Euell Gibbons, the wild-foods advocate, had a great anecdote about food prejudices in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. He was relating how he and a friend were on a hunting trip where they shot a bobcat, and since they didn’t have any other food in camp, they skinned and dressed the bobcat for dinner. Gibbons related how while the meat was as delicate as quail, his friend said “You know, the bob part sure is good, but I’m having a real problem swallowing the cat.”
People tend to have a problem swallowing the cat when discussing processing sewage for drinking water. Never mind that we do this every day: that tall cool bottle of Aquafina you just polished off probably went through the kidneys of several dinosaurs before it got to you. The trees and shrubs that transpire water vapor as a byproduct of photosynthesis are using water molecules that were probably used previously by any number of unsavory critters over the years. In addition, anybody who has ever willingly consumed Keystone Light or Zima has no room to discuss the distastefulness of processing urine. The fact is that water cleared of its contaminants is just water, which is why reading about West Texas efforts to process waste water to drinking water is a sign that we’re finally living in the future.
To be fair, I can understand the instinctive response. (I knew an acquaintance who had such a response that I got him a copy of The Water of Life for Christmas. He never really forgave me for that.) So let’s look at an alternative. Considering that most treated sewage water is simply dumped into waterways, why not use water from reservoirs and wells in Texas for drinking purposes, and use processed water for agriculture? After all, if the final product is clean enough to drink, having salts and heavy metals removed from it, it should be good enough for growing crops, and the plants wouldn’t complain. Take stress off existing aquifers, create a new market with what was previously unwanted effluent, and start a million new jokes about working at the “Pabst Blue Ribbon recycling factory”: everyone wins.
EDIT: apparently I’m way behind the curve, as Fort Worth already uses wastewater for agriculture, and the technique has been quite successful in southern California as well to conserve available water. Discovering that the process produces water much less salty than standard reservoir or well water in West Texas is gravy: anyone who has used Dallas water for standard plant watering can appreciate the value of this.