure to reassure the public that the pumps and purification systems that make everything nice fulfill their duty without failing unexpectedly.

Persistent droughts have caused water levels at Lake Mead to drop over 100 feet. Local municipalities are searching for alternative water supply solutions. (Photo by OakleyOriginals; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Companies like UST (Utility Systems Technologies), which manufactures high end voltage regulators and power conditioners, have already begun marketing technologies designed specifically to meet the please-never-fail needs of stressed engineers and administrators.

Toilet to tap is just one of a host of ideas being tried out in the American West. While conservation still ranks among the most cost-effective solutions, people want their water. Certainly Texans want their water.

Short of moving water from wet regions to dry regions through pipes, always an expensive and politically fraught undertaking, electrically powered systems that help recover and reuse our very personal water, no matter how unappealing such systems may sound today, are likely to become a common feature of the future landscape.