Saving water after it goes to waste

Water flushing down a toilet

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Drinking water is becoming an expensive commodity,
and the cost will likely increase. Scientists have warned of threats to potable water sources as a result of population growth and global warming-induced drought.

A few cities are taking a bold, if somewhat distasteful strategy to replenish their drinking supplies. Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.


[Sound of a toilet flushing]

Sarah Gardner: That's the sound you don't want to think about when you're drinking purified sewage water. That's right: More and more cities are mulling the idea of recycling treated wastewater and pumping it into underground drinking-water aquafers.

Orange County, Calif. is one of the few to take the plunge. Water officials there are launching a $480 million plant that will churn out 70 million gallons of treated drinking water everyday.

Michael Markus: This is water that otherwise would be discharged to the ocean. So we decided to recycle it. It becomes, in essence, a new source of water for this area.

Michael Markus is general manager of the Orange County Water District. Markus says yes, consumers initially turn up their noses at the idea. But once wastewater's been through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and zapped with UV light and hydrogen peroxide . . .

Markus: We feel it's as pure as bottled water.

Brent Haddad: I'm quite certain that we're seeing the beginning of a long-term trend.

That's Brent Haddad, a water expert at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He says the water is safe to drink.

And as drought increases, he says many cities will be forced to consider a toilet-to-tap scenario. Singapore is already recycling its sewage water for the tap, and other cities, like San Jose, California, are seriously considering it.

Orange County officials mounted a massive public education campaign, garnering support from national health experts to local ministers.

The county's Ron Wildermuth reminds people that cities regularly dump treated wastewater into rivers -- a drinking water supply for millions of Americans.

Ron Wildermuth: So it's nothing new. What's new here is the advanced purification we're applying to the water.

And that's a reality most of us don't get at first flush.

In Orange County, California, I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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