Friday, November 30, 2007

America's Drinking Problem

Residents of a county that calls itself the American Riviera will start drinking sewage today. Recycled, refined and filtered through aquifers, but still...

The Orange County Water District in southern California will turn on the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water. The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the dubious, will be getting close scrutiny from authorities elsewhere.

Water shortages have been making news this year, not only in California, but Florida, Georgia and across the country. The federal government projects that at least 36 states will face shortfalls within five years from a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl and waste.

The problem is universal. A UN report has predicted that more than half of humanity will be living with water shortages, depleted fisheries and polluted coastlines within 50 years.

New technology may ease the problem, but awareness and conservation will be required, even more so than with global warming, where changes in public behavior can do only so much to help. (For a start, we could re-think excessive lawn-watering, car-washing, etc. with tap water that might be used for drinking rather than environmentally damaging bottled water.)

"The need to reduce water waste and inefficiency is greater now than ever before," says Benjamin Grumbles of the Environmental Protection Agency. "Water efficiency is the wave of the future."

We had better all drink to that.

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