What Comes Around Goes Around: Reusing Water in Texas

Texas leads the way in advancing water reuse projects spanning from aquifer recharge to direct potable reuse

Texas has made note of this water supply source. At present, current (2011) use of treated wastewater (direct and indirect) in Texas is about 317,000 acre-feet per year, about 6.5 percent of total municipal use in the state. Total available current capacity for reuse based on existing infrastructure is about 480,000 acre-feet per year with about 280,000 acre-feet for direct reuse and about 200,000 acre-feet per year for indirect reuse. Our state water plan projects that the amount of reuse employed in Texas will almost triple over the next 50 years, adding another ~920,000 acre-feet per year of capacity. Thirty percent of that volume is expected to be developed in the aforementioned Dallas-Fort Worth area alone. For the entire state, reuse is projected to constitute about 10 percent of our future water supplies. We expect the amount of reuse in Texas to increase as more communities realize the benefits and opportunities reuse offers.

Projected existing reuse supplies through 2060 in Texas (acre-feet per year)

Projected existing reuse supplies through 2060 in Texas (acre-feet per year)

The current drought in Texas, which started from a water-supply perspective in West and Far West Texas in about 2000 and dramatically went statewide in 2011, has led many communities to consider reuse as a source of water, in large part because they had little choice. As a result, Texas is home to only the second and third direct potable reuse projects in the world, second (and third) to the Goreangab Water Reclamation Plant in Windhoek, Namibia. The Raw Water Production Facility began operating in May 2013 with a design capacity of 2,800 acre-feet per year. It takes treated wastewater from the city of Big Spring and then further treats that water in the reclamation plant using microfiltration,  reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation (among other processes). This treated water is then merged with raw water pumped from area reservoirs before delivery to member cities (including Big Spring, Midland, and Odessa) for standard surface-water treatment. This process—mixing treated wastewater with raw water within the infrastructure—is sometimes called direct blending. A similar direct blending project began in July 2014 in Wichita Falls to supplement dwindling supplies from area reservoirs. This project is expected to be temporary, with conversion to an indirect reuse project (wastewater discharged directly to a reservoir) once surface-water supplies rebound. El Paso recently announced plans for a direct potable reuse project, and Brownwood is considering a project. Current work by our agency to advance direct potable reuse includes a water quality monitoring project at the Raw Water Production Facility in Big Spring and the development of a manual on how to implement direct potable reuse. Both projects have garnered statewide and national interest.