Purple Pipe Dreams

A while back, I met a very pleasant lady on a flight from the U.S. to Europe. She was in her late 70s and had set out to tour Italy and France via Germany. 

We covered various topics on the long flight, but one thing that stuck with me was her vast knowledge of water. 

For someone who had no connection to the water industry, she knew a whole lot about the importance of water reuse. I later learned that she was from Texas, where she lived on a cattle ranch relying on both well and surface water, and struggled to conserve water during years of continuous drought.

Like the woman I met, Texans seem to know a whole lot about water. 

Forecasts estimate that the state will need an additional 8.3 million acre-ft of water by 2060, when its population is expected to surpass 46 million, up from the current population of 25 million.

Plagued by persistent periods of drought, Texas officials worry that water shortage will impact growth in the state. 

With forecasts warning that this winter’s snowfall in the upper Rio Grande basin was less than 70% of the average for the past three decades, the amount of water that will trickle downstream to supply Texas reservoirs will be a lot smaller. 

Both utilities and various state organizations have put a lot of effort into heightening public awareness of the vital role of water. It is no surprise that Texas not only is learning how to protect its precious water resources, but it also is showing an increasing interest in water recycling and reuse. 

Dozens of cities and water districts across the state are delivering recycled wastewater via miles of purple pipe for purposes like irrigating golf courses, sweeping streets and fighting fires. Some, such as the Colorado River Municipal Water District, are going a step further—the district is nearing completion of a $14 million plant that will take recycled wastewater to the tap in the Texan cities of Midland, Odessa and San Angelo, according to a recent Houston Chronicle report. 

Currently, approximately 2% of Texas’ water comes from reuse; however, state officials anticipate that over the next half-century, recycled water will account for at least 10% of new water supplies.

Texas is not alone. Across the country, public perception of reclaimed or recycled water has shifted significantly over the past decade.

As freshwater supplies become more limited due to distribution costs, increased population, persistent drought and climate change, negative terms like toilet-to-tap, recycled sewage and the “yuck factor” will continue to fade. Meanwhile, more miles of purple pipe will wind their way to sustainable landscaping irrigation and groundwater aquifers.

Neda Simeonova is editorial director of Water & Wastes Digest. Simeonova can be reached at 847.391.1011 or nsimeonova@sgcmail.com.

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