Care for a Drink... of Toilet Water?

Now before you start reaching for that glass, know that we're not suggesting you actually go and follow Fido's example - no, what we're talking about here is indirect potable reuse (IPR) or, as it's most commonly known, "toilet-to-tap." You may remember seeing that term in Lloyd's post a few weeks ago when he described Orange County's Groundwater Replenishment System, a water-purification project designed to convert sewage water from the region into drinkable tap water.

In her recent Slate piece, Eilene Zimmerman provides a broader overview of the technology and some of the other cities/states that are slowly adopting it. As she recounts, indirect potable reuse (IPR) has actually been around for a while now - it has often been used in cities throughout the country for agricultural and landscaping purposes. Yet, despite their best efforts to move this technology to potable uses, public officials have encountered a tremendous amount of resistance from their constituents who, perhaps understandably, are wary of drinking water that "once had poop in it."Public ambivalence forced Los Angeles to shutter a $55 million project in 2000 that would've provided water for 120,000 homes; a similar pilot project in San Diego was rejected. But, as Zimmerman notes, the fact that San Diego - and much of Southern California - is now in the throes of a severe water crisis could lead to a change of course:

"But San Diego is in the midst of a severe water crisis. The city imports 90 percent of its water, much of that from the Colorado River, which is drying up. The recent legal decision to protect the ecosystem of the San Joaquin Delta in Northern California—San Diego's second-leading water source—will reduce the amount coming from there as well. Add to that rising population and an ongoing drought, and the situation looks pretty bleak: 3 million people in a region that has enough water, right now, for 10 percent of them."

The most commonly cited alternative, desalination, is, Zimmerman explains, "economically and environmentally far more expensive than sewage-water recycling"; in addition, it consumes much more energy and adversely affects oceanic ecosystems. And, though it may seem cleaner than recycled sewage water, seawater contains as much, if not more, pollutants, chemicals and various other debris (consider that millions of sewage are dumped into the oceans every day).

There are signs that local governments, if not the public, are warming up to this technology: El Paso, TX, and Fairfax, VA, for example, are recycling their sewage water to boost drinking water supplies. We'll raise a glass to that.

Image courtesy of viralbus via flickr

Via ::Slate: It's Time To Drink Toilet Water (news website)

See also: ::Recycling Water for Drinking, ::Wash Your Hands With Toilet Water, ::Hack Your Toilet and Save Water