Just behind San Diego’s mayor sat a glass beaker filled nearly to its pointy brim with 400 milliliters of crystal clear water. Fresh from a tap, straight from a treatment process that made the water as clean as mankind knows how to get it: Stripped free of any pharmaceutical traces, of bacteria and viruses, of minerals and other potential impurities.
And the summer air was hot. Wipe-your-brow, so-long-June-gloom, roll-up-your-sleeves hot. Mayor Jerry Sanders had been standing in the inland sun at his University City press conference, baking for a good 20 minutes. The distilled water looked alluring: Crisp and refreshing.
The mayor had just spoken to reporters while standing in front of a maze of shiny silver pipes and whirring pumps now turning a million gallons of sewage into drinking water each day, part of an $11.8 million city pilot study. It’s a key step before regulators will allow San Diego to turn sewage into drinking water. Environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have pushed the city toward it, saying San Diego can no longer afford to waste water by dumping partially treated sewage in the ocean.