AURORA, Colo. — Wastewater, sewage, bilge — whatever you want to call it, many of us want nothing to do with it. However, there are researchers out there who look at wastewater and see a golden ticket to drought resilience.
"Through a train of processes, we are increasing the quality of the water all the way to drinkable water," said Tzahi Cath, who is one of those people.
He is a professor of environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.
"Water issues will be part of the future. There's no escape, and so, it is important to study all these processes to improve them and to implement them as quickly as possible," he said.
Cath is working on not only research about the process but outreach, too. Last year, he and his student built a mobile lab, containing the process that takes wastewater and turns it potable, called Direct Potable Reuse, or DPR. The mobile lab is on a mission to help others see wastewater as the golden opportunity he does.
"This system was designed to demonstrate to utilities, to communities that it is possible to take reclaimed water and turn it into drinking water because that might be the future when we run out of water," he said.
People, municipalities, and now state governments are coming around to the idea. Colorado is the very first state in the nation to create regulations to adopt regulations for implementing DPR.
"The technology that we have now to treat that treats water and purifies it is so sophisticated that we can clean just about any type of water source," said Pat Sinicropi, executive director of the Water Reuse Association.
She says these regulations are a big deal. While other states like Texas, California, Florida, and Virginia have a select number of communities that already do DPR, Colorado is paving the way for widespread acceptance of the practice.
This comes at a time when 46% of the country and 41 states are actively experiencing a drought, according to federal data. She believes more states will now follow.
"You're no longer quite as vulnerable to fluctuations and precipitation, snow melt, snowpack, that kind of thing," she said.
"We feel that this is something that we really need to look at for future," said Kevin Linder, the advanced water treatment superintendent at Aurora Water, the water utility for the community of Aurora, Colorado.
Aurora Water is also where the mobile DPR lab is parked and has been doing water recycling for years in different forms and purposes, but is interested in the DPR model.
"It's just best as an industry, we face it head on, take this challenge, use our technology and our lessons learned from the past several decades to make this a safe and sustainable source for the future," said Linder.
With more and more municipalities seeing the potable potential, Cath hopes the rest of the country acts quickly, because as exciting as the time is, missing this golden opportunity could come with consequences.
"It takes money, takes time. If we don't start now, we might find ourselves in deep problems, so learning how to best do it and start implementing is super important," he said.