Thursday, May 25, 2006

From Toilets to Taps

The LA Times recently reported on how some communities are using "purified wastewater" to "partially recharge" aquifers. Depending on whom you ask this process is either referred to as "showers to flowers" or "toilets to taps." Either way, the thought of drinking water that once went down some stranger's toilet is enough to give anyone pause.

But is there anything unhealthy about it? In southeast Los Angeles, 3 million people have been drinking treated sewage for 34 years. And since they're still drinking it, I doubt anyone's died from it or gotten sick. (The LA Times didn't report any related sicknesses or deaths.)

This is probably something that everyone in Los Angeles, and other communities in desert regions, will someday have to get used to. For some, that day will come sooner rather than later. By the end of 2007, 2 million people in north-central Orange County will be drinking from an aquifer that's pumped with 70 million gallons of cleansed wastewater a day.

Obviously, there's plenty of opposition to this business of sending "purified wastewater" to kitchen taps. In one case, Miller Brewing company stopped a plan to expand the southeast LA program which would have affected the water they use for brewing. Clean or not, can you imagine the Coors ad campaigns? All they'd need is a black screen and a few choice words: "Miller Beer Comes from Toilets. Seriously. Look it up."

This whole issue comes down to this…
Populations are growing, water supplies are not, and purified wastewater provides a good solution. But I don't think people should be forced to drink treated sewage if they don't want to.

So here's my solution…

Make natural-source water more expensive. In the future, when you sign up for water each year, you choose either a) water from a natural source or b) treated sewage. The natural-source water would not be supported by any government-backed infrastructure or subsidies; the treated sewage, however, would.

No, I'm not an economist and yes, this is a half-baked idea. But I do believe that man's desire for wealth is one of the few things that can save him from self destruction. For example, if gas prices weren't so high, SUVs would still be selling like crazy, the President never would have admitted that the U.S. is addicted to oil and talk of "hydrogen highways" would be science fiction fantasy, not mainstream political dialogue.

The big difference is, cruising hydrogen highways sounds cool, drinking recycled toilet water does not. But I guess that's part of living in a growing society, you take the good with the bad.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.