Are You Drinking Recycled Sewage Water?

Animation by Chris 73 (CC)

Animation by Chris 73 (CC)

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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  • Azefze

    We’re already doing it in Europe. Have been for years now.

  • Azefze

    We’re already doing it in Europe. Have been for years now.

  • WhiteRose

    Drink BEER :)

  • WhiteRose

    Drink BEER :)

  • Hadrian999

    as long as it meets purity standards do you really care?

  • Hadrian999

    as long as it meets purity standards do you really care?

    • SoSpecial

      Exactly, standards must be held . I’d rather drink recylced water provided it was better for the enviroment.

      I feel like the watrer crisis doesn’t get much play when it comes to the media, and in the future water will be scarce. Global Warming might happen in the next century but the global lack of clean water will be a threat in the next 10-20 years. In our lifetime we may see a time when the globe doesn’t have clean water for even 20% of it’s population. That’s a problem and not nearly enough is being done to help it.

  • SoSpecial

    Exactly, standards must be held . I’d rather drink recylced water provided it was better for the enviroment.

    I feel like the watrer crisis doesn’t get much play when it comes to the media, and in the future water will be scarce. Global Warming might happen in the next century but the global lack of clean water will be a threat in the next 10-20 years. In our lifetime we may see a time when the globe doesn’t have clean water for even 20% of it’s population. That’s a problem and not nearly enough is being done to help it.

  • jb

    Just out of curiosity, where do you think drinking water comes from? And where do you think sewage outfall goes now?

    If we finally take responsibility for fully cleaning up our waste rather than dumping it half-processed into a river or ocean, I think that will be a very very very good thing.

    The more interesting question here is how easy it is for some people to think that an extremely large system is actually infinite. It’s a depressingly common fallacy. The garbage goes “away.” The pollution goes “away.” The war refugees go “away.” Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions, and facing huge systems where you can ignore the results makes it a little easier.

    But with water, it’s really straightforward. It’s a single interconnected supply. If you dump shit into it, you may want to believe it goes “away” but in fact in means that you will end up drinking shit.

    Time to clean up our shit.

  • Anonymous

    Just out of curiosity, where do you think drinking water comes from? And where do you think sewage outfall goes now?

    If we finally take responsibility for fully cleaning up our waste rather than dumping it half-processed into a river or ocean, I think that will be a very very very good thing.

    The more interesting question here is how easy it is for some people to think that an extremely large system is actually infinite. It’s a depressingly common fallacy. The garbage goes “away.” The pollution goes “away.” The war refugees go “away.” Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions, and facing huge systems where you can ignore the results makes it a little easier.

    But with water, it’s really straightforward. It’s a single interconnected supply. If you dump shit into it, you may want to believe it goes “away” but in fact in means that you will end up drinking shit.

    Time to clean up our shit.

  • MoralDrift

    All sewage is processed and then dumped back into waterways……these waterways supply the water distribution centers…we basically already do this

  • Anonymous

    All sewage is processed and then dumped back into waterways……these waterways supply the water distribution centers…we basically already do this

  • justagirl

    HEY!! nice .gif!

  • justagirl

    HEY!! nice .gif!

  • Investinourftre

    It’s worse that it’s not even your own, you are drinking someone elses poo water..mmmmm

    • jb

      All the water on our planet has cycled through some organism at some point, a billion years of piss, shit and rot. In some sense, all our water is “poo water.”

      You are mostly water.

      Therefore: YOU ARE POO WATER.

      (your mind = *blown*)

      • Bud Bundy

        User Bud Bundy’s brain exploded while reading the above comment.

  • Anonymous

    It’s worse that it’s not even your own, you are drinking someone elses poo water..mmmmm

  • dilly willy

    Yeah, I thought we already did this. and adding your own reverse osmosis water purifier system will make the water even cleaner and make it taste sooo much better. You can get em for like 150 bucks on eBay. You just change the filters like once a year or so. If you buy a lot of bottled water this is definitely worth it.

  • dilly willy

    Yeah, I thought we already did this. and adding your own reverse osmosis water purifier system will make the water even cleaner and make it taste sooo much better. You can get em for like 150 bucks on eBay. You just change the filters like once a year or so. If you buy a lot of bottled water this is definitely worth it.

  • http://twitter.com/hatross ewan

    Jesus wept, maybe you shouldn’t have skipped school to go hit bongs during geography/science lessons. Even the ‘purest’ water from the ‘purest’ spring flowing in a mountain range almost out of the reach of human influence will still have been round the water cycle umpteen times ie out of your arse, out of a cows arse, splurged out in monkey semen, perhaps in the snot coming out of a small child’s nose, frequent holidays in any of the earths oceans and seas, quite possibly in mammoth piss or neanderthal vomit. This would all only be a problem if you believed that water had some kind of memory. Water having a memory isn’t a completely stupid idea though. After all, it’s one of the central tenets of homeopathy…………………………………………

  • http://twitter.com/hatross ewan frater

    Jesus wept, maybe you shouldn’t have skipped school to go hit bongs during geography/science lessons. Even the ‘purest’ water from the ‘purest’ spring flowing in a mountain range almost out of the reach of human influence will still have been round the water cycle umpteen times ie out of your arse, out of a cows arse, splurged out in monkey semen, perhaps in the snot coming out of a small child’s nose, frequent holidays in any of the earths oceans and seas, quite possibly in mammoth piss or neanderthal vomit. This would all only be a problem if you believed that water had some kind of memory. Water having a memory isn’t a completely stupid idea though. After all, it’s one of the central tenets of homeopathy…………………………………………

  • Anonymous

    All the water on our planet has cycled through some organism at some point, a billion years of piss, shit and rot. In some sense, all our water is “poo water.”

    You are mostly water.

    Therefore: YOU ARE POO WATER.

    (your mind = *blown*)

  • mrtastycakes

    Fairfax County deserves to drink sewage.

  • mrtastycakes

    Fairfax County deserves to drink sewage.

  • rtb61

    The problem with waste water use for anything other than agriculture is, any failure results in contamination of the fresh water delivery system which can take days or weeks to clear. During this period additional chemicals are added to the water to kill any infectious organisms.
    It makes far more sense to reduce water usage, ban the lawn, have two charge rates for water usage one low for average use and another much higher for excessive use, get businesses to recycle internally where possible and promote the use of rainwater tanks http://www.savewater.com.au/products/rebates-incentives to reduce domestic consumption of mains water.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with waste water use for anything other than agriculture is, any failure results in contamination of the fresh water delivery system which can take days or weeks to clear. During this period additional chemicals are added to the water to kill any infectious organisms.
    It makes far more sense to reduce water usage, ban the lawn, have two charge rates for water usage one low for average use and another much higher for excessive use, get businesses to recycle internally where possible and promote the use of rainwater tanks http://www.savewater.com.au/products/rebates-incentives to reduce domestic consumption of mains water.

  • Bud Bundy

    I thought we already drank recycled water?

  • Bud Bundy

    I thought we already drank recycled water?

  • Bud Bundy

    User Bud Bundy’s brain exploded while reading the above comment.

  • jake

    Water does have memory, its been proven many times, problem is, its even over our scientists heads, new age theoretical physicists understand the hows and whys. Our bodies are made from molecules that were around during the big bang, we’re all recycled, everything is.

  • jake

    Water does have memory, its been proven many times, problem is, its even over our scientists heads, new age theoretical physicists understand the hows and whys. Our bodies are made from molecules that were around during the big bang, we’re all recycled, everything is.

  • jake

    It does piss me off seeing all the sprinklers and bull crap people waste on their lawns, not to mention the ridiculous use of chemicals and fertilizers, and for what? To look at for 3 months out of the year, not to mention the work it involves mowing all the time, ect. I think that is more proof of American’s having far too much time and money on hand.

  • jake

    It does piss me off seeing all the sprinklers and bull crap people waste on their lawns, not to mention the ridiculous use of chemicals and fertilizers, and for what? To look at for 3 months out of the year, not to mention the work it involves mowing all the time, ect. I think that is more proof of American’s having far too much time and money on hand.

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