What’s In Your Drinking Water?


The idea of drinking water that was recently sewage swirling down your toilet bowl, shower drain, or kitchen sink may sound pretty icky. But experts say it’s actually nothing to be squeamish about — and it might be coming to your state and city soon.

Colorado river

It’s a water recycling method known as direct potable reuse, or DPR, which sends highly treated sewage water almost directly to a drinking water system for distribution to communities. It’s legal in Texas, and legal on a case-by-case basis in Arizona.

Multiple other states are in the process of formulating regulations to legalize it too, including California, Colorado, and Florida.

The water produced by DPR meets federal drinking water quality standards, experts say. And there’s a growing movement to urge people to warm up to the idea of DPR and other sewage recycling methods, which were once dismissively labeled “toilet-to-tap.”

“People need that change in mindset, forgetting where your water came from and focusing more on how clean it is when it’s in front of you,” Dan McCurry, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Southern California, tells CNBC Make It.

The process might not sound appetizing, but DPR can prove invaluable when drinkable water becomes scarce.


Climate change alters patterns in rain and snowmelt, which sends less fresh water to crucial, natural drinking water sources like the Colorado River, Lake Mead and Lake Powell — all of which face severe water shortages amid extreme drought conditions. Growing populations that demand more drinking water will only stretch those sources thinner, making methods like DPR all the more essential.

Two cities in Texas — Big Spring and Wichita Falls —  have used DPR to bolster drinking water supply so far. El Paso is planning to follow suit, alongside major cities like Los Angeles and San Diego once state DPR regulations are in place.

Wichita Falls implemented DPR for about a year, starting in July 2014, as an emergency solution to a harrowing five-year drought. Chris Horgen, the city’s public information officer, says DPR produced 5 million gallons of treated water each day for the city, representing a third of the drinking water distributed to taps.

“The state was that close to delivering water bottles to us in that final year,” Horgen says. “That’s what would’ve happened without DPR.”

In El Paso, DPR isn’t live yet, but the project is underway with a goal of building a long-term sustainable drinking water supply. Diversifying the city’s drinking water sources could better prepare it for severe droughts that threaten natural sources like river water, says Christina Montoya, communications and marketing manager at El Paso Water Utilities.

“It’s a way to make sure that El Paso will thrive 50 years out from now,” she says. “We can’t just be planning when an emergency happens. We need to be planning all the time for the future.”

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Source: CNBC


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