Would You drink Treated Sewage Water? El Paso Residents Have No Choice Because Of Droughts Cause By Climate Change

A lot of people who read Dune remember the famous line “He who controls the spice controls the universe.” Instead, maybe they should have paid attention to this one: “A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe.” That’s certainly a much more relevant quote for the citizens of El Paso, Texas, whose community is planning on dealing with the growing threat of drought by filtering and treating sewage water and directing it back into the town’s drinking supply. As gross as it sounds, it turns out the resulting water quality is better than that of lakes or rivers.

That’s important, considering that one of the lifelines of the town is the Rio Grande river, which can provide for roughly 50% of the town’s water needs. However, according to scientists who have been studying the ecology of El Paso, the river has seen a 25% decrease in April snowmelt since 1958, which has translated into less water. In addition, rising temperatures have led to more evaporation and less snowpack to draw from. Both of these phenomena have been attributed to the effects of climate change, which are expected to grow worse over time.

Apart from the Rio Grande, El Paso draws upon water from aquifers and has even built a desalination plant to filter more abundant (but lower-quality) groundwater, but looking toward the future, it still won’t be enough. The next step for El Paso is treating wastewater created by its residents through a process called “advanced purification,” which has the potential to meet half a large city’s water needs. Between conservation efforts, desalination, and this new technique, El Paso could stabilize its water supply and avoid damaging drought conditions.

Ed Archuleta, the head of El Paso’s Water Utilities, has acknowledged that turning sewage water into drinking water turns a lot of people off, but says “Everybody sees that we’re in the desert that we’re in an arid climate. Rain is scarce…so when we tell our customers that we’re doing everything possible and using every water resource around us to treat and make it safe for consumption, they take it pretty well.”