Potable water is an important commodity used in nearly every aspect of society. It undergoes a thorough purification process to make it suitable for consumption, but have you ever stopped to think where it comes from? You probably don’t imagine sewage as its origin, but as clean water becomes increasingly scarce, some municipalities are turning to alternative sources for drinking water — and reclaimed wastewater is an increasingly appealing alternative.
In regions where water supply is limited — particularly in the arid Southwest where residents are experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, as well as in dry countries like Australia — like it or not, this is happening. One town in West Texas recently broke ground on a new wastewater reclamation facility — the first in the state. On the other side of the globe, Singapore serves as a worldwide leader in water reclamation. Since 2002, its five NEWater reclamation facilities have been creating ultra-high purity water for industrial and non-potable use that exceeds U.S. EPA and WHO standards for drinking water.
States and municipalities currently have sewage treatment standards for water quality. Before treated sewage is discharged to a river or lake, it must meet specific water quality requirements to be deemed safe for the environment. Taking the treatment process from “safe for the environment” to “safe for human use” means additional treatment processes to meet water quality standards for non-potable use or human consumption. Advanced treatment would include reverse osmosis, which provides an ultimate barrier to dissolved compounds and ions (such as dissolved salt), and advanced disinfection with ultraviolet radiation and ozone.
The concept of reclaiming non-potable water is nothing new. Many states in the Southwest have already installed grey water systems for watering trees and grass or for agricultural irrigation. States including California, Arizona and New Mexico have grey water policies in place so that municipalities can safely and effectively reclaim water for non-potable purposes on a large scale.
One of the biggest obstacles — and one of the things preventing more communities from using reclaimed sewage — is public perception. If the thought of it makes you squeamish, you’re not alone. But the truth is that this treatment approach will actually improve the quality — and the taste — of your drinking water. When you treat wastewater all the way to drinking water standards, it's more thoroughly treated than standard water processed for consumption. Currently, wastewater effluent is discharged into a creek or river, where it eventually makes its way through the water cycle, to be processed through a conventional water treatment facility and delivered to your tap. Why not provide additional treatment at the wastewater facility for non-potable use? The water can then be further processed to make it potable. When you think about it, it’s better for the environment and will provide higher quality water compared to the water you drink now.