Tag Archives: Wichita Falls

If you have to … do it, just don’t tell me


WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Drinking potty water isn’t exactly to my liking.

But that’s what they’re doing in this Wichita County community. They’re processing waste water and turning it into potable water … the stuff you can swill with allegedly no discernible after taste.

The officials in Wichita Falls swear by what they’re doing.

For one thing, it is reducing by a considerable amount the volume of fresh water the city’s 100,000 or so residents are consuming.

The city had to do it back when so much of Texas was enduring the punishing drought. They developed technology to turn — pardon the intentional pun — crappy water into fresh drinking water. It’s my understanding that the locals aren’t complaining about it.

Given that Wichita Falls has a limited supply of drinking water — with it all coming from surface-water reservoirs — the city felt it had no choice but to find a way to convert the waste water into the drinkable liquid.

When I first got wind of this initiative, I approached then-Amarillo City Manager Jarret Atkinson — a well-known expert on water development and conservation — and said the following:

If you have to develop this kind of technology for Amarillo, fine! Go for it! Just don’t tell me.

'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.


'Potty water' on tap next?

Eternal gratitude is what I am feeling at the moment that Amarillo isn’t in Wichita Falls’s straits regarding the availability of potable water.

However, as I read the story attached to this blog post, I am wondering if the day will arrive when Amarillo must do what Wichita Falls is about to attempt: treat sewage into drinkable water.


The thought is repugnant at so many levels. Wichita Falls, though, finds itself with few options but to recycle effluent into potable water.

The city of 104,000 residents has conserved water to keep from entering this next phase. Those conservation efforts, while they have helped tremendously, still aren’t enough. The city plans now to recapture 5 million gallons of wastewater it now is discharging each day into the Red River. It will treat it and reuse it.

The city will treat the wastewater and blend it with reservoir water. Big Spring is doing something similar, producing a blend of water that contains a 20-percent wastewater content. Wichita Falls will do a 50-50 blend of wastewater and reservoir water.

How has Wichita Falls’s population reacted to this idea? Not so great at first, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported: “Residents of the city … about 100 miles northwest of Fort Worth, were initially hesitant about drinking ‘potty water or toilet water,’ but they‚Äôve realized it is one of the few alternatives left until the drought breaks, said city spokesman Barry Levy.

Until the drought breaks.

Therein lies some hope for all of us caught in this miserable weather cycle. There remains the promise that eventually — hopefully while we’re still alive to see it — the weather patterns will return to something approaching historically normal patterns. That means heavy downpours in the spring and early summer that should refill surface water reservoirs, replenish our aquifer and remove the incentive to use groundwater to irrigate our property.

I normally would be all for full disclosure of what my government is doing on our behalf. I’m not so sure that I would want to know if I’m drinking water that’s been flushed down my toilet.

As many wise men and women have said over many centuries: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Texas drought taking its toll

Wichita Falls residents have been given the order: no more outside watering.

The prolonged drought throughout much of Texas has forced the city to enact some very strict rules on residents. Seems the lakes that supply the city with water are continuing to shrivel. Water quality is being degraded. Residents are facing stiff penalties if they violate the restrictions.


Is this a harbinger of what other communities may face down the road?

Amarillo is in better shape than many communities. It has purchased a lot of water rights throughout the Panhandle. Of course, Amarillo’s boon could mean a bust for smaller communities that rely on the same aquifer ground water as the Panhandle’s largest city.

Lake Meredith, which used to supply the city with some of its water, no longer is of any use. It’s level has receded below the intake pumps. Marinas have been closed. Boating is limited. The lake’s volume is less than 1 percent of capacity — which means it’s virtually dry.

All that bad news can be countered, though, with some good news. Wichita Falls is going to enact a wastewater treatment program that will recycle wastewater back into the system. The plan calls for a dramatic reduction in the amount of water drawn from lakes Kickapoo and Arrowhead.

Good deal, yes? Of course it is.

Here’s the thing, though. If Amarillo ever were to enact such a plan in which residents are drinking water that once contained, um, certain organic matter, I hope the city does so without ever telling anyone.

Some things I don’t need to know.