OK, so your first reaction is going to be NO WAYYYY! — but you may be wrong. If you live in Orange County, California, or Fairfax County, Virginia, your water may well be going from toilet to tap, albeit via some filtration technology along the way. Kathy Chu reports on the increasing use of waste water in drinking systems in thirsty places around the world, for USA Today:
… “Water is going to be the oil of the 21st century,” predicts Bill Cooper, director of the Urban Water Research Center at the University of California-Irvine.
Clearly, something needs to be done. Roughly 884 million people — 1 of every 8 in the world — still lack access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Meanwhile, water use has increased by more than twice the rate of the world’s population growth during the past century, United Nations data show. Coupled with climate change that’s melting glaciers and increasing droughts, the situation is putting some countries in danger of severe water shortages that could not only stifle their growth, but also jeopardize their residents’ well-being, analysts say.
“Wastewater reuse is part of the solution, not just for drinking but for agriculture and industry,” says Gerard Payen, who is on the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.
In Windhoek, Namibia, purifying wastewater to drink has been a way of life for decades. The drinking water supply of Fairfax Water, which serves 1.7 million in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington D.C., has included recycled sewage water since the 1970s. About 5% of the area’sdaily drinking water now comes from purified sewage.
Only in the past few years, however, has treatment technology improved to the point where a growing number of municipalities and countries are considering adopting wastewater-purification programs.
Parts of Orange County, Calif., began purifying sewer water in the 1970s, but the water district has significantly ramped up capacity so that recycled wastewater now supplies up to one-fifth of the daily water demand of the 2.4 million people within the area. Singapore has built advanced wastewater recycling facilities in less than a decade to meet almost one-third of its daily water needs.
Other parts of the world, from San Diego to Toowoomba, Australia, have considered recycled wastewater for drinking, only to back away amid public outcry.
“The gross-out factor is a big barrier,” admits Jay Famiglietti, director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling.
But as water becomes scarcer, some nations may find they no longer have the luxury of choice. More cities, states and countries are turning to options such as conservation and desalination — when salt is removed from seawater — as well as recycling.
“I don’t really feel that I want to be the champion of drinking sewage water,” says Takashi Asano, who won the Stockholm Water Prize — one of the industry’s highest awards — for his research on wastewater reclamation and reuse. “But something needs to be done, and this is one option.”…
[continues at USA Today]
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