Tag Archives: water restrictions

'Toilet to tap' not so bad

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Allow me this pithy observation about something most of us might not quite understand.

It is that treated toilet water doesn’t taste so bad.

How do I know this? We stopped over the weekend in Wichita Falls to eat lunch at a favorite restaurant. The waitress served us water. As I was sipping it, it hit me: The city is treating toilet water, blending it with reservoir water and is serving it to customers such as us: my wife, our son and me.

I had heard about this project about a year ago as the drought and the accompanying water shortage tightened its grip on Wichita Falls, which relies exclusively on two reservoirs that supply its water. No aquifer here. It’s all surface water.

The city has enacted serious water restrictions. No lawn watering. Limited car-washing.

And now it is blending toilet water with reservoir water to reduce its freshwater consumption by about half.

I’m telling ya, it doesn’t taste bad. Not at all.

Panhandle PBS, which employs me as a freelance blogger, did a comprehensive special on the Texas water crisis. It aired in October on several PBS affiliates throughout the state. One of the segments included a look at the Wichita Falls situation, which has gotten quite dire.

Ellen Green of Panhandle PBS interviewed Mayor Glen Barham about what she referred to as the “toilet to tap” program.

You can catch the interview at the 20-minute mark on the attached link.


The city claims good success with the program, which is monitored carefully by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure that it meets state and federal health standards.

So here’s a thought.

Amarillo’s water future isn’t nearly as grim. The city is purchasing lots of groundwater rights and says it has enough water to last another 100 or so years. No one is talking seriously — yet — about water restrictions here.

But wouldn’t it be prudent to think, um, more strategically? I’m wondering if Amarillo would be wise to examine ways to treat our own wastewater into potable water well in advance of there being an actual need to use it.

I’ve long said that I didn’t want to know when I was drinking treated toilet water.

Consider it a change of heart, but having swilled some of it this weekend, my concern about drinking wastewater has vanished — more or less.


Rain isn't heading off water-use restriction

They’re talking openly now in Tarrant County about imposing mandatory water-use restrictions.

And this is in light of recent rainfall that has damped the ground and lifted spirits in the Metroplex.

Meanwhile, way up yonder — here in the Texas Panhandle — we’re still bone dry and there’s no serious talk about mandatory restrictions.


Are we in that good of shape regarding our water resources?

Amarillo city officials keep talking about us having 200 to 300 years of water available. They have some voluntary plans in place. Gosh, I don’t mean to be a spoil-sport, but these voluntary measures aren’t getting the job done.

City water use is still exceeding the goals set by the Utilities Department. That means Amarillo residents aren’t taking the hint: Don’t use so much water, because we’re draining our aquifer much more quickly than it can recharge.

I am willing to adhere to mandatory restrictions. My yard already is looking pretty dismal compared to most of our neighbors, given that I don’t own an automatic irrigation system. Frankly, I’m not that competitive about appearances.

So, bring on the mandate, City Hall.

By the way, I’m still praying for rain.

‘Rule of capture’ might become campaign issue

An interesting issue may be emerging in the race for Texas governor.

Is it OK for a leading candidate for governor to talk about water conservation when he has drilled a well on his property to collect all the water he can use — and avoid municipal fines in the process?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has sunk a well on his property in an exclusive Austin neighborhood. Austin, as is much of the state, is snagged in a punishing drought. It has imposed restrictions on lawn-watering. Abbott — along with other well-heeled residents — has gotten around that drilling his own well.


Abbott is using the time-honored “rule of capture” doctrine in Texas that enables property owners to use whatever they can from under the ground. The courts have upheld this practice, even though it might deplete groundwater supplies for others.

“To me it’s just unconscionable. It’s a total disregard for the resource,” said Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and the former head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “What we should be doing is reducing our consumption of water.”

The drought has had its impact on West Texas. Remember what used to be known as Lake Meredith? A recent survey of all the state’s surface-water reservoirs shows the one-time “lake” at 0 percent of capacity, meaning that it’s virtually empty.

The Hill Country also is in serious trouble with its water. So, what about the leading Republican candidate for governor digging his own well? Does it become an issue for his major GOP primary opponent, Tom Pauken? Will the likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, make it an issue?

Should they? Certainly they should.

Leadership requires leaders act the part, not just talk about it.

From my vantage point way up yonder in the water-starved Panhandle, I believe the attorney general might have dug himself into a bit of a political hole.