Written by Don Keer, PE
MDC Systems Engineer
On February 9, 2012 the New York Times published the following article: “As ‘Yuck Factor’ Subsides: Treated Wastewater Flows from Taps.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/science/earth/despite-yuck-factor-treated-wastewater-used-for-drinking.html) This article reviewed the operation of a water reuse plant in San Diego, CA. As water stresses increase around the world it is increasingly clear that effective solutions must combine both technology and public perception education.
Water stresses exist in both developed and undeveloped countries. Some areas have surface waters available that are subject to chemical run off and other pollution. The use of surface sources can affect others downstream and the rate at which subterranean waters are renewed. Other regions have no surface sources available but have subsurface resources. Subsurface water could take years to renew or could be subject to surface effects or salt water intrusion. So, no matter the source, water is a limited resource.
Just as the solution to the world’s petroleum addiction will not be solved with a magic bullet, the water crisis cannot be addressed through a single technology or approach. The technology for recovery of wastewater has existed for decades. The main barrier to its use is the public perception or “yuck factor.” By recycling wastewater the demand and stresses placed on surface or subsurface resources can be reduced by as much as 25-50%.
The impact on water resources is great enough that a number of U.S. municipalities are considering recycle technologies or running pilot programs. The major hurdle continues to be public perception. With continued development and public education, wastewater reuse will grow and become an environmentally sustainable source of potable water available to populations within water stressed environments.