The next wave: Re-using wastewater

A wastewater treatment plant is inundated by the Yazoo River floodwaters near Yazoo City May 22, 2011 in Yazoo County, Miss.

Jeremy Hobson: Well today, about 20,000 water experts are wrapping up a big conference here in Southern California.
They've been talking about the water we flush away, and how to re-use more of it.

From the Marketplace sustainability desk, Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: If I say "designer water," you likely picture an expensive glass bottle at a fancy restaurant. Not sewer water.

But Shivaji Deshmukh says his sewage treatment plant just south of Los Angeles makes designer water, too.

Shivaji Deshmukh: We're designing the water to fit the needs for our customers.

Those customers range from golf courses to a Chevron refinery that uses the water for cooling towers.

Deshmukh: We can do it cheaper than their alternative supply.

And thus, industrial customers help fund the plant. It "makes" 47 million gallons of water a day by squeezing out waste solids -- those can become fertilizer -- then chemically treating and filtering the water that's left. Eco-friendly, yes. But the process, not so pretty.

Matt Ries: It's kind of a reddish film on top of this, but when we get to the end of this plant, we're going to have water that we can drink.

That's Matt Ries. He's with the Water Environment Federation. He says wastewater recycling needs better PR to overcome the gross-out factor, because it's really just a technological take on the natural water cycle.

Ries: We've been doing it forever. The same water here in these tanks is the same water the dinosaurs swam in. We have a finite amount of water on this planet and it keeps getting recycled and recycled and recycled.

He says we need to recycle more water, and faster, as global population grows. And charge more for it, to fund new infrastructure.

Engineers and managers from around the world take notes as they tour the plant.

Troeh: What's your name and where are you from?

Joe Dorf: Joe Dorf. I'm from Brazil.

At the end, they raise plastic cups and taste sewage made drinkable.

Dorf: It tastes good.

Everyone else agrees. But no plans to bottle it -- just yet.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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