Would You Drink Recycled Wastewater?

The majority of surveyed Californians say they would.

by Cari Jorgensen
PHOTO: Fuse/Thinkstock

The idea of drinking sewage water that has been treated may not sound like a pleasing endeavor. Oftentimes people hear “sewage water” and the image of a toilet comes to mind pretty quickly: Some critics are already referring to it as “toilet-to-tap” drinking. Who wants to drink that? But with the serious drought that’s plaguing California and other areas in the U.S., the idea of drinking purified wastewater is becoming more plausible. And acceptable.

In a recent survey of 3,000 California voters, 76 percent believed “recycled water should be used as a long-term solution, regardless of drought” and 83 percent were “willing to use recycled water in their everyday lives”—everything from showering to washing dishes to brushing their teeth to drinking it.

The survey, conducted by Edelman Intelligence and commissioned by Xylem, found that education is key: “89 percent of California residents are more willing to use recycled water after learning about the treatment process.”

However, some believe it takes more than education to get people on board. Huffington Post reports that in a survey last year, only “49 percent of participants nationwide said they were willing to drink recycled wastewater, though 13 percent still refused, vehemently, to do so—even after being informed that the treated water was purer than bottled or tap water.”

University of California Berkeley’s Water Center co-director David Sedlak told Huffington Post, “I don’t think it’s the act of simply telling people about the technology that builds the support for it. It’s a lot broader than that. I personally am not sure I agree with the idea that simply telling people about the technology in 30 seconds and giving them a poll is a very scientific way of measuring legitimacy.”

He added that to get public acceptance there has to be transparency and community engagement.

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The Xylem survey found that labels could be part of that when encouraging people to use and drink recycled water. It’s probably safe to say no one is going to drink it if it’s called “toilet-to-tap” water. However, the survey revealed that more participants supported the idea when it was called “purified” water (90 percent). Joe Vesey, Senior Vice President for Xylem, agreed that the public’s participation has been important in the success of recycled water projects in California and that the survey reflects that.

“I think we’re at a dawn of a new age for water,” Vesey told Huffington Post, “and I think California is likely to lead or be one of the leaders in that age.”

So do you think more people will be on board with drinking recycled water and will it be a long-term solution?

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