The World Health Organization estimates that 2.1 billion people lack access to safe and available drinking water at home. More than a million Austin Water customers recently joined the ranks of water insecure people temporarily as our water treatment systems were overwhelmed with flood-caused sedimentation. And it isn’t the first time Texans have lacked access to clean water. At least 90,000 of the estimated 500,000 Texans living in neighborhoods lacking infrastructure don’t have basic household water service. Just last year, the entire population of Beaumont, in addition to thousands of other Texans, lost water service in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
As changes in weather extremes, population and urbanization continue to impact Texas communities, urban water management needs a different approach.
I spend most of my work hours researching, teaching and speaking about water resources, but as my own household muddled our way through our first 24 hours of Austin’s boil water advisory, my daughter pointed out what, in hindsight, seems obvious: Why do we use drinking water to flush our toilets?