Would You Drink Recycled Wastewater?
Almost 60% of the continental U.S. is now living through drought conditions, and half of all counties have been declared disaster areas. From coast to coast, cities and towns are placing restrictions on water consumption. With the nation so hot and dry and no end in sight, some are calling for a drastic solution: drinking our own wastewater—that is, what we usually flush down our toilets.
Not directly, of course. But drinking recycled wastewater is a relatively cheap and effective means of obtaining a lot of water. If all the wastewater dumped into waterways or the ocean were recycled instead, the U.S. would increase its water supply by as much as 27%, according to a report released earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences. Nationally, that amounts to 12 billion gallons.
The process for recycling wastewater is more rigorous than for “regular” tap water, with stronger filtration. As the NAS report noted, “With recent advances in technology and treatment design, potable reuse can reduce the concentration of chemical and microbial contaminants to levels comparable to or lower than those present in many drinking water supplies.”
Recycled wastewater is also cheaper than other alternatives. Desalination—turning seawater into drinking water—sounds more palatable, but estimated costs can run one-half to two-thirds more than for a recycled wastewater facility. That is largely due to the amount of filtration required: Wastewater has roughly 1,000 parts per million of salt, but seawater has roughly 35,000 parts per million. Desalination is also, of course, limited to states near seawater.