Pastor Bob McCartney of First Baptist Church tries to love his neighbor as himself. He’s just not thrilled that Wichita Falls will soon have him drinking water that once swirled down his neighbor’s toilet.
The Texas city of more than 104,000, suffering the worst drought on record, is about to become the first place in the U.S. to treat sewage and pump it directly back to residents.
People who live in Wichita Falls, northwest of Dallas on the Oklahoma border, say they’ll buy more bottled water and try not to think about what’s flowing through their pipes when they bathe, brush their teeth and make soup.
“The idea is a bit grotesque,” said McCartney, 48, who has led prayer vigils for rain. “I’m not crazy about it.”
Other U.S. localities are considering similar approaches as water becomes scarcer — the result of drought, growing populations and greater consumption. The crisis is worldwide. In California, food prices are being driven higher and from Brazil to southeast Asia a historic lack of rainfall is hobbling power and crop production. Wichita Falls, a sun-baked ranch town that hosts the Hotter’N Hell Hundred endurance bike ride each August, is awaiting final state approval to begin recycling 5 million gallons a day starting next month, said Teresa Rose, deputy public works director. That’s about a third of its usage.
“When my son gets water out of the kitchen sink, I am going to chase him down and stop him from drinking it,” said Chira Traore, 32, as she sipped a bottle of Ozarka on a recent walk through Lucy Park, home of the falls on the Wichita River that lend the city its name.
Wichita Falls has been trying to sell the plan using videos, public meetings and misinformation.
“You have people who say, ‘Ewww, I am drinking someone else’s toilet water,’” Rose said. “But when you think about it, everyone downstream is already drinking someone else’s toilet water.”
Wichita Falls is going further by planning to be the first U.S. locality to send the cleaned sewer water directly back to its treatment plant, said Zachary Dorsey, a spokesman for the WateReuse Association, an Alexandria, Virginia-based group whose members include utilities, government officials and researchers. Cities in Texas, California, Florida and North Carolina are also considering direct reuse, he said.
Raleigh, North Carolina, which reuses water indirectly, plans to push legislation this year to allow the direct method, said Tim Woody, its wastewater superintendent. Direct reuse “is still taboo,” said Woody. “It is a responsible way to address our water needs.” Sewage increasingly will become a resource, said Calvin Finch, director of the Water Conservation and Technology Center in San Antonio.
“It’s not something that’s pleasant to think about,” Finch said. “You have to educate people to the idea.”
Prions are associated with an entire family of neurological disorders that are killing people, wildlife and livestock around the world. Unfortunately, the risk assessments for wastewater reclamation don’t mention prions. That’s because there is no answer.
Prion diseases are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” TSEs include Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, scrapie, chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease. The disease has killed many species of mammals including dolphins. Victims permanently contaminate the world around them with their bodily fluids. Once contaminated with prions, items cannot be sterilized.
For more information about prions in sewage and prion disease, please visit http://alzheimerdisease.tv/what-causes-alzheimers-disease/