San Diegans Are Already Drinking Pee - Voice of San Diego

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San Diegans Are Already Drinking Pee

The city has gotten past the yuck factor when it comes to sewage recycling. The media hasn’t yet.

The headline is designed to make you go yuck: “Why Californians Will Soon Be Drinking Their Own Pee.”

It’s a story from CityLab about San Diego’s sewage recycling effort, which aims to take sewage, clean it to drinking water standards and put it back into our water supply. This isn’t actually happening yet, but a trial sewage recycling project is running and everything is pointing to it being a big part of our water future.

That hasn’t stopped other local and national media from publishing recent headlines referring to the project by the yucktastic “toilet to tap” name.

For us, however, the yuck factor has largely gone away over the past decade. Only about a quarter of San Diegans supported sewage recycling in 2004. Now the figure is close to three-quarters. Major political leaders, such as ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders and current Mayor Kevin Faulconer, have flipped and now support sewage recycling, too. So has U-T San Diego’s editorial board.

“Similar efforts in years past were dubbed by critics, including this editorial page, as ‘toilet-to-tap’ technology,” the paper wrote in 2011. “But this editorial board has come to accept the latest science – and real-life experience – that says this water would likely be the purest and safest water in the system.”

That’s true. Sewage recycling produces cleaner water than what comes out of our taps now. We primarily get water from the Colorado River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – neither of which is pee-free. Here’s how we described the process before:

Got bad news if you think that the water you drank this morning came straight from a pristine mountaintop high in the Sierra Nevada or Colorado Rockies.

Odds are pretty good those water molecules — those life-sustaining hydrogen and oxygen atoms — have been inside someone (or something) else’s body sometime during man’s time on Earth. Conjure whatever romantic storyline you want, because there’s only so much water on the planet. Maybe Columbus quaffed them while sailing the ocean blue. Maybe a dinosaur guzzled them from a prehistoric watering hole.

Or maybe they were in a warm beer on a Vegas poker table a few days ago.

We get it. The idea of drinking pee is gross. But we’ll actually be drinking cleaner water when sewage recycling comes online. Other things have become more important than the mere thought of pee guzzling, too. Sanders, for instance, changed his position after biotech industry reps threatened to leave San Diego because of concerns over water shortages. Water shortages are scarier than irrational fears about pee.

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