SAN ANGELO, Texas(ConchoValleyHomepage) — The Concho River water project, once complete, would turn treated wastewater that has been pumped into the Concho River into drinkable water for the community. Here is what you need to know about the project.

This proposed project has been identified as a leading option for San Angelo’s next water supply source and there have already been steps taken towards the plan. According to the City’s website, the project is a move to extend San Angelo’s sources beyond its lakes and the Hickory Aquifer.

The project involves releasing highly treated water from the City’s wastewater treatment plant into the Concho River. After it has flowed down that “natural pipeline,” the water will be recouped farther downstream. From there, it will be piped to the water treatment plant, where it will be treated to drinking standard.

“This is water San Angelo already has,” said attorney Jason Hill, the City’s previous special counsel for water. “We’re just able to make better use of it. It’s a win-win for the community.”

This process isn’t new to San Angelo as treated wastewater from Ballinger, Robert Lee and Winters, for instance, flow into San Angelo’s primary water source, Ivie Reservoir.

So why is the treated wastewater being released directly into the river? According to Scott Hibbs, principal water resource engineer with eHT, an Abilene engineering firm, it is because it helps with the treatment process.

“We are releasing it into the Concho so we have what we call an environmental buffer,” said Hibbs, “so we’re letting Mother Nature take care of some of the treatment aspects.”

Additionally, using the river as a “natural pipeline” to move water to the water treatment plant will negate the need for more large transmission lines. It will also allow the community to use water that already belongs to the city that would otherwise be lost downstream or elsewhere. Only the amount of water added to the river initially will be removed later for further filtration.

According to Brian Groves, San Angelos Communications Director, this process will not harm the river, telling CVHP using rivers and streams to transport treated wastewater has been used for decades. 

When completed, the Concho River Water Project will produce about 7.5 million gallons per day and will help meet local water demands for about the next 50 years.

“This takes San Angelo a long ways down the road of water security,” Hill said. “And when I say a long ways, I’m talking generationally … 2060, 2070.”

A big concern for many is the use of wastewater with the assumption that it is a “toilet-to-tap” reuse project, otherwise known as “direct use”. According to the City, this is not the case. The Concho River Water Project is an “indirect reuse.” Using this method, wastewater is released into the environment for a natural buffer before being turned into drinking water.

The biggest difference between the Concho River Water Project and the ‘toilet to tap’ projects is the treated wastewater goes through additional steps of treatment, such as the Concho River and the water reclamation facility before it is turned into drinking water. Toilet-to-tap projects have a singular process of taking sewage and wastewater and treating it for drinking purposes.

According to Groves, Abilene has an extensive indirect reuse program using Lake Fort Phantom Hill as the environmental buffer. This provides an additional 7 million gallons per day of reliable supply to Abilene. Wichita Falls also has a comprehensive indirect reuse program to augment its water supplies.

According to the City’s website, the benefits of this project include:

  • Providing a reliable and secure source of water.
  • Yielding an economical water supply.
  • Producing water with an improved taste.
  • Reducing potential legal and political hurdles.
  • Involving a shorter timeframe in which it can be accomplished.
  • Utilizing proven science in terms of water quality, hydrology, and engineering.

Currently, the City has obtained the discharge permit and is currently waiting to see a draft of the Bed and Banks permit, which may happen in the next few months. Once the City receives the draft permit, the review process will begin.

The permits will be published for the public to review and give an opportunity for anyone to contest them. Once that process is completed and the City gets approval from the state, they will begin looking at design and construction bids for the project.

Completing the entire project could take about five years and will cost about $120 million dollars. That includes upgrades to the water and wastewater treatment plants.

For more information, watch the city’s informational video here and the city’s news story here.