HOUSTON - Turn the tap or flush the toilet in North Texas and every drop down the drain ends up at a sewage treatment plant operated by the Trinity River Authority.
“Flush twice Houston needs the water. It used to be a joke. Now it’s more of a water strategy. The folks in Houston will say ‘Yes, please do,’” said Glenn Clingenpeel, with the Trinity River Authority.
This plant is one of the biggest in the area which separates solids and removes paper and other objects before turning it into clear water in a 12-hour process.
“We’re handling right now about 135-140 million gallons [of raw sewage] per day,” said Bill Tatum, manager of TRA Central Regional Wastewater System.
It’s a little known fact outside science circles, but a truth in Texas for decades.
Wastewater from the Metroplex flows downstream 250 miles in the Trinity River and into Lake Livingston where Houston gets most of its water.
Normally, the wastewater gets diluted by rainwater and runoff, but not during the drought of 2011.
“Last year it was almost 100 percent of it. On any given summer month, it’s 95 to 97 percent of it,” Clingenpeel explained.
But utilities like the Fort Worth Water Dept. are starting to send a little less downstream as they launch projects to reuse their own wastewater in preparation for future droughts and an expanding population.
It’s something Houston is watching closely and collaborating on. This city needs almost a half billion gallons of water a day during the peak usage of the summer months, said Alvin Wright, spokesman for the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department.
So, if Dallas - Fort Worth reuses its own wastewater instead of sending it south, will that put this city in short supply?
“If we reuse all the water up here does that mean the river’s going dry and there won’t be any water downstream? No. Is that something we’re looking at? Absolutely,” Clingenpeel said.
The Houston area is examining that question as well.
It’s counting on North Texas wastewater for years to come.
“It’s very important. It’s an important part of our water portfolio,” said Jace Houston, with the Region H Water Planning Group.
Never mind recycling wastewater in North Texas, the region is growing and forecasted to consume more water and therefore discharge more downstream.
Still, the City of Houston isn’t taking that for granted.
It just got permission to start recycling up to 500 million gallons of wastewater per day, though it hasn’t built a plant to do so yet.
“The more critical water supplies become, the more growth we experience in population. We have to begin to use more and more resources from our portfolio to meet the demands, and wastewater will be a key part of that,” Houston said.
So will sewage plants, though what they do might be hard to swallow.