Water is becoming something that is in short supply, meaning we may soon be drinking reclaimed wastewater, especially in the desert states of the West (which, ironically, are the fastest-growing areas of the US). We know our drinking water is laced with prescription medicines, but WHAT ELSE is in there--and can it be removed before we drink it?
San Diego is trying to do just that, with a water treatment plant that cost $13 million and produces a million gallons of potable water daily.
A new report from the National Academy of Sciences reveals that if coastal cities used advanced treatment procedures on the wastewater (from things like flushed toilets) that is now sent out to sea, it could increase the amount of drinking water available by as much as 27%.
Singapore is open about the problem--and with 5 million people in a small land area, they need to be. About 15% of Singapore's water comes from treated effluent--they call it "NEWater." While most of it is used for irrigation or manufacturing; some of it is used for drinking.
US cities are taking tentative steps to reclaim wastewater, and they mostly keep it a secret, to avoid public outcry. The biggest problem may be psychological. In the February 10th edition of the New York Times, Felicity Barringer quotes psychologist Carol Nemeroff as saying that drinking treated sewage water "hooks into the intuitive concept of contagion." To overcome this, she says a city must "unhook the current water from its history." This is probably why the San Diego water plant is hidden away in the hills. In 1998 in San Diego, when the water plant came up for a vote, local media derided the idea as "toilet to tap," and city council members refused to discuss it.
But they were finally persuaded to build it. Barringer quotes environmentalist Belinda Smith as saying, "It isn't toilet to tap. It's toilet to treatment to treatment to treatment to tap."
The editorial page of The San Diego Union-Tribune, which once opposed the treatment plant, later printed a story titled "The Yuck Factor: Get Over It." And a cartoon on a local public radio blog showed a dog drinking out of a toilet, with the caption, "Ten million dogs can't be wrong."
Wastewater is only one of the conundrums facing us in the future. Only time will tell what the future will bring (we DO know that it may not bring any more unknowncountry.com if we don't get MORE SUPPORT from our "friends!")
And speaking of time, as we begin the countdown to that dreaded date of December 21, 2012, we wonder if you can imagine a time machine that is actually a PAINTING created by a group of CIA agents hiding out in what appears to be a mental institution? This incredible idea is the plot behind Whitley Strieber's novel The Omega Point, which is available in hardcover or paperback from the Whitley Strieber Collection (and, like all books from the "Collection," it will come with an autographed bookplate, designed by Whitley).