The drought in Texas has gotten so severe municipal water managers have turned to a once untenable idea: recycling sewage water.
"When you talk about toilet-to-(water) tank it makes a lot of people nervous and grossed out," says Terri Telchik, who works in the city manager's office in Big Spring, Texas.
Water for the town's 27,000 residents comes through the Colorado River Municipal Water District, which has broken ground on a plant to capture treated wastewater for recycling.
"We're taking treated effluent (wastewater), normally discharged into a creek, and blending it with (traditionally supplied potable) water," district manager John Grant told Discovery News.
In essence, the system speeds up what would naturally occur with the flow of discharged water through wetlands, with more pristine results, Grant added.
Less than 0.1 inches of rain has fallen on West Texas for months. Normally, the region gets more than 7 inches of rain this time of year. This week's Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor map shows 75 percent of Texas is in "exceptional" drought stages.
Coupled with exceptionally hot weather, water levels in reservoirs have plummeted. Lakes are drying up. Last month, the district imposed a 20 percent cutback in water for its customers.
"We're going through a really bad drought," Telchik told Discovery News.
Texans aren't the only ones looking to ameliorate their water woes by short-circuiting the cycle from toilet to tap.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is considering a $700 million project to continue treatment of reclaimed water, currently used for irrigation and industrial uses, so that it can be injected into wells beneath the Hansen dam. That would cut reliance on hotly contested water supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River.
NASA has taken the idea of recycling wastewater even farther. The toilet aboard the U.S. segment of the International Space Station includes a tank that collects and filters urine, the first step in an arduous and well-monitored process to recover water in urine for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other uses.
"That's a pretty direct process," said Grant. "I don't think I could sell that one."