Recycling water

There’s more than one way to conserve water. The city of San Antonio recycles theirs to get the most out of what they have.

“During wet seasons, the river functions like any other river would,” says Steve Clouse, the chief operating officer of the San Antonio Water System. “But during the dry seasons, we used to pump from water wells to make sure we had a river — otherwise there wouldn’t be water here.”

To keep the river flowing, the city used to have to pump up to 5 million gallons a day from its precious supply, the Edwards Aquifer. Now, by using a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, the city produces high-quality, recycled water that’s just shy of being drinkable.

San Antonio’s River Walk is not alone in using the treatment plant. Big industrial customers like the Toyota manufacturing plant, Microsoft Data Center, USAA Insurance and the city’s golf courses also take part. More than 60 miles of recycled-water pipeline built in the last decade now snake through San Antonio.

“We have a goal to save a billion gallons of water every single year by working with all of our customers,” says Karen Guz, the water system’s director of conservation. She says the plant is hitting that goal. “We are a community that has figured out that it is better to save water than to worry about having to always just acquire more water.”

Guz says it started in the early ’90s when the Sierra Club sued the city in federal court to protect an endangered species — the blind salamander — that lived in the water supply of the Edwards Aquifer.

When the judged ruled in favor of the Sierra Club, San Antonio politicians and newspapers spitted with rage. Twenty years later, the current San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro says his city has learned the judge was right.

“The city, over these last two decades, really has made lemonade out of lemons. In fact, the number of gallons per consumer in San Antonio per day that is used has gone down from just over 200 to about 130,” Castro says.

Funny how these things work, isn’t it? The point here is that while San Antonio’s population has been growing, the amount of water available to it is finite. Either you make the best use of what you have, or you suffer for it. San Antonio’s good choices mean that the city can continue to grow and prosper.

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2 Responses to Recycling water

  1. I am glad to hear that San Antonio has attacked this problem and is coming up with solutions. San Antonio’s river walk is a beautiful spot that I used to visit often. Hopefully other cities will follow the example.

  2. MySAWS says:

    Thanks so much for the shout-out, Charles. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in water reuse, conservation and resource management. But it’s not something a utility can impose on a community. “It takes a whole village” as the saying goes. San Antonians have embraced a culture of sustainability over the past two decades, and this is the result. Hopefully other cities can learn from our successes (and mistakes too) in their own efforts to become more water-wise.

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