Norman Lawmakers Push Wastewater Reuse in Search for Long-term Water Fix

May 20, 2014
Originally published on May 20, 2014 3:57 pm
Lake Thunderbird in June 2013

Kristina and David / Flickr

Lake Thunderbird in June 2013

Norman’s water problems are well documented. From dwindling supplies at Lake Thunderbird — the city’s deeply troubled main source of water — to an overstressed and aging water treatment plant. Not to mention the outcry over the use of drinking water to drill an oil well with the public under mandatory conservation rules.

Having enough water to treat and drink in the first place is the chief concern, and one idea has emerged as the best way to ensure that: Releasing treated wastewater back into Lake Thunderbird for reuse.

And as The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports, a bill requiring the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to create a permitting process for such projects is making progress at the state Capitol:

[Rep. Scott Martin] said now that the Utilities and Environmental Regulation Committee has heard the bill, he must collect electronic signatures from 51 percent of committee members, so the bill can move back to the Senate for a hearing.

“I don’t foresee problems getting signatures,” Martin said. “Our only challenge is time. We have one week left.”

And it’s not a surprise that SB 1187 is sponsored by Martin and Sen. Rob Standridge, both of whom represent Norman.

“We need additional water supplies,” [Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District General Manager Randy Worden] said. “We’ve looked at a number of alternatives, and reuse is the most economical, most feasible, and most reliable.”

… Worden said it makes sense to reuse treated wastewater effluent for drinking water, rather than discharge that water to a river. Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal agreed that reusing treated wastewater as part of a raw drinking water supply is important to the city.

There’s a stigma associated with the idea of retreating — yes, toilet water — and drinking it. But cities like Wichita Falls, Texas, and San Diego, California have already embraced the idea. And at a public meeting in Yukon, Oklahoma in April, Water Resources Executive Director J.D. Strong mentioned that Clinton, Oklahoma is also considering wastewater reuse.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board Executive Director J.D. Strong discussing wastewater reuse at a water hot spot meeting in Yukon April 16.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma Water Resources Board Executive Director J.D. Strong discussing wastewater reuse at a water hot spot meeting in Yukon April 16.

During the meeting, Strong said the public shouldn’t be disgusted by the thought of drinking wastewater, because many already are.

“One of the things I tell people when we’re having discussions in the Oklahoma City metro area, and people want to talk about, ‘that’s gross’, or ‘I’m not drinking somebody’s wastewater’, usually I tell them, ‘you are drinking somebody’s wastewater,” Strong told the audience. “You’re drinking El Reno’s wastewater right now, because they discharge their wastewater into the North Canadian and it runs right down here into Overholser.”

He calls it ‘the ick factor’. His advice? “People have to get over it.”

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