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Prolonged drought causes some communities to look at wastewater

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LAWTON, Okla._The city of Wichita Falls has drawn plenty of attention for their decision to turn their wastewater into drinking water.

Other cities that are also dealing with the potentially catastrophic impact of the drought are watching with interest to see how the public reacts to it. In Lawton, some of the wastewater is cleaned and distributed to PSO to help cool down some of their machinery that helps generate electricity. Another potion of the wastewater is treated and released into local lakes.

At the moment, Oklahoma has not devised a plan to reuse wastewater for drinking, but with the extreme drought and the new process in Wichita Falls, it has some people wondering if this could happen in southwest Oklahoma.

Water, it's something that is constantly being recycled for everyday use and is vital for our health. That's why Wichita Falls recently pushed for a program to temporarily reuse water. However, it was met with some backlash, but according to city of Lawton's Afsaneh Jabbar, almost all water is reused water.

"Most waters are reused water. Most of the reuse is not intentional. Anybody who's downstream from us can discharge that water and use that for drinking," said Jabbar.

The water from Lawton's wastewater treatment plant must go through a purification process before it's allowed to be dumped back into the environment, but it's not nearly enough for drinking water. By the time it is mixed with the water in Lake Ellsworth and then transferred to Lake Lawtonka and then back through the drinking water treatment plant, it's ready. To duplicate the Wichita Falls model, which goes through a much more intense purification process at the wastewater plant and then into the drinking water system, it would require significant and costly changes.

"At the time that we do install the additional measures for treating to the drinking water supply, we most likely will use some of the components that they have used,” said Jabbar.

If wastewater reuse is the last resort, Jabbar says you wouldn't even be able to tell the difference. Jabbar also says that in order for the process to be used here, it could cost between $30 million and $60 million in construction costs, which is something they just don't have at the moment.

Oklahoma is not looking to approve the reuse of wastewater. Officials are currently looking at other options in order to avoid it.

 

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