Drinking sewage? The mind recoils against the thought. All the instincts of the human animal warn against the age-old danger of disease; all the habits of modern civilization are repulsed with sheer disgust at the association. No, no, never.
Maybe it’d be efficient. Maybe it’d be good for the environment. Maybe it’d supply water to as many as 180,000 people annually in an arid desert — but come on, it’s sewage! Yuck, yuck, yuck.
But the instinctive, impulsive reaction is really unreasonable. Wastewater would go through an extensive treatment process that would render it completely safe for consumption long before it would reach any homes. Before the system could be implemented, the city plans to have a year-long trial to make absolutely sure that it works, and they’re required to get the approval of the state health department as well. In fact, the water from the purified sewage plants would be cleaner than that we get from the Colorado River and other drinking-water sources, which themselves often contain sewage and runoff from upstream.
The truth is that all water is wastewater. The earth is one large closed system which nothing can escape or enter; everything made of matter that we deal with is recycled. Physicists estimate that in every breath we take there is at least one molecule of air that was also in Julius Caesar’s last breath. If the air in our lungs has been breathed many times before, then, as little as we like to think about it, the water that we drink has also been drunk many times before it reaches us. Unless, perhaps, we react elemental hydrogen and oxygen to create new water (not an economical proposition), we will inevitably be drinking sewage.
Nature purifies through evaporation and condensation, man through filters, reverse osmosis and disinfection, but the concept is essentially the same — just sped up a bit.
Moderns really are exceedingly squeamish about the less-than-pleasant facts of life. We eat meat that comes in neat plastic-wrapped packages, divorced from the reality of the living animal, and vegetables pre-scrubbed to remove any offending taint of soil. We put our trash on the curbs on Thursday night, and it vanishes — out of sight, out of mind. We pretend to ourselves that water is something that comes out of a tap, and that what goes down a toilet or a drain disappears forever. This is not normal.