In April 2005, the city of Dallas began an experiment. What if, rather than spraying millions of gallons of fully treated, tap-quality water on the Cedar Crest Golf Course, it used partially treated wastewater. The grass doesn't mind water that's a little bit dirty and, so long as it's piped in separately from drinking water and no one decides to guzzle from the sprinklers, it's perfectly safe.
It's a simple concept, says Dennis Qualls, a senior planner with Dallas Water Utilities:
"If water doesn't need to be treated to drinking water to be usable, do we need to treat all the water to that level to use it?" Qualls said.
The answer is no, and as Cedar Crest golf course has proved, it has its benefits. Each gallon of wastewater the city can find a use for frees up a gallon for other uses, effectively extending the city's finite water supply. Furthermore, it means that less water needs to be treated to meet demand, thereby lowering treatment costs.
The Cedar Crest project was costly -- $1.4 million to install a separate system of pipes -- but successful enough that the city began work extending the system to Stevens Park Golf Course in Oak Cliff and along the White Rock Creek corridor.
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The city has now targeted another thirsty place to use reclaimed water: downtown.
Downtown isn't thirsty so much because a lot of people live there or there is a whole lot of irrigation but because there are a lot of buildings that use a lot of water to supply their cooling towers. As with a golf course green, there's no reason that water has to meet drinking quality standards.
So, using a $198,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, DWU will soon begin a feasibility study for using recycled water downtown. The study, Qualls says, will look at where the wastewater will come from, how and where it can be used, what kind of infrastructure would be needed to make that happen, et cetera.
There is, at this point, no concrete date at which DWU expects to begin pumping its sewage downtown, but the study will be wrapped up by the time the city submits information for an updated regional water plan in 18 to 24 months.