Solving Cities

Drinking treated wastewater could boost city water supplies

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Is drinking wastewater safe? Researchers say it is and it could add a lot to the water supply in cities. Find out just how much.

Drinking treated wastewater -- emphasis on treated! -- could be a tough sell in cities. But researchers say that recycled wastewater could significantly increase water supplies, especially if the recycled water is used for drinking.

A report from the National Research Council said that municipalities discharge 12 billion gallons of wastewater into oceans or estuaries everyday. If that wastewater was recycled it could increase the water supplies in cities by as much as 27 percent.

"Wastewater reuse is poised to become a legitimate part of the nation's water supply portfolio given recent improvements to treatment processes," said R. Rhodes Trussell, chair of the committee that wrote the report, in a news release. "Although reuse is not a panacea, wastewater discharged to the environment is of such quantity that it could measurably complement water from other sources and management strategies."

And treated wastewater is safe to drink? Researchers say that advances in technology and design can treat and filter wastewater to the point where it is safe for human consumption and a viable source of drinking water.

The report says that water reuse projects tend to be expensive, but are cheaper than water desalination plants. When deciding if it's worth the cost, cities should take into account the possible benefits of reuse. For example, combining a water reuse facility with water conservation methods could reduce seasonal peak demands on a city's water supply.

Obviously this is an initiative that could see push back from residents, especially when it comes to drinking recycled wastewater. But as cities see their water tables dwindle, recycling wastewater seems like a better solution than going dry.

Read the complete report here.

[Via American City & County]

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure