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Drought-Stricken Texas Town Taps Urine For Water 300

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-important-to-stay-hydrated dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Texas is in the midst of a drought so severe that local water management teams have decided to distribute reclaimed wastewater (aka urine). The Colorado River Municipal Water District in West Texas has broken ground on a $13 million plant that will capture treated wastewater and ready it for redistribution. After being run through microfilters and undergoing reverse osmosis, slimy sewage is cleansed with peroxide and ultraviolet light. This intense process ensures that any pharmaceuticals and carcinogens are removed, and that the H2O stands up to drinking water regulations."
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Drought-Stricken Texas Town Taps Urine For Water

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  • by bmo (77928) on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:41AM (#37022980)

    ...then you're drinking filtered sewage anyway.

    Not news.

    --
    BMO

    • by vlm (69642)

      ...then you're drinking filtered sewage anyway.

      Not news.

      --
      BMO

      Wells are also fundamentally the same concept.

      I suppose if you reclaimed some cometary ice, it might be "organic free"... or maybe not.

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Consider how much water you use during a day that goes down a drain (shower, laundry, dishes, flushing toilets, etc). Compare that to how much water you drink a day. That puts an upper bound on how much "urine" you're looking at.

      Most wastewater treatment plants put water back in the river that's cleaner than the rest of the river, anyway. Environmental regulations and the like.

      • If they're turning to urine, given it's relatively insignificant volume, then that tells you how bad the drought is there.
        • They're not turning to just urine, they're using all waste water.

          • by NFN_NLN (633283)

            They're not turning to just urine, they're using all waste water.

            No. I think they're rebuilding the entire infrastructure:
            - Outbound general waste water
            - Outbound urine
            - Inbound clean water
            - Inbound cleaned urine water for drinking only

            You are required by law to urinate and only urinate into the outbound urine line. And all water destined for direct human consumption must come from the "Inbound cleaned urine" line. ... you wanted internal infrastructure and jobs for Americans. If you don't drink urine then you hate America!

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        Consider how much water you use during a day that goes down a drain (shower, laundry, dishes, flushing toilets, etc). Compare that to how much water you drink a day. That puts an upper bound on how much "urine" you're looking at.

        Most wastewater treatment plants put water back in the river that's cleaner than the rest of the river, anyway. Environmental regulations and the like.

        That doesnt stop it from being piss... Did you know that water leaving via the wastewater plan is never actually filtered? Just rendered into clearer and clearer forms via patience and a few odd chemicals along the way. To get it back out and turn it to drinking water the same rules apply; no filters, just time and a few parts per million of chlorine. All that piss must be in there *somewhere*. Don't forget, animals have been drinking water for millions of years. The odds that the H20 you are drinking

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moryath (553296)

      What would be news is if the USA would get their heads out of their asses regarding greywater systems [greywateraction.org]. I tried to see about getting one set up in my house only to be shown a local ordinance (they seem to be just about universal round my state) banning them because it LESSENS usage of the sewer system. The bullshit reason given was that they are worried about the sewer system "drying out" and developing problems if the water levels in the sewer pipes "get too low." Meanwhile, they altered the rates to a tier

      • That is liberty as defined by the Republicans. Liberty is only for corporations, profiteers oops sorry Job Creators. You say, "I just want to use my gray water in my home" they laugh at you. They will sit in the medicare provided scotters, sniffing medicare provided oxygen tanks and rail against the government take over of healthcare.
  • This sounds logical but I would only drink this water if this process can really get the asparagus smell out of the urine. Have you noticed how nasty that is?
  • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:43AM (#37023006)

    I assume this is similar to recycling systems used for space missions? Don't they also recycle waste for H20?

    • by hal2814 (725639) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:02PM (#37023334)
      They should bottle and market it. First we had astronaut ice cream. Now we have astronaut water!
    • No, it's similar to the water reclamation systems used all across Europe. Rocket science is considerably simpler.

      • by ae1294 (1547521)

        General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream.

        Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: [very nervous] Lord, Jack.

        General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?

        Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I... no, no. I don't, Jack.

        General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with yo

    • In the movie Apollo 13 they ejected the urine directly into space. As it scattered, splattered off into the distance, one of the astronauts said, "The constellation Urain. Too bad they can't show this on television."
  • About time. (Score:5, Informative)

    by cusco (717999) <brian...bixby@@@gmail...com> on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:45AM (#37023038)
    About bloody time that some city in the US starts doing this. Did you know that the outflow from the Los Angeles sewage treatment plant is actually cleaner than the water that they pump (at ridiculous cost) over the mountains to the potable water intake?

    The capital of Botswana has been doing this since the 1960s. Nice to know that Texas is finally catching up to sub-Saharan Africa.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did you know that the outflow from the Los Angeles sewage treatment plant is actually cleaner than the water that they pump (at ridiculous cost) over the mountains to the potable water intake?

      I've just returned to Europe from the USA. The water quality in LA was awful. Quite easily the worst tasting "potable" water I've ever had, and that's my experience of numerous countries (1st to 3rd world) around the globe, across 5 continents. Congrats LA.

      Also, if you have such a water problem over there... how about replacing your heavily watered lawns with rock gardens or some other less water intensive feature? I couldn't get over the level of waste of good water. Then there's the energy usage, but let'

      • Re:About time. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CannonballHead (842625) on Monday August 08, 2011 @03:05PM (#37025614)

        Just as a note, please don't judge the rest of the US based on LA. Or SF. Or NY.

        It'd be like us basing our view of Europe based on ... London.

        In fact, a lot of CA has pretty normal people. LA and SF are just weird, overpopulated... LA especially, there's tons of urban sprawl in the middle of basically a desert. I don't get it.

    • About bloody time that some city in the US starts doing this. Did you know that the outflow from the Los Angeles sewage treatment plant is actually cleaner than the water that they pump (at ridiculous cost) over the mountains to the potable water intake?

      By what definition of cleaner? How are different contaminents weighted? are there any contaminents that neither the water processing system or the wastewater processing system can remove and so would build up cycle by cycle in a closed loop system? Can those contaminents be removed with special processing? if so how does that special processing impact the economy of the process? if not what limit does this place on the proportion of water that can be safely recycled to keep overall quality acceptable?

      • Re:About time. (Score:4, Informative)

        by ATestR (1060586) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:20PM (#37023582) Homepage

        Don't know what he means in this particular case, but when engineers talks about contaminants in water, they are usually talking about bacterial counts as well as nitrates and other dissolved compounds. Sanitary waste water (in most of US) has to be cleaned to certain standards as far as bacterial counts as well as nitrate levels before it can be released to streams/rivers, or reused as "reclaimed" water, usually for irrigation.

        Any water used for water systems (drinking water) must be cleaned to an even higher standard before use. Unless you source is a mountain spring (not a creek!), you are almost certain to have to process it before use. The original poster's point was that often the incoming water is less sanitary than the discharge water of a sewage treatment plant.

        Come to think of it, I saw a documentary about the canal/pipe system that supplies LA a few weeks ago. I can readily believe that that water isn't too clean.

        • The original poster's point was that often the incoming water is less sanitary than the discharge water of a sewage treatment plant.

          And my point is that just because the outgoing water is "cleaner" (e.g. gets a lower contaminantion score on whatever unspecified weighted list of contaminents the study looked at) doesn't mean you won't have problems if you "close the loop".

          That doesn't mean you can't recycle water, it just means you have to be extra specially careful to make sure nasty chemicals don't build up over multiple cycles by adding extra special checks at the recycling plant and/or by ensuring that you have good mixing of recycl

          • by GooberToo (74388)

            The other problem with "cleaner" is that it doesn't mean what most people think its means. "Cleaner" means in relation to the things they are actually required to measure. There has been many stories about "clean" water actually being far worse for human consumption than some "dirty" water.

            Clean, and therefore "cleaner", is completely relative. As some environment scientists say, its clean only because we don't care to actually measure how dirty it actually is; as oppose to what the EPA actually requires. B

        • by flink (18449)

          What about pharmaceuticals that are excreted in urine or carcinogenic chemicals that are poured down the drain? I imagine that many of those compounds are small enough to pass through an osmotic filter.

          • What about pharmaceuticals that are excreted in urine or carcinogenic chemicals that are poured down the drain? I imagine that many of those compounds are small enough to pass through an osmotic filter.

            Yep [webmd.com].

          • by Sulphur (1548251)

            What about pharmaceuticals that are excreted in urine or carcinogenic chemicals that are poured down the drain? I imagine that many of those compounds are small enough to pass through an osmotic filter.

            Is Homeland Security keeping an eye one the urea being stockpiled?

            --

            If I owned Texas and Hell, I would live in Hell and rent out Texas. Mark Twain

        • Unless you source is a mountain spring (not a creek!), you are almost certain to have to process it before use.

          A great deal of Florida can still drink their groundwater (both shallow well and deeper aquifer) without treatment. Mind you, I'm talking about a great deal of land area, not the population. Most of the population lives on the coasts and has sucked so hard on those aquifers and diverted natural (swamp) water holding areas into drainage that they are now living over salt-water intruded aquifers. 50 years ago, you could pump fresh water from the ground right by the bays - if things keep going as they are i

          • by KDR_11k (778916)

            My town has groundwater that merely gets the iron and some carbohydration removed before being sent to homes. It's drinkable without that but tends to stain things red and tastes like blood when unfiltered.

      • by Dynedain (141758)

        By every definition of cleaner. My wife has drank that water on a tour of the facility after her company completed construction of it.

        Most regions in the US have laws preventing reclaimed water from being used in potable water systems.

    • If "catching up" requires environmental changes that cause massive amounts of resources to be devoted to simply providing clean fresh-water instead of having it in abundance for free like most of the U.S. I'd damn well prefer to stay behind and have that time and money be used towards other pursuits.
      • by Tridus (79566)

        Unfortunately here in reality, Texas doesn't have enough water to meet its needs that easily. This is a problem most of the planet suffers and that the US has been avoiding due to having abundant water for a while. But the party is coming to an end.

    • This is nothing new (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:29PM (#37023706)

      Arizona has been doing this for a long time. For the most part, the water treatment is less intense and it is distributed through a separate, non-potable system to be used for irrigation. Makes sense since it is cheaper (requires less filtration). However some of it is filtered further, and mixed in with water from wells and the CAP to go in to the drinking water.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:46AM (#37023048)

    Like your drinking water isn't already the toilet for fish, birds, and god-knows what other wildlife. Get over yourself, Sally.

  • That it's being considered really shows how bad the drought situation in Texas is. I'm sure the quality of the water will be fine, but for people to mentally get over the stigma requires some serious problem that needs to be addressed. Pretty much the whole state is "hell" and relief does not seem anywhere in the distant future: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html [noaa.gov]

    • by Aranykai (1053846)

      The problem is only being exacerbated by this extremely warm summer this year as well. There aren't many lawns left in my neighborhood anymore. I haven't had to cut my grass in almost a month.

      • by residieu (577863)

        I haven't had to cut my grass in almost a month.

        Sounds like a benefit, then. When I get a house, i'm installing astro-turf for my lawn. I hate mowing.

        • by vlm (69642)

          Sounds like a benefit, then. When I get a house, i'm installing astro-turf for my lawn. I hate mowing.

          You're on the same path as I was many years ago. What I discovered along the way about astroturf:

          Astroturf lawns literally stink from bird / animal waste, and try to turn themselves back into soil/turf unless you use almost as much water to clean them as you would to water a regular lawn, unless you live in AZ or TX or something where you'd practically need a waterfall to keep the lawn damp. So astroturf is only a net water win if you live in a desert and the HOA bans xeriscapes because its too cheap (leg

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by camperdave (969942)
          I think what I'll do is develop a grass that only grows an inch and a quarter tall, and then retire on the hush-money from lawn mower companies.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      What exactly do people think happens to waste water? If your water comes out of a river or lake, unless you happen to be at the headwaters....

  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium&yahoo,com> on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:48AM (#37023092)

    See! Were having to drink our own piss. Do you really want Rick Peery for president?!?

    • See! Were having to drink our own piss. Do you really want Rick Perry for president?!?

      Cheapskate Republicans would rather let children and the elderly drink their own piss than spend a paltry billion or two on orgone cloudbusters.

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      Rick Perry is too busy using emanate domain, stealing land from people and giving it to his friends and cronies, to bother running for President. If he actually runs, I guess that means he ran out of land to steal.

  • by scarboni888 (1122993) on Monday August 08, 2011 @11:53AM (#37023178)

    It's amazing to me that this type of thing only gets implemented due to a crisis when it should be obvious from the get go that developing and improving the methods of recycling and reclamation should always be part of the way we do anything.

    • by vlm (69642) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:04PM (#37023370)

      It's amazing to me that this type of thing only gets implemented due to a crisis when it should be obvious from the get go that developing and improving the methods of recycling and reclamation should always be part of the way we do anything.

      Not everywhere...

      I'm currently sitting less than a mile upwind of one of the great lakes... The energy requirement for this sewage filtration process has a far larger environmental impact than just regular sewage treatment combined with pumping a bit more water out of the lake. We could probably reduce out draw out of the lake 50% with this technology, at the mere cost of kilotons of extra fly ash and mercury dumped into the lake from our coalburners ... the same lake we're getting our drinking water out of...

      California / desert SW solutions are not appropriate everywhere. If anything, on average, east of the mississippi river, we have way too much fresh water and need to focus tech on dealing with floods caused by rain. Much like fixing failing school systems or sick care systems, just dumping more money on the problem doesn't seem to help.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Much like fixing failing school systems or sick care systems, just dumping more money on the problem doesn't seem to help.

        Nonsense! Much like school systems and healthcare, the answer lies with a standardized federal process! The only solution is The One solution, and it is best for all!

    • As far as they're concerned, the world of science is part of a vast international communist conspiracy to make everyone think the world is round. The crisis is the only thing they'll accept as proof that they needed to do this.
  • If they aren't, I will!
  • more stupidity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NemoinSpace (1118137)
    Drinking wastewater makes as much sense as watering your lawn with potable water.
    • by Piata (927858)
      Good sir, are you suggesting I piss on my lawn?
      • by Arlet (29997)

        Well, it does have plenty of Nitrogen, which is something plants like. You may want to dilute it a bit, though.

        • by vlm (69642)

          Well, it does have plenty of Nitrogen, which is something plants like. You may want to dilute it a bit, though.

          Dilution... finally a purpose exists for American "lite" beer...

          • by Pieroxy (222434)

            Dilution... finally a purpose exists for American "lite" beer...

            Do you mean to say we should water our lawns with a mixture of Bud and piss? Why would anyone be so cruel with their own grass?

            • by GooberToo (74388)

              Beer is actually good for your yard - especially if you have thatch. It also kills slugs.

              • by vlm (69642)

                Beer is actually good for your yard - especially if you have thatch. It also kills slugs.

                Well, its sorta like composted barley, which is a grain, just like (lawn) grass.

                I was implying a human processing stage before application, but just pouring it out on the ground could work.

                The yeast at the bottom of the fermenter from my brewing days was spread under the bushes to get rid of it... The plants did not have any observable negative effect. (laziness results in more dumped on the closer plants, which were not any more or less healthier than the further away plants)

        • by pyrr (1170465)
          I thought plants craved electrolytes.
        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Its got what plants crave!

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Most people drink treated waste water. By the time the Mississippi gets to New Orleans, that water has been past many major cities, all drawing from it and dumping into it.

      • I heard once (I've no way to know if it's really true) that by the time Thames water reached London it had been through 7 people. It was claimed to be one of the reasons London drinking water was so soft and good tasting (it routinely won blind taste tests against bottled waters) .
        Shame about the bi-sexual fish though.
        • Shame about the bi-sexual fish though.

          Screw the fish. It's the bisexual Londoners that I worry about. I always knew it wasn't just the cooking.

  • ...and, yes, I'd wear John Wayne Gacy's sweater, if it were clean, I needed a sweater, and it at-least-sorta fit.
    • by pyrr (1170465)

      You clearly don't believe in homeopathy. I mean, when water molecules can have "memory" of some compound through insane amounts of dilution, how could it not have a really, really strong memory of the filthy urine and feces that were in it just minutes before? (Tim Minchin has a brilliant video that includes this flaw of homeopathic theory entitled "Storm")

  • by Das Auge (597142) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:03PM (#37023346)
    If it's good enough for Bear, it's good enough for anyone.

    So...when do we start eating raw snakes?
  • Troll headline? (Score:4, Informative)

    by zygotic mitosis (833691) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:04PM (#37023366)
    Urine? Well, yes, but also the feces and the nasty water from industry. As someone has pointed out already, if your WTP collects from the river, you are already drinking treated sewage water.

    At our plant, we have a water reclamation facility at the end of our process, the same type of facility used at the water treatment plant upstream. A WRF is common, iirc, in CA, but is, afaik, the first of its kind here in MN. It is far more common to discharge without the additional filtering and contaminant removal provided by a WRF.

    The water we discharge is tested biweekly for ammonia and phosphorus and daily for total coliforms and biological oxygen demand. Ammonia and coliforms are non-detectable ~99% of the time. We are doing a very good job turning sewage into drinking water for the next town on the river.

    /lab intern at a WWTP
  • When I was a kid, I used to think Milk was cow piss and I loved drinking milk. So, for me, I just don't see what the fuss is all about.
  • by CWCheese (729272) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:06PM (#37023386)
    And in Portland, they drain an entire reservoir after one guy takes a leak
    http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2011/06/16/Reservoir-drained-due-to-urine/UPI-10781308249177/ [upi.com]
  • ... this should be done everywhere, not just drought stricken Texas. Water is a precious commodity that needs to be preserved, if we can recycle waste water and reduce the amount taken directly in nature with no adverse effects to us, go for it.
  • by silentcoder (1241496) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:22PM (#37023606) Homepage

    South Africa, being a dry country, has been doing this for years. All sewage gets sent to treatment farms, where it is cleaned, and the water from it are then placed back in the river systems from where it is used for irrigation, drinking water and everything else - just like rain water.

    South Africa also boasts that the water from the treatment plants are cleaner than rain water. My father is an electrical engineer and helped design one of the plants (the electrical systems obviously). The process is quite spectacular - and moreso than what is described here. For starters the first phase includes the sewage being cleaned by specially cultured bacteria to break it down, before chemical cleaning, filtering etc. step by step turns it back into pure H20.
    The two main waste products from the process is methane and solid waste. The solid waste is used to create fertilizers. The methane is burned off (being a clean-burning gas) but quite a few people here have converted their cars to run on methane (any gasoline car can be converted) and fill up there - for the moment at least (since the demand is pretty low and they have massive amounts they need to get rid off) the sewage treatment farms don't even charge them. Fill up the car, no cost.

    • Fill up the car, no cost.

      There's the obvious problem, the Texas economy would (got to be a tank or toilet joke in here somewhere...) if people could fill up their pick up trucks and SUVs for free.

  • If they just broke ground on it recently, I'm curious to know if it is supposed to be ready before, say, winter.

    Of course, being Texas they don't really have winter. Temperatures probably go from "Jesus Christ on roller-skates it's unbearably hot!" to "hey, my face is no longer melting off, but it is still miserably hot!".
    • Texas is big enough to have some pretty cruelly cold winter areas - even in Houston it gets nasty cold once in awhile, up in Amarillo, you're just a little puff of wind away from Saskatchewan.

  • "West Texas....URINE for a surprise!"
  • We moved from the gulf coast of Texas (thats enuf hurricanes) to the Hill Country (central) trying to do homesteading and..dont laugh..rainwater collection... 2 years ago. We had grand ideas about farming and becoming self sufficient. In two years here we have had maybe 5-6 inches of rain total and been under burn bans for all but a few months because of the drought. Local cities are under stage 4 restrictions and it is so bad that wild deer are dying on the hoof from nothing to eat and all the vegetation b
  • Far from first... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunfly (1248694) on Monday August 08, 2011 @12:45PM (#37023910)

    Chanute, KS was the first in the US, from October 14th 1956 to March 14th, 1957. The water met microbial standards of the time, but was discontinued as soon as possible due to public acceptance.

    Windhoek, the capital of the Republic of Namibia (Sahara desert) recycles about 30% of their water to supply a population of 300,000 residents. They started in 1968.

    Not common, but far from a new idea.

  • Step 1: Recycle human waste into drinkable water.
    Step 2: Privatize the water recycling business.
    Step 3: Because human waste is now a commodity, pass laws forbidding anyone to pee anywhere but in a restroom with an approved capture facility.
    Step 4: Charge people for entry into the restrooms.
    Step 5: Profit!

    Congratulations, you've started down the road to Urinetown! [wikipedia.org]

    "Those who made dough from debasing / Need erasing, need the knife / Let their blood flow like Campari, / We're not sorry - Hey that's life!
    Th

  • That will be the biggest obstacle; very (and varying) complicated chemistry and as far as I can tell it doesn't have any End of Life requirements placed upon it, even though the environmental impacts are already being seen. Perhaps it is time for Big Pharma to kick in a few sheckels to help out with the clean ups, especially for potable water intake - without us asking our doctors to be sure.

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