May 8, 2014 at 8:13 AM ET
Desperate drought conditions in parts of bone-dry Texas have called for desperate measures.
Residents of Wichita Falls, population 100,000, fear they will run out of water within two years. So city officials found a way to flush away their worries.
The city has built a new 13-mile pipeline connecting its waste treatment plant directly to a second facility that purifies drinking water. That means treated wastewater — not just from toilets, but from sinks, bathtubs and dishwashers — will no longer be released down river as before. Instead, it will soon flow out of household faucets.
"The water that's coming in to the water treatment plant has already been treated once at the wastewater plant. It's not receiving raw, untreated sewage,” Daniel Nix of Wichita Falls Public Works told NBC's Gabe Gutierrez.
But some people are calling the process “toilet to tap” and have already switched to bottled water.
"Just the very thought that you might be drinking your own wastewater is never comforting,” said Wichita Falls resident Tim McMillin.
Widespread drought has changed the way the nation thinks about water. Other areas, including Orange County, Calif., have added some treated wastewater to some of their drinking supply.
But the percentage being used in Wichita Falls, about half of the city’s tap water, will be the highest in the country.
"We don’t have any other options,” said resident Julie Spence, owner of Gidget’s Sandwich Shop.
City officials said the Texas Department of Environmental Quality expects to finish its testing process within the next 30 days.
Darron Leiker, Wichita Falls city manager, expressed confidence that everything will clear all safety criteria.
“It will meet or exceed all state and federal drinking standards,” he said.